blog, productivity, self improvement

10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Yourself

recognise and remove internal and external roadblocks to success

selective focus photo of yellow sunflower
Photo by Zszen John on Pexels.com

You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.
Wayne Dyer

We all want to succeed. When success doesn’t come, we tell ourselves stories about why that might be.

  • I’m unlucky.
  • The timing isn’t right.
  • Other people have better connections.
  • People like me who are ______ just don’t win.
  • The market is overcrowded.

Most of these excuses are false. And you know it. Humans are really good at rationalising their failures and placing the blame elsewhere.

Be honest.

Whether you bottle it up or act it out, are you keeping yourself from the things you say you want?

Doubt Is The Only Certainty

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
Dale Carnegie

There’s something you want, but you doubt your ability to get it. Deep down, you don’t think you deserve it. Seeing someone else with what you want makes you envious, so you become hypercritical of yourself or that person, which both lead to bitterness and anger.

Criticism and envy are signposts to what you really want. Figure out precisely what that is, and you’re well on the way to getting it.

Success looks very different to each of us. If you envy the writer with a number one bestseller, what element of their success annoys you most? It could be critical acclaim, financial security, freedom to write all day rather than be employed, or even the fact that they look so damn happy in their photos. Why can’t you have that?

Use that feeling. You can have what they have if you master your self-doubt.

A certain amount of doubt is healthy but too much is paralysing. Start with your definition of success and make a plan to get there. Don’t let doubt stop you. It’s time to act.

Risky Business

He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.
Shannon L. Alder

Do you order the same food from the same restaurant every time?

Do you try that new restaurant you drove past yesterday, or do you only visit places that others have given at least a 4.8 review rating?

Risk aversion keeps you locked in place ruminating over all the ways things can go wrong if you change. You follow the herd, even if the herd isn’t going your way.

Moving towards your dreams always entails risk. It might be more difficult than you thought. You might not make it. It might not look as good from the inside.

But what’s the alternative?

The only way you’ll know where your limits are is to push yourself further. You can’t reach a new level without taking a chance that you might fail. Don’t discount the possibility that you might succeed.

Focus on the chance of success and accept that you’ll probably have to try more than once. Failing forward is tough, but taking each failure as a lesson helps you build the resilience and feedback you need.

As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Adjust your aim and keep swinging.

Stuck In A Rut

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

It’s often said that change is the only constant in life. We can only navigate a hugely complex world by filtering, simplifying and making mental models.Even though we’re hard-wired to prefer novelty, we also resist change because of the strain it puts on our mental bandwidth. Add to that fear of the unknown, and we retreat into the familiar safety of the comfort zone.

Resisting change eats away at you because repressing emotion consumes more energy than expressing it. Imagine you’re punching something. Now imagine you pull that punch at the last minute. You use energy for forward motion and more energy for an equal reverse motion. Not only that, but denying the punch leads to anger and resentment because you don’t get the release you need.

All that energy expended, yet you’re stuck in the same rut, settling for less. It’s exhausting.

You know you need a change when you’re bored repeating the same routine, when you’ve stopped learning, when there’s less and less reward in your activities.

You also know when a situation is bad for you and you need to change it or leave.

When you’ve poured a great deal of time and energy into a job or relationship, change can feel like a waste of your investment. This sunk cost fallacy stops you from cutting your losses and leads to inertia, staying with something that has no hope of improvement. What is right for one time and place may not be right forever.

Face that growing feeling of discontent head on. Use your journal to uncover its source or talk it out with someone. Identifying the source is the first step to deciding what changes you need to make, and they may not be as extensive as you fear.

Unresolved conflict between what you have and what you want often transforms into anger that is directed towards the self in anxiety and low mood, or outwards into hostility and envy.

Find the courage to confront the possibility of change so that you control the process.

Busy Doing Nothing

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
Jim Rohn

I expect you’re a busy person, like everyone these days. But are you doing the things that matter even if they’re difficult, or giving in to distraction?

If you find yourself down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos after looking up a simple fact online, you’re not alone. But the resulting guilt and shame can be enough to derail you from your actual work. Procrastination can wear many faces, including filling your time with “worthy” activities like reading or research or reorganising the kitchen cupboards.

It’s not enough to be busy. You need to be productive, not merely occupied. Getting clear on the day’s priorities is the first step, and an ordered schedule will help you achieve that. Each Sunday, spend thirty minutes with your planner and set aside time in the coming week for must-do and want-to-do tasks.

Knowing what to do and when gets around having fifty things you could be doing bouncing around your head, but being unable to pick one and therefore doing none of them.

Like eating your broccoli before dessert, must-do items come first. If you’re a rewards person, finish the task before you have your cookie, ten minutes of social media or whatever.

If you’re prone to distraction, minimise it. Use one of many stripped down desktop apps so you focus. Leave your phone in another room. Research has shown that even if it is silenced, your smartphone still pulls your attention.

Can’t bear to get started? Does the task feel overwhelming? Use the Pomodoro technique to break it into ten or fifteen-minute chunks. If a task fills you with dread, get it out of the way and eat the frog first. Everything else will be easier by comparison.

Get on task, stay on task, and accomplish more with your time.

The Truth Is Out There

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
Abraham Maslow

You probably know someone who likes to consider their options carefully. They gather information, take opinions, and always think twice. They feel safer when they have more evidence.

Then there are people who make choices based on their feelings about them, good or bad. Often they are highly intuitive. Journaling becomes a sacred rite as they dig deeper and deeper into emotions.

