I have a confession to make. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. And, I'm not the only one. You, too, might not be aware that there are surprising ways you're sabotaging your goals without even realizing it. In fact, self sabotage is so prevalent that social scientist Dan Ariely is exploring why so many people make decisions that aren't in line with their long term goals.
"My goal is to use research to understand our behavior, and find ways to help overcome some of our destructive natural tendencies — helping us to make better decisions and spend our time and energy in ways that help us lead more productive, healthy, and satisfying lives," Ariely noted in an article on Muse.
If you feel like you can't get out of your own way, many things could be at play, including imposter syndrome — an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes, according to Kirsten Weir of the American Psychological Association.
Guess what? This happens to everyone. Even the most successful people. On the podcast The Gasp, Lauren Graham talks with her bestie Sam Pancake and Geo Andy about overcoming the fear of completing a project with a deadline — her book Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between.
Graham admits that while she was the only person responsible for finishing her book (which is why she started writing in the first place, to be her own boss), she was also the only person preventing herself from doing her work by sabotaging her dedicated writing time with online shopping.
Sound familiar? Here are some of the signs of self-sabotage, and how you can overcome them.
1. You Constantly Procrastinate
If they gave out awards for procrastination I'd have a shelf full of trophies and medals. The last minute is literally when I get most things done. And those other minutes while I'm supposed to be getting something done are usually spent cleaning my house, watching Netflix, taking a nap, and feeling anxious because I know I'm avoiding the elephant in the room.
So, not only am I procrastinating, I'm feeling bad about it, and the last minute flurry to complete my work is still super stressful. This means I am constantly vacillating between two emotions — anxiety and stress.
"Structured procrastination is our ability to do nothing while feeling like we’re doing something. This includes things like getting to 'inbox zero,' going into our to-do list and reordering things in the 'right' order, and cleaning old files from our desktop," Ariely explained. "The problem with these tasks is that they give us the sense we’re achieving something when in fact we’re not."
So while my house is spotless all most all of the time, did I really need to wipe down the counters again instead of doing my work? Probably not.
"If it’s important to you to have a clean inbox and orderly files, or to finish any other task that enables structured procrastination — remember it’s wasting more time than it saves," Ariely noted.
The funny thing about the mind is that it only lets you fool yourself for so long, and completing an important part of whatever you're avoiding can go a long way in relieving stress and anxiety. Once you've done a chunk of work, you can reward yourself by cleaning the counters if that makes you feel better. And, if you need a little structure to help keep you accountable, Graham shared how she learned to overcome procrastination using an old-fashioned kitchen timer.
2. You Always Play It Safe
There's an old saying, "better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Sometimes we stick with something safe instead of taking risks because in our safe space we know exactly how things are going to play out — even if it doesn't necessarily make us happy.
"Time and time again, we choose consistency over happiness," Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. explained on the Savvy Psychologist. "If you’re used to being neglected, abused, ignored, or exploited, it’s oddly comforting to keep putting yourself in that position."
Personally, I stayed in a job years longer than I should have because the security of a regular paycheck seemed better than the risk of pursuing my dreams without a safety net. Eventually my safe zone started to become uncomfortable as it became impossible to ignore that I was sacrificing my dreams so I could stay in my comfort zone, and I decided to take a risk. I left my job and started a career as a freelance writer.
Was it hard? Of course. But, it was also one of the best decisions I ever made. Playing it safe afforded me a cushy apartment in a nice neighborhood, but I was miserable. While I had to adjust my lifestyle (I got a roommate and moved to a less expensive part of town) to accommodate my dream, it's opened up tons of opportunities for me.
If you're unhappy, and your inner voice is constantly telling you you're not taking enough risks, it might be time to listen.
3. You're Afraid Of Succeeding
Fear is a pretty common emotion. And, it's normal to be afraid of both failure and success. Well, why would anyone be afraid of succeeding? Fear of success is a complex web to unravel. While everyone strives for success, many people settle for being mediocre because it keeps them in their safe zone.
"The fear of standing out can bring you to your knees. In the past I had a ton of brilliant ideas that would have helped me stand out more online, but I didn’t execute them. Do you know why? I told myself it was because I didn’t want the attention. Or all the hard work was not worth the effort," Kushla Chadwick explained on LifeHack. "The biggest truth was that I was afraid to be extraordinary. Blending in with the crowd is easy. It means not dealing with rejection or worrying about the possibility of making someone else feel inadequate."
I can totally relate to this. Blending in feels safe. Standing out, and having a voice, feels like a lot of pressure that makes me want to take a nap. And, if your dreams come true in a big way, your life is going to change.
"The thing is, when we fail at something we know what to expect," Chadwick noted. "We’re already used to living the way we do. On the other hand, success can be scary because it brings uncharted territory."
Here are some signs you're afraid of succeeding, according to Chadwick: You don’t complete your projects; you talk about what you are going to do more than what you actually do; you work furiously on several projects at once, not really focusing deeply on any one of them; you second-guess yourself often; you don’t think your work is ever quite good enough; and you’re on the verge of ‘success’ and things start going really wrong (self sabotage).
If this sounds like you, Chadwick recommends getting clear on what you really want. What does your ideal life look like? How can you get there, and who can help you? Once you've done this try to consciously get out of your own way, because you're the only one who can stop you from being successful. Ugh, wasn't it was so much easier when there is someone else to blame?