“Those who say life is knocking them down and giving them a tough time are usually the first to beat themselves up. Be on your own side.”
As Jeremy prepared to give performance reviews for his employees, he was struck by this realization: Most of their shortcomings had nothing at all to do with ability. Rather, they were engaging in various forms of self-sabotage. They were all bright enough and quite talented—often they astounded him with their insights—but they were tripping themselves up with self-defeating behavior.
Self-defeating behavior holds all of us back at some point. For some, it can sabotage promotions or careers. To overcome your self-defeating behavior, or to help your employees overcome theirs, first pinpoint what’s going on. These are some of the most common forms of self-sabotage—chances are, you’ve engaged in many of these at one time or another.
- Dominating Conversations
You might think everyone’s listening raptly to your boundless ideas. Think again. If you’re talking over others and constantly directing the conversation, you’re not acting as either a good leader or team member.
- Avoiding Risks
Many of us engage in catastrophic thinking about potential risks (and failure often isn’t as scary as we think). Steering clear of risks means you’ll never achieve sweeping successes. If you lack trust in your own judgement about what risks are worthwhile, bring your ideas to your supervisor or mentor before you dive in head-on.
Most of us have procrastinated at some point. If you’re dreading a particular task, find ways to make it more manageable. If it’s complicated, make an outline showing how you’ll tackle it. If it’s tedious, decide to spend a fixed amount of time on it each day, and then move on.
- Shying Away from Difficult Conversations
Difficult conversations don’t get easier if you put them off—in fact, the reverse is true. Try to look at them as an opportunity for growth. Go into them with a sense of empathy for the other person, truly trying to understand her perspective. You might be surprised at what you both learn. If you want to learn more, read Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication.
- Having Tunnel Vision
Having tunnel vision is a common form of self-sabotage, say Phillip J. Decker and Jordan Paul Mitchell in Self-Handicapping Leadership. This means focusing so narrowly on one task or role that you can’t see the big picture. Think of the angry boss who is so preoccupied with finishing a task that he yells at everyone who approaches him. He doesn’t see that his attitude toward others has a lasting effect on relationships and workplace culture.
- Taking Work Home
If you’re taking work home, you’re decreasing your mental clarity at work. You might think that the more time you put into work, the more you’ll get done. Wrong. There’s a point at which you need to recharge—give yourself that time.
- Not Delegating Enough
Needing to do or control everything yourself wastes your time and tells people you don’t trust them. Micromanaging is one form of not delegating enough—because if you’re watching someone under a microscope, you haven’t truly delegated the work.
- Failing to Ask for Feedback
Fear of feedback keeps people from growing. You might be afraid to hear others’ opinions about you, or you might fear being seen as someone who needs advice. However, everyone needs advice—even executives! Whatever your shortcomings are, remember that in a few short months you could be well on your way to overcoming them—if you ask for feedback.
These three steps will help you banish self-defeating behavior:
- Identify your triggers. Know when the behavior arises, so you can consciously nip it in the bud.
- Create systems of support. Figure out who you can turn to for advice or affirmation, and tell them what you’re working on overcoming.
- Determine steps you can take to set a new pattern. Envision the behavior you want to engage in. Write notes for yourself as reminders.
Beware of one pitfall: Coping with one self-defeating behavior by replacing it with another, say Phillip and Mitchell. This tendency is all too common, they warn, giving the example of someone who avoids getting angry by steering clear of conflict. Asking for feedback from someone you trust can help make sure you’re truly addressing the behavior.
Jeremy helped his employees to grasp how they were getting in their own way. Together, they discussed steps to take in order to break out of these harmful patterns. For instance, the employee who was taking work home all the time decided to set more realistic deadlines. The employee who never took risks decided to run creative ideas by her team to see if they gained buy-in. Most importantly, by showing them that they aren’t the only ones who engage in self-defeating behavior, Jeremy helped foster a culture where employees can talk about these issues. As a result, they had a stronger system of support for overcoming them.
As an executive coach, Joel constantly is supporting his clients overcome self-defeating behaviors that are holding back their career.
“Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the Internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to, and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master.”
Vincent found himself obsessively scanning email when he was trying to focus on other tasks. Incoming communications were dominating his focus. Then he picked up a book on time management and realized how much time he was wasting.
Being constantly responsive to others’ questions is a huge energy drain, the author said. Most of us don’t truly multitask well, so if you’re constantly connected, you’re disrupting the task you were trying to focus on.
If, like Vincent, you’re staying too connected, consider these tips for unplugging from technology after work or even during the workday.
