It’s easy to identify all the external factors responsible for keeping you from achieving your goals. Maybe you chose a degree in an industry that has seen a recent decline. Maybe your boss doesn’t appreciate your work. Maybe your business idea was leveraged by another entrepreneur before you had a chance to patent it. Most of us can list these types of factors if prompted, without much hesitation, but it’s much harder to identify the ways we’re keeping ourselves from success—and usually, these factors are much more significant.
There are two main problems with self-sabotage that make it notoriously difficult to overcome:
- Identification. It’s hard to know when you’re sabotaging yourself because it often happens subconsciously—and nobody’s there to tell you when you’re doing it.
- Improvement. Even if you can identify these sabotaging behaviors and habits, they’re hard to fix because they’re usually a natural part of your personality!
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I can help you with at least the “identification” obstacle. The following are some of the most common ways people sabotage their own long-term potential:
- You Give Up Prematurely
When faced with adversity, a fraction of people continue and a fraction of people give up; this is true for any obstacle. Anyone who gives up instantly abandons hope of progression, while the people who persevere instantly find another chance for eventual success. This sounds simple on paper, so why do so many people give up prematurely?
Sometimes it’s because the amount of effort required for the next phase is intimidating. Sometimes it’s because they feel defeated and don’t want to suffer that feeling again. Sometimes it’s because they secretly fear success. You owe it to yourself to find out why.
- You Don’t Cut Your Losses
There’s a psychological principle investment demonstrated by a creation known as the dollar auction game. Here’s the short version: people are predisposed to escalate their investment in known unfavorable scenarios simply because they’ve already invested in it. In the dollar auction game, this means staking more money in an effort to recoup previous losses, to a ridiculous degree. To you, this may be continuing to work at a lousy job you’ve already put eight years into. It’s bad to give up prematurely, but it’s equally bad to keep subjecting yourself to compounding losses.
- You Refuse to Adapt
Think of your goals as a destination and your plans as a roadmap to get there. When traveling along these roads, you come to an obstacle. What do you do? A conventional traveler would simply re-route the path or choose a slightly different destination. However, in our own lives, we’re more likely to go back to our point of origin and never mention the incident again. Why is this? Because adapting is hard. People would rather give up than adapt, and that makes it nearly impossible to succeed; few goals can be met without obstacle.
- You Think You’re Good Enough
Most of these obstacles so far have been rooted in a lack of esteem, but too much esteem can also be a bad thing. For example, if you think you’re already good enough for the job, you won’t prepare for the interview. If you think your business idea is good enough to attract investors, you won’t work to improve it. Inevitably, in these scenarios, you’ll hit a major barrier, and you won’t be able to progress. What then, is the solution? Knowing that you always have room for improvement, and constantly striving to achieve it.
- You Fear Failure
The fear of failure is rampantly common and devastating in effect. Culturally, we see failure as both negative and permanent; if you get an “F” in the class, you’ve disappointed everyone you know and you’ll never have a chance to take that class again. This fear haunts us throughout life; if you start a business and fail, you’ll disappoint everyone and you’ll never have another chance to succeed. Of course, this isn’t rational—most failures in real life aren’t permanent. They’re temporary. They aren’t negative consequences of bad actions; they’re lessons that turn our mistakes into achievements. If you stop fearing failure, you’ll take more educated risks and you’ll be more confident in your decisions.
- You Choose Comfort
Most of us prefer comfort to discomfort; this is why we’ve created these terms in the first place. Unfortunately, most forms of “success” require discomfort; you have to try new things, go unfamiliar places, do things you’re bad at, and meet intimidating people to challenge ourselves to grow. This doesn’t mean you should always choose the uncomfortable option. Instead, this is meant to illustrate the idea that “uncomfortable” often means “challenging” under the surface, and challenging things help us to grow.
- You Wait for the “Perfect” Moment
Whether you want to start your own business, quit your job, or invest in a new venture, most of us are crippled by waiting for the “perfect” time to pull the trigger. We wait for a little more money, a little more stability, or a little more information. The problem is, the perfect time never comes. Every moment is riddled with imperfections and no matter how long you wait, there will always be a risk associated with your decision. Stop waiting for the perfect moment and just do what you want to do.
Throughout this article, I’ve highlighted some of the most common and most significant forms of self-sabotage, along with some introductory strategies for how to deal with them. The rest is up to you. It takes confidence, determination, and willpower to successfully overcome these internal mental hurdles, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Know your weaknesses, stick to your goals, and most importantly, don’t give up on yourself.
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