I want to talk to you about one of the greatest impediments to your happiness and success. You. And your self-sabotage.
Ouch, I know, sorry. But I am constantly confronted by women working in their own worst interest and the one who’s really always saying ouch, is me.
There’s three areas of self-sabotage I want to identify. It is so painful when I work with someone and I can see all their greatness, all their potential and all their capability to create a life they love but to hear them consistently use the most dangerous phrase in the English language. Yes, but…
What if by nature, humans were made to be optimistic. A crazy thought, I know, but hear me out. Don’t we have to be somewhat stupidly optimistic to slug our way through life? Truly every decision is naturally ladened with pitfalls and yet, day after day, we choose to persevere. Because deep down, we are seeking good and love and peace and we have the inherent belief that things will get better.
That part of us is the “yes” part. That part is the one willing to be creative and daring. But we have some rotten programming that directs us to put the “but” in to stifle and squash the part that just might be on to something wonderful.
“Ralphie, you’ll shoot your eye out”, is constantly running in the background. I mean really, what were the odds that the bb would ricochet into an icicle.
Look, I’m sensitive to self-preservation. It too is a natural human response. But the things I’m talking to women about are not whether or not they should skydive, my answer is no, but whether they should start a business or develop a new product or apply to be a speaker or start a podcast or reach out to someone and ask for assistance with something or apply for a job or a degree program.
The flashpoint is you stop your brain even before you start to craft a strategy or plan. You are literally brainwashing yourself to choose “no”.
And it’s not just when you’re spitballing ideas that may enhance your entertainment, education or earning power. I hear you do it when I give advice on how to handle an interpersonal conflict or improve a relationship with a partner, spouse or child. Your logical, analytic brain hears the advice, approves the advice and then jumps fourteen steps ahead, anticipating reactions from the other party that you absolutely cannot be sure of and stops any possibility of progress or improvement dead in its tracks. “Yes, but…”. Then you tell me all the reasons why it won’t work. Ok, Friend, your call. Keep doing it your way – unfun- or maybe try it my way.
You know, I totally fell for a clickbait headline recently, “24 True Facts About The Titanic Tragedy That Will Send You Down A Rabbit Hole.” It did. One of the facts was that it is true there weren’t enough lifeboats on the ship but that many of the ones that went out were only half full because so many passengers believed even though the Titanic was badly damaged, it would remain afloat for many hours, allowing a rescue ship to reach it. We all know how that turned out.
When you say “yes” to an opportunity, idea or humbly, my advice, you are grabbing on to the lifeboat. When you let the “comma but” sneak into the middle of your sentence, you are crawling right back aboard your own little SS Midlife Sucks.
Start paying attention and I think you may start hearing it coming out of your mouth more often than you thought. I am challenging you today to hear it, and stop it.
Start walking down the road of yeses. You’ll be amazed at what changes for you. Will it always work out as you planned or hoped for? Absolutely… fucking not. But there is so much freedom in giving yourself over to the uncertainty as long as you keep moving forward. Keep saying yes.
I know you like to plan and prepare and be ready for any contingency. Those are qualities in us that have been celebrated; that we keep things under control and in control. But isn’t it possible that that white knuckled, tight grip is what got us here, stinking in the Midlife funk? Sorry, too gross, too descriptive? The words, they flow, and I let them go where they see fit. But yeah, it stinks here right?
So let’s work to replace “yes, but” with “yes, and” or better yet, just “yes period”.
Our next little self sabotage specialty is lack of follow through. Has this ever happened to you? You are gung ho on something, super fired up and you start with the best of intentions. Then before you know it, you douse your fire with water; sizzle, smoke, the end.
Then comes the story you tell yourself and you allow others to tell about you; I never finish what I start. I’m never successful. I don’t follow through. I can’t stick to anything.
If that is you, I want you to adopt two different assessments. The first is, who you were yesterday does not define who you are today, unless you allow it too. That means you get to start over each and every day, hell, I don’t mind if you start over each and every hour.
The second assessment is to dig into WHY you stop. I know the rule book says your answer is supposed to be because you’re lazy or unfocused. What if the reason is instead that you didn’t like it. That it wasn’t serving you the way you optimistically expected it would.
Let me give you an example of one of my clients. She had been reading job descriptions of a type of position that she was interested in that listed Microsoft Excel proficiency as a required skill. She decided to take an advanced course on Microsoft Excel to make herself more marketable. I love this plan so far! She started the course and petered out after two weeks. This is a woman with a Masters degree. She knows how to learn and stay dedicated to a program.
We dug deep and finally she admitted, she hated Excel. She hated trying to learn it. It didn’t come naturally to her and she was miserable in the class. I asked her to consider; didn’t requiring Excel in these job descriptions suggest that she would be using this program a good amount if she landed one of these jobs? And did she think it was a good idea to pick a new career path that included doing something on a regular basis that she didn’t enjoy?
In this case, quitting was a brilliant idea. We are now crafting a plan for her to start her own business. One that does not require Excel but does take advantage of her natural and abundant talents and is something very important to her.
The number one perk of being a grownup is getting to do what you want. You get to figure out what serves your values and you are empowered to create your life in the most entertaining and fulfilling way possible.
The reverse of this is true too. You don’t have to continue doing what you don’t want to. I’m not saying there aren’t at times consequences of those decisions, but the point is, you are capable of weighing those consequences and making those decisions. And saying no, stopping something that doesn’t feel good, is not the same as quitting.
Now if you are quitting things and then consistently regretting those decisions, there’s more to be uncovered here on an individual basis and I’m happy to talk to you about it.
Maybe the biggest way you self-sabotage is procrastinating. Sure there’s the obvious time sucks like netflix and social media, but how about your, let’s call it busy-ness. It’s pretty clever really. You fill your time with the menial and mundane so you don’t have to confront what you’d actually do if you had available time. You don’t have to expend the energy to ask yourself tough questions and really dig down and uncover your deepest, truest desires. Maybe not asking and not knowing is easier. But only in the moment. You’re still facing the monotony and boredom and you’re not making any progress towards the life you’re worthy of having.
I heard a great saying, “you’re too busy chasing the cows back into the barn to build a fence.” I don’t know if I can say it any better.
A lot of the self-sabotage can be fear of failure. That self-preservation chip tells us don’t try because you may fail. Instead, let’s reprogram it to say, “go for it, you may succeed!”
Let’s take that Fear of Failure and turn it Fuel of Failure.
Own the fear. Yeah, it sucks to fail. It’s scary, you feel shame and quite honestly, like a loser. But it may help to recognize that most people taking risks are failing more often than succeeding. And the true path to success is tweaking your vocabulary to see failures as learning experiences. Opportunities to get better for next time because there should be a next time.
The best way to pick yourself up after failure or even to get started if you’re absolutely scared to death of a negative outcome is to share these feelings and concerns with people who have your back.
Bringing these feelings to the surface can help prevent you from expressing them through unconscious efforts to sabotage yourself, and getting reassurance and empathy from trusted others can bolster your feelings of self-worth..
Have you experienced failure before? A business or even a relationship? Once you finish mourning the experience, take some time to assess your role in the demise. And then here’s a nifty trick. Get mad. I am not at all opposed to finding a little fire that will drive you and your next venture to be a sure success.
What you need to recognize is that all these forms of self-sabotage are the enemy of the future you deserve. And you are completely in control of stopping it and being the best version of yourself starting today.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.