Are You An Awesome Self-Sabotager Too?

Welcome to week three of the Spread Hope Project weekly themes. This week’s topic is one that I’m super excited to talk about: Self-Sabotage. Why, you might ask, am I super excited to talk about this topic? Because:

I am an awesome self-sabotager.

 

Self sabotage

(Grammar note: I realize the proper term may be “self-saboteur”, I like sabotager better). And by awesome, of course, I mean this is something I understand all too well, because, if I’m being totally honest (and why wouldn’t I be?) this is probably something that I do daily. In fact, it’s something many of us do regularly. Sometimes without even realizing it. The truth is, self-sabotage is way more common than you may think, and it often shows up in forms nobody expects – in fact, often, it shows up in forms that, on the surface, look quite positive and productive (more on this later).

Why do we self-sabotage? Well, we’re all unique people living unique lives, and so therefore I can’t speak for each and every one of us, but there’s one thread that tends to tie together a lot of self-sabotage efforts.  If you’ve been reading these weekly theme series, it’s one you might recognize from last week: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success (yep, this exists – if we’re successful, there’s pressure to continue to keep becoming more successful, and that’s freakin’ scary), fear of the unknown/uncertainty, imposter syndrome. I could go on and on. And underlying these fears may be feelings such as low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s not uncommon. If we’re struggling with our self-confidence, it’s a lot easier to convince us (and for us to convince ourselves) that not only are we going to fail, but that the results of failing are going to be awful. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, these feelings can be magnified further. And when these are magnified, so too may be the fears, and that can lead to even stronger self-sabotage.

Now let me stop for a moment to clarify something: the word sabotage sounds pretty awful. And when it’s done intentionally, maliciously, towards someone else, it is. If you intentionally sabotage someone’s relationship or big day or something like this, obviously that’s not OK. But when it comes to self-sabotage, I believe that often, it isn’t a conscious decision, and it’s certainly not intentionally malicious. Rather, I think we frequently do this as a form of self-protection, a sort of preservation of self. When you are struggling with depression and experiencing extremely low self-worth, for example, rejection or failure could be especially devastating, furthering the depression and feelings of worthlessness. So our brain, without our conscious input, says “Hey, that doesn’t sound good at all, so I’m going to do what I have to in order to not get rejected”. And one of the ways in which we can not get rejected, is to prevent ourselves from going after something fully in the first place. Thus, self-sabotage.

That said, just because it’s not a conscious decision to start with doesn’t mean we can’t bring consciousness to it. Which is to say that when we learn to recognize our patterns of self-sabotage, we can potentially spot when our brain starts veering that direction, and hopefully learn some ways to intervene.

 

how do you self-sabotage

 

As I said, I’m awesome at self-sabotage. Which isn’t awesome, but it does mean I’m pretty familiar with it. And while there are so many ways to self-sabotage, there are some methods that, from my observation and experience, seem to be particularly common.   I’ll be delving into some of these more thoroughly later in the week, but wanted to give an overview here.

  • Procrastination. This might be number one. Raise your hand if you, too, find just one more really interesting article to read or Facebook post you must comment on before starting that task that makes you nervous/concerned/etc. I’ll be delving into this a lot more later.
  • The endless to do list/always being too busy. If day after day, week after week, you’ve built up your schedule or to-do list to the point that there’s no humanly possible way you’re going to get through it all, you might want to take a closer look. If you’re one of those people who wears “too busy” like a badge of honor, please don’t hate me just yet. I’ll explain further when I do a deeper dive into this topic later this week.
  • All or nothing thinking. For those of you who, like me, struggle with gray areas, all or nothing thinking (“it’s not worth it unless I get this exact, specific result”) is a super easy way for our brain to freeze us where we stand, thus sabotaging our efforts to move forward.
  • Setting goals with unreasonable time frames, requirements, or that require all “outside influence” (i.e. where you have very little to no control). It’s OK to be optimistic and go outside your comfort zone. In fact, I encourage it. But have some smaller in between goals to build on too. If my only plan for paying off debt is winning the Powerball, I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment (aka sabotaging my efforts).
  • Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’ve heard this before in slightly different context, right? Now, this doesn’t mean giving up after the first failure or rejection. Persistence is key in reaching goals.  But every disappointment, or at least most, provide a learning opportunity. If you learn/ change/tweak nothing, you’ll probably get the same result. Think Charlie Brown kicking the football here.
  • Not being true to ourselves. Have you ever tried to dedicate yourself to job or project or program that goes against everything that is you? I’m not just talking about “my job isn’t my dream career”, but something that really, authentically doesn’t feel like you. It might work for a while, but eventually, you burn out. Furthermore, resentment and bitterness often set in. It’s incredibly difficult to feel successful and fulfilled when you’re bored, burnt out, resentful, and bitter. Knowingly setting ourselves on this course, therefore, sabotages our efforts.

