Self-help

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

Friday - - News -

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!”

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