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16 high-impact self-sabotaging behaviours

How many of these do you do?
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Think back to the last time you were up against a deadline and lost hours to Instagram instead of knuckling down. When your efforts at work went unnoticed and you didn’t speak up for yourself. Or when you decided to take on a project/ look for a job/ write a book, but put off starting until next week, next month or next year. Sound familiar? Many of us are prone to procrastinating, making excuses or generally getting in our own way when it comes to pursuing our goals. And the result is not pretty.

Why do we do it? Psychologist Dr Robert Firestone blames our ‘anti-self’ – an internal enemy that speaks through our critical inner voice. You know the one: that negative, destructive voice that says you’re not worthy, don’t deserve a promotion, or happiness, or love… Dr Firestone suggests it’s the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours we’re exposed to early in life that shape this inner dialogue and determine how we see ourselves and others. If we’re shown love and compassion in our formative years, it nurtures our real self – the positive part of us that wants to succeed. If, on the other hand, we experience negativity and rejection, it fuels our anti-self, which deliberately hinders progress.

The good news is that your anti-self can be tamed and self-sabotaging behaviours avoided. Understanding your triggers is the first step towards overcoming them, so work your way through the below list to identify your own self-destructive thoughts and habits.

  1. Poor sense of self – This comes back to that inner critic giving you a hard time, ruminating on past mistakes or calling out your faults. Don’t listen to the devil on the shoulder – look for the angel instead.
  2. Fear of failure – Failure is where some of the best stuff happens! When you mess up, you have the opportunity to learn from the experience. Pushing through the fear is where the joy is.
  3. Lack of planning – You plan projects, you plan parties, you plan meals – why wouldn’t you plan yourself? It’s an essential process that starts with setting your goals and developing strategies to achieve them.
  4. Waiting – You’ll apply for that new job once the kids have finished school, or sort out your finances once you’ve got time. Why wait? Life will always get in the way, so you might as well get started now.
  5. Inconsistent commitment – You can’t expect miracles to happen overnight, or goals to be achieved if you only stick to your plan half the time. Real change requires consistent effort every day.
  6. Fixed mindset – You’re not going to develop and change if you don’t believe you can. Carol Dweck’s research on fixed and growth mindsets tells us that people with a fixed mindset believe intelligence and talents are unchangeable, while someone with a growth mindset believes they can improve through hard work. Believe you can and you will.
  7. Overthinking – Analysing where you’ve gone wrong in the past is important, but overthinking it is a waste of time that doesn’t get results. It can also lead to distress and anxiety. Best avoided.
  8. Distraction – We’ll attach ourselves to anything to put off scary, hard tasks. Studies show procrastination provides short-term mood repair and emotional regulation; that’s why we’ll choose to watch a movie or scroll through social media instead of tackling the task at hand (even though we know we’ll pay the price later).
  9. Beliefs – Many of us are holding onto a set of beliefs about ourselves, not all of them good. Think about your own self-limiting beliefs – self-talk that starts with ‘I can’t… I won’t… I shouldn’t… I’m not good at… I’ve always… I never…’. Now think about what you could achieve if those beliefs weren’t holding you back.
  10. Lack of resilience – Self-saboteurs let obstacles push them down, and there they remain, unwilling to have another crack. But studies show that by examining past hardships and how you overcame them, you’ll be better equipped to bounce back in future.
  11. Diminished focus – The most successful people in life stay focused on their goals. They persevere through challenges and setbacks, staying on task when others give up.
  12. People pleasing – Yes, we want people to like us, but it’s not necessarily the way to get ahead. When you’re afraid to disagree, say ‘no’ or voice your opinions, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Research tells us that workplace conformity – always agreeing with your supervisor, for example, or trying to replicate your colleagues’ behaviour – stifles creativity and innovation.
  13. Not enough accountability – It’s all too easy to let good intentions slide when we don’t have anyone to answer to. Having an accountability system in place will keep you honest.
  14. Rejection – You’re gearing up for a promotion but step aside, or distance yourself from a loved one just as things are going well. Why? The perceived pain of not getting the job or being hurt are too great, so you avoid it altogether.
  15. Believing excuses are reasons – ‘I’m not ready, it’s not the right time, I need to do this other thing first...’ The list of self-sabotaging excuses is endless. Make an effort, not an excuse.
  16. Attachment to comfort and control – There are always going to be influences out of our control, but the way we think, behave, feel and make choices IS in our control.

If you need some strategies to help you work through any (or all) of these behaviours, there’s an assortment of books on the topic. Try Get Out of Your Own Way, Taming Your Outer Child or You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.

And if TED Talks are more your thing, check out this one from lifestyle coach Debi Silber.

- The Coach Place Global.

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