You may suspect you are self-sabotaging, or perhaps your manager or colleague has pointed out a pattern of behaviour that is not serving you in your career. We all self-sabotage occasionally, however if the practice becomes persistent, we can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. With every failed attempt to do something you want, you “prove” to yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t do it.
The good news is you can overcome self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours to achieve your career goals.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is the act of getting in your own way by creating barriers to achieving a desired outcome. Self-sabotage can happen consciously or unconsciously, negatively impacting your goals and/or your well-being.
Why do we self-sabotage?
Our self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviour may be trying to protect us. For example, when we are asked to do something outside of our comfort zone or when we set a goal and subsequently experience a fear of failure, our brain starts to identify this as a “threat”. To avoid the “threat”, we start to shy away from our goals or desired outcomes.
Because our “failures” start to pile up, we can begin to believe we are not good enough and our self-confidence plummets. Uncomfortable feelings and critical inner voices can lead us to act against our own best interests continually.
Self-sabotaging thinking and behaviours have also been linked to cognitive dissonance. This is defined as psychological discomfort associated with internal contradictions. This occurs when we try to make ourselves do something that isn’t aligned with our beliefs or values, we can feel out of balance and deploy self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours in an unconscious attempt to restore balance.
Signs you may be self-sabotaging in your career
- Second-guessing or doubting yourself. For example, you don’t believe you have what it takes to advocate for a promotion or pursue a new exciting opportunity
- Procrastinating and leaving your tasks to the last minute and not giving them the focus they require
- Not wanting to ask for help
- Setting standards too high or too low
- Avoiding responsibilities, even if it’s because you “forget”
- Breaking promises or not following through on commitments
- Giving up when things get more difficult or stopping trying to reach your goals altogether
How can we stop engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour?
To stop self-sabotaging, you first need to recognise your own self-sabotaging behaviours. If it is starting to feel like Groundhog Day, start asking why? You may find it helpful to keep a journal and reflect on scenarios that keep showing up.
The most effective way to stop self-sabotaging is to shift your narrative. Once you appreciate this is part of your brain trying to keep you safe, you can start to become curious and understand what you are afraid of or uncomfortable with. You can start responding to your critical inner voices with a compassionate response. “This is impossible” becomes “This is new, I am learning how to drive this, and I can do it!”
Build your self confidence
Build self-confidence by setting and achieving smaller goals on your way to achieving the bigger goals.
As we pursue our goals and take chances, it is important to learn to sit with these difficult feelings we have been avoiding and be gentle with ourselves as they come up. Meditation and breathing techniques are a great way to experience these feelings, allowing them to pass whilst staying connected with the present.
Communicate with your manager, asking for feedback on where you can improve and indicating areas where you need more support.
Ask for support
Working with a mentor, coach or mental health professional can be very helpful. They can provide support and accountability as you learn how to stop self-sabotaging behaviours and attain your goals.
Take a chance
If there’s an opportunity you want to pursue, don’t let your inner critical voices talk you out of it. Ask for support and be courageous to go for what you are after.
Self-sabotage is your brain’s way of protecting you from the threat of emotional pain and keeping you safe or highlighting you have an internal conflict.
When the behaviour is no longer serving you, many options are available to begin to change things. You can build self-awareness, reframe your narrative, build self-confidence, practice mindfulness, communicate, ask for support and be courageous to help you achieve your goals.
Most importantly, as you transition to your new way of being, be compassionate to yourself!