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Why do I sabotage what I really want to do?

Sometimes we stand in our own way when it comes to making an important career decision. We delay taking action to our desired work life. As a coach, I observe common thought patterns and behaviors that are connected to self-sabotage.

My aim is to introduce you to a common self-sabotage pattern through an example of one of my clients. I will explain how it links to critical self-talk and its consequences on our work lives. Finally, I will introduce you to the next step for you to become aware of your own saboteurs.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is when you do (or don’t do) things that block you from evolving into what you say you want to be or you want to do. You avoid your own growth or reaching a specific goal, something that happens almost unconsciously.

You can recognize self-sabotaging behavior by becoming aware of in which situations you are getting in your own way.

What are your triggers?

What do you say to yourself in situations when you want to move forward in your work life?

When you step outside of your comfort zone and feel vulnerable?

Self-destructive behaviors in our work life can include procrastination, indecisiveness, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, giving up when things get rough, and lack of assertiveness.

What self-sabotage can look like – example from a client of mine

With some of my coaching clients, I recognized a common form of self-sabotage.

It is the belief “I want to do XY (for example “find a meaningful job that energizes me”) but somehow, I never follow through”.

What does self-sabotage look like in action?

One of my clients has been unhappy with her job situation for years. So, she invested in a coach to find more clarity on what she wants instead and get the courage to act on her knowing. The most important decision and first step are now done.

After a couple of aha-moments and successful sessions, this client does not follow through with her commitments. For example, connecting with people in the industry she is interested in or doing 360° feedback on her strengths and potential. She keeps postponing coaching sessions so that she loses momentum. She ensures she stays exactly in the same stuck state. In some way, proving to herself and me that her belief is correct: she will not follow through with her desired change.

Maybe you can relate that you start a project but leave it unfinished halfway (I certainly do). You may dream of doing meaningful work, starting your own business, or becoming location-independent. But, you never get round to doing anything about it.

Ask yourself: How are you benefiting from staying stuck? What are you avoiding? Answering those questions can help you to become aware of your self-sabotage patterns.

Consequences of self-sabotage to avoid failure

For me, a big siren goes off in my mind when I hear the sentence: “I never follow through”. Words like “never”, “always”, “should”, etc. are an indicator of your inner saboteur/inner critic at work. It is simply not true that someone has never followed through with something. We may simply forget how we overcame the fear of failure in the past.

What does follow-through mean? That you set yourself a goal and you need to make it happen at all costs? That you are not allowed to experiment? That it is better to do nothing, instead of risking to be a beginner again, to “fail”, to find out you have to keep learning?

With the amount of pressure this creates no wonder it is easier to do nothing at all. The consequence in my client’s case is that she stays in her well-paid, safe job that she is not interested in. She is stuck in an industry that she doesn't like. It creates this vicious cycle that confirms she is not capable of not taking action, and therefore feels even worse for it.

This voice of negative self talk gets louder, cementing feelings of unworthiness, shame, and low self-esteem. If we get paralyzed by this fear of failure, we avoid taking chances. We become less curious and more and more stuck in the comfortable known. The more we avoid failure, the less we trust ourselves and have the chance to grow our capabilities.

Getting to know your inner critic

We all have such a self-critical voice inside of us. The inner critic is that persistent and insistent voice that reminds us how incapable, incompetent, unsuitable, and not fit we are. The question is whether we let it run the show, or if we become aware of how it is blocking us from moving forward.

The inner critic shows up at the moment when you know you want to change something but then it “feels” awkward. You feel frightened and one million reasons pop up in your head telling you why it will not work out. Even if we suffer a lot, it often happens that we don't change. Because the awful known still “feels” better than stepping into the scary unknown.

The job of your inner critic is to keep you safe. It protects you from failure, disappointment, and especially criticism from others. Often, this bitchy voice gets inspired by people in our childhood. These can be critical parents, teachers, etc.

I had a strict teacher in elementary school. I can still replay moments when she criticized the way I painted. “Don’t color outside the line”. Or she rebuked me for being too unfocused, talkative, and distracting my classmates. What did I learn? If you don't want to get punished, be quiet, and don't rock the boat, especially as a girl.

If you would like to become more aware of your patterns of self-sabotage, in this Survival Guide for Empaths, I am sharing the most common inner critics of empathic women. I give you concrete strategies to deal with them, so you can create a work life that is authentic and meaningful for you. Click here to get the guide.


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