A Coaching Power Tool Created by Jenna Rykiel
(Wellness and Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Recognizing self-sabotage in its many forms and choosing to accept and love who we are as individuals is a key component in reaching the goals we set for ourselves.
We’ve all experienced self-sabotaging behaviors at some point in our lives and they wear many different masks. It’s a complex process that pits us against our own thoughts and impulses. When we self-sabotage, we’re getting in our own way from reaching the goals we set for ourselves. Clients often partner with coaches to help break through these thought and behavior barriers, but it’s important that the cyclical nature of self-sabotaging be recognized and broken.
One of the most defeating and dangerous roadblocks to development and success is negative self-talk. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not [blank] enough” (smart, skinny, confident, etc.), than you’ve victimized yourself to this negative thinking. We’re all familiar with this at some point in our lives, but when it occurs on a regular basis or around a particular goal, it can be detrimental to our success and hold us back from what we want to accomplish. Negative self-talk is an easy trap to fall into and a hard one to get out of due to the cyclical nature of the thoughts; we tend to attribute our lack of success to inadequacy, which therefore, strengthens the negative messages we feed ourselves. Coaches and clients alike are vulnerable to negative self-talk as a form of self-sabotage. It erodes our confidence and self-esteem, both, which are necessary in reaching any goal.
Another face of self-sabotage that I’ve noticed first-hand in my own coaching journey is procrastination. It can often be perfectionism or the fear of failure that holds us back from finishing projects or ideas, even when there are exciting opportunities that lie ahead. Even in writing this Power Tool, I’ve delayed its development for months because I want it to live up to my expectations and to impress those that lay eyes on it. This has been debilitating for the process and has led to months of procrastination and anxiety. When I find myself ruminating on perfectionism or comparing my work to others, I find that I devalue myself in the process, which creates a wall between my goal and me.
This thought process, which stems from negative thinking, can also be tied to self-sabotaging feelings of worthlessness. If we notice ourselves (or our clients) exaggerating other people’s achievements while diminishing our own, we are creating more roadblocks and hurdles for ourselves. This makes reaching any goal exponentially harder.Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy”, but I’d take it one step further to say, “comparison is the thief of progress”. Distracting ourselves with what others have created and focusing on how we have so far fallen short in comparison creates a defeating narrative that halts our creativity and resourcefulness.
People seek coaching because somewhere between their ideas and the execution of those ideas, something is getting in the way. Before we can authentically help others, we need to be aware of how self-sabotage is getting in our own way.
Take a few minutes to self reflect on the moments within the past few weeks or months that you’ve let self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts hold you back from reaching your goals.
- What have you been putting off, again and again?
- When have you let other’s achievements leave you feeling defeated?
- Do you fear that if you fail, others will think less of you?
- When have you doubted yourself and your abilities even though you know you are very capable?
- What goals have you had for yourself for a long time and never been able to accomplish?
- Are you suffering from lack of motivation to do something that you should want to do?
- Is there something in your life that nags at you and causes you dissatisfaction because you know you could do it, or do it better?
- What is your answer to, “Am I enough”?
- Do you believe in yourself?
Ask yourself questions like these, and tune in to the situations where you may be sabotaging yourself. Breaking the cycle of self-sabotage starts with recognizing your own thoughts and behaviors.
Breaking the Cycle of Self Sabotage
While we’re all vulnerable and capable of self-sabotage, we also have the power to overcome its setbacks to reach our desired goals. In the book, The Big Leap: Conquer your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level!, Gay Hendricks talks about an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed this ceiling, we try our best to realign our lives with our perceived identity. If that identity is full of self-acceptance, we’re unstoppable, but often times our identity is consumed byself-sabotaging thoughts.
What this all boils down to is a need for self-acceptance and self-love. In Brene Brown’s book, The Gift of Imperfection, she talks about the importance of being enough, even with our many imperfections and struggles. She beautifully states, “love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves”. This need to turn our care and concern for others on ourselves is important to believing in oneself and seeing failures as a place to grow rather than give up. Imagine that someone close to you applied for a job but didn’t get it. What would you say to that friend or family member? I imagine your gut reaction wouldn’t be to tell them they are inadequate, not qualified and stupid for even thinking to apply for the position, but often this is how we treat ourselves in similar situations. We’re quick to point out our flaws when we’re at our most vulnerable, which leaves us feeling defeated.
A powerful tool to combat this variety of a self-sabotaging thought process is a concept called the growth mindset, developed by Carol Dweck, Professor in Psychology at Stanford University. Her theory posits that there are two mindsets available for development, growth and fixed. The two mindsets play an important role in all aspects of a person’s life and Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. In a 2012 interview by OneDublin.org, Dweck states:
In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
A person with a growth mindset sees failure as an opportunity for them to grow and believes challenges help them to grow as well. A person with a fixed mindset sees failure as a limit of their abilities and believes challenges put them at risk of failure. This person believes they can either do something or not, which fuels sabotaging thoughts. This personality theory is not just for students and can be seen in everyone we come in contact with, especially those we coach.
In noticing self-sabotaging behaviors in clients (and ourselves), there are four steps we can offer to help break the cycle;recognition, monitoring, challenging, and supporting. The most important step is to recognize that self-sabotaging behaviors are happening and that they are not permanent. Once we can recognize thoughts and behaviors as barriers, rather than truths, we can work on trying to mitigate their frequency and impact on our goals.
The next step is to monitor the negative thoughts. By writing down the thoughts that are getting in the way, we’re able to see negative patterns in our thinking. This allows us to challenge our own self-sabotaging thinking, which is the third step in the process. Once we have these thoughts on paper, we can take a closer look at whether they’re rational. We can ask, “What deeper thoughts lie behind this self-sabotaging thinking?” or “Are these thoughts rational, and based on any clear facts?”
The final step to breaking the self-sabotage cycle is developing self-supporting behaviors that combat our negative ones. This means rebuilding self-confidence and acceptance. Instead of automatically turning your attention to negative self-talk, turn your assumptions around and believe in yourself. Align your perspective with positive beliefs about what you can accomplish. When your skills, beliefs and behaviors are aligned, you will have proper control over your mental, emotional and physical states and be primed to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.