Don’t Sabotage Yourself

Shared Office Man Thinking at desk 400x294Often we say we want something and then we take actions that are exactly what not to do.  Getting in our way or coming up with reasons why we won’t be successful so why try, are what psychologists call “self-handicapping.”

Self-handicapping is defined in Wikipedia as, a method of preserving self-esteem through the use of obstacles created, or claimed, by the individual in anticipation of a failing performance. Individuals don’t make an effort or invent barriers to being successful so they can maintain public and private self-images of competence. It is a widespread behaviour amongst humans that has been observed in a variety of cultures and geographic areas.

Feeling good about yourself is a powerful force for many people and getting real can be a challenge.  We pretend things will get better and workout somehow.  The way to get there is “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Susan David, a faculty member at Harvard University, has four steps to overcoming self-handicapping in her article called Don’t Sabotage Yourself on HBR blog.  The steps are:

  1. Watch for the warning signs. Drawing down your efforts, generating lists of excuses, or distracting yourself (music, alcohol, etc.) are signs that you’re engaging in self-handicapping. A mentor or colleague can often help steer you back on course.
  2. Use “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” to help you generate goals instead of excuses. Research shows that the thinking people engage in during self-handicapping can just as easily be flipped to be motivational. When you ponder what could have gone better, or recognize obstacles in your way, you generate valuable information. Identify factors within your control, and see what you can do about them.
  3. Recognize and manage your negative emotions. Research shows that when we use our “if-onlys” to motivate rather than excuse ourselves, we will also likely experience negative emotions, such as disappointment and self-directed anger . If you can notice these emotions and be kind to yourself in working through them, you’re more likely to be able to move into positive, empowering behavior.
  4. Go for mastery. Self-handicapping is most likely to kick in when we are trying to perform well in order to avoid negative feedback from external sources, such as criticism from colleagues. When we focus instead on developing mastery in a domain we care about, we tap into our inherent motivation to learn and grow. Recognize what matters to you, and brainstorm ideas to get yourself moving in that direction.

Getting uncomfortable is a valuable skill especially in a tight economy.  What opportunities are we talking ourselves out of because we don’t want to risk failure?  I am not talking about betting everything you have on a role of the dice.  You can take intelligent risks and apply the four steps.

My challenge for you is to list three actions that could be accomplished within 24 ours that you want to do but haven’t, for whatever reason.  It could be the phone call to set up a lunch or meeting with a prospect or adviser.  It could be addressing a financial issue you have been ignoring.  It could be an uncomfortable but relatively low risk personal or professional conversation you have been putting off.

Pick one, select the date, time, and location when you will take action, and write it down.  Now all you have to do is have integrity in the moment to do what you scheduled.  What you want to notice is how you feel after you do it.  The more you do this, the more you will accomplish and the more psychic energy you will free up.

Let me know how it went and what worked best for you.