There are more, certainly. These are the ones that I see most commonly. I personally have done all of these at times in my life, and some are still tough habits to kick. Over the next week, I’ll be digging deeper into each of the above, offering ways to recognize them, and tools and tricks for dealing with them.

 

How to Stay Hopeful and Realistic

Lately, I tend to have two moods: “I’m going to bring about world peace!” and “I can’t get out of bed.”  This isn’t overly surprising, given that I have a mood cycling disorder, which flips me from hypomania to depression sometimes numerous times a day (thank you, rapid cycling). This can make hope tricky at times. When I’m in a depressive cycle, it’s hard to find any hope at all. When I’m hypomanic, my brain runs a mile a minute, full of plans and ideas, and I whole-heartedly feel every one of them is possible. To be clear, they aren’t “unrealistic” per se – I’m not actually trying to bring about world peace single-handedly. They’re career goals, life goals. They’re dreams. They’re possible, but not easy (because what is?), not nearly as close as they feel in those moments. Still, I plan and plan and plan.

The problem comes in the execution of these plans. I start out all gung ho, all excited. I have my brainstorming pages and my sticky notes of ideas and my notebook full of thoughts about this new opportunity. And then, at the tiniest falter, I crash. One thing doesn’t go exactly as I planned in my “take on the world” state, and it brings me back to a harsh reality, at times even cycling me back into depression.

So how do we stay hopeful, but also keep ourselves a bit realistic, to try to avoid this crash? Now, a note: I’m not saying not to be optimistic. Optimism is great. But how can we be optimistic without setting ourselves up for massive disappointment? I don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things I learned.

  1. Don’t discourage the initial rush of ideas, dreams, “I can do this!” feelings. Write your notes, brainstorm, whatever you need to do.
  2. Then leave it, at least for the night. Sleep on it, and look at it again in the morning. See how it looks. Adjust as needed. Continue to do this periodically throughout the process. If anything gives you pause, sleep on it before changing it.
  3. Pick out the pieces that seem the most do-able to start with. For instance, when I was starting Spread Hope Project, the first thing I did was start a specific Instagram account just for the project (shameless plug!). That was doable. I know Instagram, I already have other accounts (let’s ignore the fact that one of those is for my dog), and all I needed was my cell phone. It didn’t mean I had to get a ton of followers right away, I just had to start it. That was a completely doable first step, and it helped me keep my momentum going.
  4. Flesh out some details – which actions can you take now, which can you do soon, which require other pieces (i.e. funding, the success of the first steps, help from others, etc) in order to happen. Organize them, including making note of any help you’ll need in order to make certain pieces work.
  5. Know that everything won’t go exactly as you hoped. Have a backup plan, or several. Creating these helps you to be realistic about glitches that will inevitably occur, and also helps to keep you from feeling defeated if you need to change course a bit.
  6. When in doubt, be optimistic, but don’t bet the farm. Focus on the little successes that move you forward, instead of only seeing the end goal. It helps keep you working on the day to day tasks that will get you there, and setbacks will be less crushing.