- Understand Why It’s So Tough
To benefit from time away from tech, you need to understand why it can be hard to unplug. Sometimes we put much more weight on others’ needs than on our own. If we know an email is sitting there waiting to be addressed, we feel guilty, even if we’re doing something important.We may also get FOMO—fear of missing out. We might want to think of ourselves as superstars, being the ones to jump in and solve problems as they arise. However, the urge to save the day for others can keep them from solving problems themselves. The world can get along without you for a while—and it might be better off for it.
- Taking Breaks During the Workday
Try taking mini breaks from technology during work. Leave your email behind when you go to lunch, or handle only personal communications on your breaks—nothing work-related. Better yet, read a book and ignore all electronic communication during that time.
- Mentally Unplug
Unplug from certain types of communication during times you’ve committed to a particular task. Maybe you can’t leave behind technology, but unplugging mentally from email and your phone while researching an idea or writing a proposal will improve your focus. Finishing that project you’ve been wanting to dive into? Set aside an hour or two of text-free, voicemail-free, email-free time while you work. It’s too easy to get distracted by someone’s “urgent” question, or to forget to answer it later if you’ve already opened the email. If you simply don’t check email for an hour while finishing your project, you’ll be able to address it with a clear mind after that.
- Set Rules for Using Tech at Work and Home
At work, set designated times for checking email and responding to voicemails. This will help you stay disciplined, making you more productive.When you leave the office, set aside all work-related communications until the next day. Period. Don’t open an email with the intent just to read it, not to respond. That will only cloud your mind with questions to stew over. You’ll come to work with renewed clarity and motivation if you allow yourself to have true downtime.
- Take a Tech Detox
If you have trouble not looking at work emails while at home, it might be time for a tech detox. If you can, take a “tech fast” for a day or two over the weekend, fully unplugging from all technology. Ignore all texts, unless a real emergency pops up, and don’t even think about looking at email. Spend time with your family and friends, or on your hobbies.Check out mentally from any work-related issues. There’s no sense in mulling over a problem when you’ll come in with better ideas on Monday if you simply let your worries go. Listen to “How to Unplug at Work and Be on Vacation?” This 8-minute podcast interview was with Montreal, Canada’s #1 News Talk Radio Station.
Using these tips, Vincent was able to better structure his workday and accomplish what he set out to achieve. Once he started resisting the urge to check email every ten minutes, the urge became less powerful. At home, he enjoyed a richer family life and caught up on more reading. Best of all, his mind felt clearer, and he felt a renewed sense of purpose both at work and at home.
As an executive coach, Joel can help you unplug from technology so you actually boost your productivity and gain work-life balance.
“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”
Client Elias asks: I feel like my work performance is being compromised by stress. And carrying all that stress is exhausting—sooner or later, I feel like I’m just going to collapse. How can I start dealing with it?
Coach Joel answers: Elias, you’re not alone—work is a major cause of stress for 65% of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). And none of us should settle for feeling stressed all the time. A little surge of stress can be good—the kind that gets you in gear to meet a deadline—but chronic stress is debilitating.
Workplace stress can come from small, repeated annoyances, or it can stem from major issues with your job role or organizational culture. Many of us suffer from “rush syndrome,” the fear of slowing down. Sometimes we don’t even realize how stressed we’ve been until we learn to relax. These 10 stress reduction techniques will help you start feeling like the superstar you are.
- Keep a Journal
Keep a journal for a couple of weeks to track your stress, suggests the APA. Simply acknowledging your stress and affirming you’re going to address it feels good, and it’s a first step to making changes.
- Get Organized
Clutter leads to stress, because we know it’s something that needs to be dealt with. It’s like seeing little tasks piled up in front of you—it creates a sense of overwhelm. Take a little time to clear out that clutter, and you’ll find your mind is clearer as well.
- Practice Good Posture
Sitting up straight not only projects confidence, but gives you more confidence as well, according to Time. If you get into a crouched-down pose, it will make you more fearful and stressed, because your mind is responding to your body. These techniques for reducing stress can help improve your posture and make your body feel better, which brings more stress-reducing benefits.
- Engage in Deep Breathing
According to Sharon Melnick in Success Under Stress, by regulating your breath, you can break unconscious emotional patterns that persist through short, stressed breathing. Set an intention to consciously take several deep breaths at different points throughout the day, ideally before you feel extreme stress coming on.
