“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.
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.
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.