You may blame your boss when you are not promoted, or your family for standing in the way of your dreams, but your inner fears could be the real culprit, says Christine Fieldhouse
Beware, you could be your own worst enemy, sabotaging your chances of success.
When Mary applied for a senior executive position within her company, the entire office believed she would get the job. Not only was the 33-year-old perfectly qualified, but she was extremely loyal, efficient, punctual and popular. But within days of applying, she started arriving late to work, giving half-prepared presentations and forgetting important meetings she had scheduled with clients.
Soon she no longer looked like a high-flying businesswoman. Her shoes were scuffed and her previously manicured nails were bitten. By the time the interviews were held a month later, she was no longer the favourite.
When she didn’t get the job, she was disappointed, but on another level she was relieved. The rejection reaffirmed what she’d always believed – that she wasn’t good enough, so she reminded herself that she’d been right all along. As life in the office got back to normal, albeit with a new boss, Mary went back to her old professional self, putting her above the new appointment and leaving her colleagues very confused.
Mary’s colleagues had witnessed an act of self-sabotage. From the moment she submitted her application, Mary was her own worst enemy. She knew on paper she stood every chance of getting the job, but her fear of extra responsibility – as well as her inner mental chatter – drove her to sabotage herself.
Mary isn’t alone. According to life coach and master hypnotherapist Annie Ashdown, self-sabotage is one of the biggest reasons why people fail to achieve their goals. “Self-sabotage
is an unconscious behaviour that stems from a fear of success or a fear of failure,” says Annie, author of Doormat nor Diva be.
“So many people say they want to achieve things like writing a book or running a marathon, but they believe they don’t have time to write or train or they’re not good enough. Of course, they have the time and they will be good enough to try, but for them the fear of rejection is far greater than the need to write a book or run.
“Sometimes people with low self-esteem keep themselves poor and small because they feel they don’t deserve the success that being a top sales executive would bring them. Sabotaging their own efforts is their way of beating themselves up.
“Other times, people who like to be in control will sabotage a project deliberately to prove they’re still in control and have the power to decide whether the project is a success or not.
“Perfectionists are also guilty of self-sabotage – if they can’t write a best-selling book that’s going to win an award, they don’t want to write anything at all, and if they’re not going to win the marathon, they won’t bother to enter.
“The problem is, they’ll never know how good they can be until they give these things a try.
“Men are just as bad as women, but women disclose their habits more. Men are more subtle.”
A passive misery
According to UK-based Annie, there are many ways of sabotaging ourselves. We all know women who long to be slim, yet they eat cupcakes and chocolate at every opportunity. There are men who fantasise about being healthy and athletic, yet they smoke 40 cigarettes a day. We have colleagues who want a promotion, but they don’t put themselves forward when there’s a vacancy. Instead they come up with excuses such as the boss was never free for a chat or the printer at home was broken so they couldn’t bring their CV.
Annie says the people who stay stuck are often those who enjoy a passive misery – they’re the moaners and complainers who love a good whinge. Yet ironically, despite all their excuses, the person responsible for their unhappiness is themselves.
“It’s usually much safer to stay put,” says Annie. “An overweight single woman who wants to lose weight and meet a man might carry on eating a high-fat diet to protect herself from being hurt. It’s safer to stay at home eating chocolate every night than risking a relationship and possible disappointment or hurt. It’s a case of ‘better the devil you know’ – the unknown can be quite scary.”
How do we know if we’re sabotaging our own lives, and how do we go about changing? Annie says we need to take steps to systematically evaluate and change our behaviour.
“The first stage is to ask ourselves if we want to change,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with staying in a routine job or overeating if we’re happy, but if we’re miserable, change will only come about when we’re ready for it.
“Second, we need to establish what’s important to us. If we love being at home for our children, we’re never going to put our heart into a business opportunity that takes us all over the world.
“We need to be aware of what we say and do and note it down in a journal. If you talk in a stream of consciousness style when you are nervous, its helpful to note it down.
“If you scour the internet for job vacancies but never get round to applying for the suitable ones, write down your excuses, whether it’s a headache, money, your computer or a lack of qualifications.
“Once you’re aware of your behaviour, you can examine your motives and the payoff you get from staying stuck. You may be afraid that you won’t be popular if you earn a huge salary, or you may fear being lonely if you move abroad.”
Annie recommends we take a sheet of paper and write ‘I can! I will’ at the top, then make two columns. In the left column write down your present behaviour – such as “I don’t take business cards when I go to important meetings”. In the right column, write how you would like to behave – being organised and remembering all your business stationery.
“I had a client who was brilliant at sales and could have risen through the ranks but part of a new role on offer was that he had to speak to large audiences,” says Annie. “This fear kept him stuck for years. He was great in the office and behind the scenes, but he clammed up whenever he had to speak to large groups. He made every excuse not to go.
“He worked through these exercises, and he identified that he was afraid of changing and not being popular in the office, yet he also wanted to travel. So when he next went abroad, he did a talk and he loved it. Yes, he was nervous, but he broke through the fear and he took on four or five accounts globally.
“He was as popular as ever – in fact more so, because he was much happier and he was living his own personal dream!”