- Prepare for the Next Day
Fretting over what you need to do the next day, or how a meeting will go, creates a lot of unnecessary stress. Instead, at the end of each workday, create a plan for what you’ll do the next day. Prepare thoughts you want to share at the meeting, along with a manageable “to do” list.
- Create Work/Life Boundaries
If you’re checking email at night, you’re probably carrying extra stress around. Set clear work/life boundaries for yourself, and stick to them, the APA advises.
- Get Active
If you’re not getting regular exercise, make that a daily part of your routine. Even if you work out in the evening, add some physical activity to your workday, as active breaks can lower stress. Take a walk during your lunch break, for example.
- Check the Self-Criticism
Write down your greatest accomplishments and words of appreciation from others on notecards that you can keep tucked in your desk or posted on your wall. When you feel self-criticism coming on, check this self-defeating behavior by reminding yourself of those moments. This will help you stay positive as you work to overcome your inevitable challenges.
- Laugh More
Watch a silly video on your break, or share a story about something funny your kid did. Breaking the tension with laughter will put you in a better emotional state.
- Take Charge of Your Career
Lack of job satisfaction, few opportunities to advance or grow, and unclear performance expectations are major causes of workplace stress, says the APA. If these things are contributing to your stress, make a career plan now. Talk to your boss to enlist support, letting her know you want to grow with the organization.
Furthermore, try not to stress about your work stress. You’re not failing if you don’t address it all at once—implementing coping strategies takes time, as Martha Davis says in The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. Be patient with yourself as you begin using these techniques for stress reduction, knowing no one gets it all right all at once.
Is stress holding you back at work? Contact leadership coach Joel Garfinkle for more support in reducing stress and changing your life.
“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.”
Kathy asks: My job keeps demanding more and more of me. I’m passionate about my career, but I don’t want it to be my entire life. How can I find work/life balance?
Joel replies: Kathy, you’re in good company—countless employees in the U.S. are working long, hard hours. And that’s not necessarily good for their careers or companies. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, overworked employees are more likely to:
– Be stressed and experience more symptoms of clinical depression.
– Report that their health is poorer.
– Neglect caring for themselves.
– Make mistakes at work.
– Feel angry at their employers for expecting them to do so much.
– Resent coworkers who don’t work as hard as they do.
These work/life balance tips will help you enjoy a rewarding life outside of work, while finding greater job satisfaction as well.
- Set Boundaries
Set clear boundaries with yourself first and foremost, so you can communicate them well to others. For example, you might decide that you’ll never stay at work past a certain time, and you’ll never skip lunch. Here are some ways of enforcing your boundaries:
- -Say no more often. Too often, “yes” is the default answer. We allow tasks to fill our schedules without considering whether they benefit our careers or make the best use of our skills. If you’re not required to take on a task and you’re not feeling excited about it, someone else might be a better fit.
-Disconnect from technology at home. Stay away from work-related email and texting at home. If you can, unplug from technology altogether.
-Communicate boundaries to your family. When they know your schedule and needs, they’ll be able to encourage you to uphold the boundaries that you’ve set. If they’re in the dark, they’ll just feel frustrated.
- Make Plans with Family
It might seem a given that you’ll spend time with them after work, but showing you’re excited about that time will make all the difference. This is one of the most important tips for creating work/life balance, because it strengthens your relationships. Plan a fun family evening to kick off the weekend, and make that a regular part of your routine. Do something fun and adventurous every now and then, too, like going on a camping trip.
- Start Under-promising
Always estimate that a project will take a little more time than you think it should. Giving yourself that buffer of time will make you feel less harried, and it will help keep you from working long hours just to meet the deadline you set. If you finish early, great! If not, no sweat.
- Use Your Vacation Time
Did you know that over a third of American workers don’t use their vacation time? Start taking your vacations, and you’ll improve your health and wellbeing dramatically. We all need time to recharge, and vacations are one of the best ways to do that. Here are a few tips for getting the most from your vacation:
– Leave work completely behind. Resist the urge to check in with folks in the office. It’ll be good for them to figure things out on their own—and keeping your hands out of it sets a good example for everyone.
– Plan a relaxing time. Sometimes vacations are jam-packed with experiences, as we feel the need to do everything possible to enjoy the destination and our precious time off. However, that doesn’t necessarily make for the most relaxing trip. Enjoy plenty of downtime so you’ll come back refreshed.
- Get the Sleep You Need
When we don’t sleep enough, we start overreacting to stress, says Harvard Business Review. It makes us more hostile and anxious, causing smaller stressors to feel larger. When we respond to them that way, we create bigger problems. Getting enough sleep can nip this vicious circle in the bud.
