Recently a client of mine was musing about putting together one of her workshops. It would be on a topic she had not taught before, but was closely related to her area of expertise. “Why not?” I told her, “Go for it–it sounds great.” She then went on to list all the reasons why it would be hard to do, might not work, etc. “What if not enough people sign up?”, she asked. “How do you know until you try?” I asked her, “What do you have to lose?” I pointed out that she was talking herself out of the possibility of success. She immediately recognized her own self-sabotage, re-directed herself, and went on to plan the workshop.
Self sabotage is insidious. It can prevent you from taking just those actions that will allow you to succeed. What makes self sabotage particularly tricky is that it is often a misguided effort to preserve your own self-esteem against feelings of failure or inadequacy. If you don’t try, you can’t fail. Or, even more insidious, if you do try and things don’t turn out as well as you would have liked, self sabotage can help you find excuses that stop you from keeping on. It can keep you from learning and growing into your eventual success. This phenomenon is recognized in psychology coaching circles and is called “self-handicapping.”
Self-handicapping allows us to protect ourselves from the pain of assuming responsibility for our failures.
A study at the University of Konstanz in Germany showed that people who were encouraged to make excuses for their poor performance–such as blaming test failure on loud noises, for example–maintained high-self-esteem, but were less motivated to improve. This is self-handicapping in action.
Here are some steps to overcoming self-handicapping:
1. Monitor your own distracting behaviors–listening to music, frequently checking email, spending hours on Facebook, alcohol use, etc. When behaviors that help you relax and escape are used too frequently you are on the path of self-sabotage. You may have subconscious aversion–resistance- to facing those challenges that will help you to grow and succeed. Try this quick tapping technique for overcoming resistance.
2. Recognize when you are making excuses that they are frequently coming from your own resistance and self-doubt. Sometimes this insight alone is enough to get you back on track. Try re-framing your excuses as new goals. If you are too tired at night to start writing your book, make your new goal improving your diet/exercise/sleep regimen so you have more energy. If you can’t find the time to start that new project, make your new goal re-organizing your schedule so you have the time to do those things you want to do. If you doubt you have the skills required for a goal you desire, make your new goal seeking out a mentor or training that would get you up to speed. Don’t let doubt stop you. (see #3)
3. Watch out for being demotivated by negative emotions. Emotions can powerfully control behavior. Disappointment, self-directed anger, self-doubt can all knock the wind out of your sails when you are needing to stay positive, focused, and self-directed. When this happens try identifying which emotions are making you feel stuck. Write down your fears and frustrations. Sometimes that bit of objectivity that comes with writing it out can help you get back on track with the bigger picture.
4. Make your goal self-mastery. Let’s face it, it takes guts and heart to go for a big goal. The risk of failure and negative or critical feedback from external sources can sometimes make it seem perilous. This is when self-handicapping is most likely to kick in. But ask yourself what is more important to you–the risk of disappointment and the possible negative opinions of others, or your own attainment. Focus on your own mastery — it will soon become its own reward.