- Make Time for Friends
Making time for family can be challenging enough, but don’t ignore your close friends. Make time to catch up in person on a regular basis. If you’re in a relationship, sharing close social connections will bring you closer to one another as well. Invite a few friends over for dinner once a month, or have a game night. People with strong social support cope with stress better, live happier lives, and live longer, studies have found.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be challenging if an employer keeps demanding more of your time. However, we often place many unnecessary demands on ourselves, which these work/life balance tips can help you to overcome. Remember that to get where you want to go in your career, pacing yourself is key. Enjoying a rich life outside of work will give you the fuel you need to get there.
If you or your employees need to immediately get a handle on their work/life balance, email leadership coach Joel Garfinkle for assistance.
“Optimism is the foundation of courage.”
~Nicholas M. Butler~
Sandra sighed in annoyance when Carlos, her coworker, who bounced into the office humming an upbeat tune. Their team had just lost a major client, and he seemed clueless about how that might affect the company.
Over lunch, she vented her frustration to her great mentor—and to her surprise, her mentor told her that Carlos had exactly the right attitude. “Sandra, optimistic people have many life benefits that pessimists just don’t share,” she told her. “You see optimism as naïve. You’re analytical; you don’t want to believe anything that’s not based on solid reasoning. But here’s the thing—optimism is actually the most rational approach. Optimists aren’t just choosing to see things differently; they’re actively creating a better reality for themselves. Trust me, it works.”
- Boosting Your Health
People that are optimistic have healthier hearts, a 2015 study by the University of Illinois found. To double your odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health, become an eternal optimist, according to the authors. Optimists also take more consistent measures to improve their physical health—whether they have a chronic illness or not—thereby improving their outcomes, say Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Charles S. Carver, and Michael F. Scheier in The Happy Mind: Cognitive Contributions to Wellbeing. Increased immunity is another benefit of optimism, they add. In other words, optimism can help you live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
- Improving Mental Wellbeing
Because pessimistic people also have an eight times greater risk of depression, optimism can also boost your mental health, says Elsevier in Job Readiness for Health Professionals. Optimism also helps people cope with stress and become less overwhelmed. They tend to head off stressors early on, often keeping them from getting as big, Segerstrom and her coauthors note.
- Viewing Failure as Opportunity
Rather than viewing failure as a catastrophe, people who are optimistic start looking for potential new beginnings right away. They don’t deny that problems exist—they’re proactive about solving them, say Segerstrom and her coauthors. They make creative leaps toward other possible futures, taking calculated risks, and they’re not afraid to move beyond their comfort zone. Their lack of fear makes them excited about possibilities they may not have envisioned, rather than anxious about them. Because they believe solutions are possible, optimists focus relentlessly on achieving them.
- Branding Yourself as Capable
Optimistic people brand themselves as capable and confident. Thus, they’re more likely to be seen as leaders, people whom others trust. Their optimism gives them a natural charisma, causing others to gravitate toward them.
- Building Workplace Morale
Optimism is contagious, as Shawn Murphy says in The Optimistic Workplace. Optimists inspire others to reach toward greater heights, frequently using motivational words. When others witness an optimist achieving seemingly unreachable goals, or staying the course through a difficult time, they’re more likely to act more ambitiously themselves. They also make others feel good about themselves and excited about the future. All this creates a positive feedback loop, as people perform at their best when they’re feeling positive, says Murphy.
- Earning Promotions
Optimists tend to advance further in their careers than pessimists, according to Elsevier. They don’t self-sabotage by placing arbitrary limits on themselves. Plus, all the qualities discussed above give them a definite advantage over their pessimistic counterparts.
- Strengthening Relationships
Optimistic people tend to enjoy stronger relationships with family and friends, say Segerstrom, Carver, and Scheier. They work more effectively at solving relationship challenges, and they maintain social connections through times of stress, the authors explain. Plus, they keep a healthy work/life balance.
Sandra no longer saw Carlos as clueless and naïve. Each morning when she went in to work, she gave herself permission to feel excited about the good things that might happen that day. At their weekly lunch, her mentor would ask her to share all the successes that had happened, both large and small. As a result, Sandra found herself focusing on them. In doing so, she gave them more power than the petty annoyances and perceived roadblocks that had previously dominated her focus.
To improve your quality of life and achieve your work career dreams, cultivate an optimistic mindset, as Sandra’s mentor advised her. Even if you’re a natural pessimist, it’s never too late to start.
Need more support in cultivating an optimistic outlook? Contact Joel for his executive coaching services.