Too much analysis leads to paralysis. Too much thinking about feelings is another route to procrastination. Faced with an overload of emotion, you might manage it by repression, distraction, or numbing. In any case, you get nothing done.

Deep thinking is a good thing — as long as it leads to action. At some point, you have to declare the thinking phase complete, draw up a shortlist of options, and then choose one.

A list of pros and cons is the simplest tool, and the act of writing them down clarifies your thoughts.

A simple scoring system can help you prioritise different options. For example, when buying a house, I had a list of essentials like location, number of bedrooms, and living space. The second list was for desirables like south facing and size of the garden. By allocating one to three points for each essential and one point for each desirable, I was able to compare houses with different features more easily.

If a house missed any essentials it was out of the running, no matter how lovely. Scoring helps to take some of the emotion from the equation, especially for big decisions. Making your lists forces you to be more objective, but there’s nothing to stop you allocating your points in any way that feels right.

If you’re considering a major decision like a job change or relocation, try visualisation. Imagine yourself in a future where you’ve stayed unchanged and not followed through. Do you feel regret or disappointment? That’s a clue that this change could be right for you.

Of course, you can’t see the future, but you can use a combination of techniques to make the best decision you can. Emotion allied to objectivity gives you the best of both worlds.

Get Out Of Your Own Way

Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.
Alyce Cornyn-Selby

Your inner roadblocks are expressed in different behaviours.

  1. self-doubt — envy
  2. risk aversion — following the herd
  3. resisting change — settling for less
  4. lack of discipline — procrastination
  5. overthinking — distraction/numbing

You might recognise yourself in any or all of the scenarios above. We’re only human and none of us is perfect, but naming the obstacle is the first step to overcoming it. Outer behaviours always reflect inner thinking, so mastering your internal dialogue will improve your chances of success.

Make better decisions, accept the risk of failure and do it anyway, and follow through with action.


(first published by Publishous on 17.7.19)

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blog, creativity, productivity

6 Signs Your Creative Project Is On Track – Even Though You Doubt Yourself

You’re doing better than you think

Graffiti of "trust your struggle" in green paint on grey brick
Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

How are your creative projects going right now?

When you start your book or your business, it’s both scary and exciting. Your motivation is high and you can see your progress.

Then you hit a wall, where you discover how hard it’s really going to be. But you pushed on, and now you’re in the middle somewhere. Maybe you’re questioning yourself, or maybe other people are feeding your uncertainty by pointing out problems or deficiencies – or by getting much better results than yours.

Whether it’s a day job or your side hustle, you’re working and planning and getting stuff done. But are you doing enough, are you seeing results, are you getting there – in short, are you winning? 

More to the point, do you feel like you’re winning?

It can be difficult to know where you are when there are no maps and few signposts along the way. Some behaviours are markers of future success, as long as you keep going. You can use them to gauge your progress.

You look forward to doing your work

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Aristotle

As a newly qualified doctor, I regularly worked 70-100 hours a week, with very little sleep when on-call. The long hours were difficult at times, but I loved my work. Learning new skills and doing something I believed in outweighed the fatigue – at least in the early years.

When you love what you do and can’t imagine not doing it, you know you’re on the right track. Stress and resentment come from slogging away at something you hate. 

When the game’s worth it, you’ll put in whatever it takes.

You do the grunt work without complaint

Perhaps this is how you know you’re doing the thing you’re intended to: No matter how slow or how slight your progress, you never feel that it’s a waste of time.
Curtis Sittenfeld, The Man of My Dreams

Every job and activity has boring grunt work. Singers practise scales, gardeners pull weeds, artists clean brushes, and everyone does paperwork. Grunt work is repetitive and unglamorous. It also makes better skills and tools so that you can get on with the beautiful act of creation.

When you perform the menial tasks of your work mindfully, you elevate them. You see that there is really no difference between pouring concrete in a foundation that’s never visible, and carving a fine oak fireplace that will be admired. Both are integral to the finished house. Both deserve your care and attention.

How you do the small things is how you do the big things.

You’re focused on process rather than results

If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.
Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Making stuff happen is hard work. You’re on the right track when you focus on what is within your control. You can produce, but you can’t directly influence how your product is received or how well it performs. 

Steve Jobs said that real artists ship; and he implied that they make another and continue to ship. Nobody remembers Apple’s Newton PDA now. It failed, but looking back we see it clearly as the ancestor of tablets, touch screens, and more. Jobs stayed focused on realising ideas that were ahead of their time; eventually, the world caught up.

You have one job – execute your ideas using functional processes. Pay attention to your results and use them to guide the next iteration, but don’t get hung up on apparent failure. You might simply need to refine, repackage, and repeat – until you create an iPad.

Your win is out there.

person holding red strawberry
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

You grow your skills

Anything is better than stagnation.
Arthur Conan Doyle

You know that experience isn’t measured in years but in growth. It’s not enough to write a thousand words every day. Those words must be better and more effective over time. To do that, you seek out feedback and opportunities to learn. 

Successful people are not threatened by the skill of others, they’re inspired by it. You’re humble enough to realise that mastery is always out of reach, but striving for it gives your creative life meaning. And since teaching something is the proof of learning, you’re comfortable sharing your knowledge with others. 

You are only in competition with yourself.

You reach flow states often

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
Mary Oliver

Remember the last time you got so caught up in your stuff that suddenly it was dark outside, you’d missed dinner and three hours had vanished? That magical state of flow happens when you’re fully absorbed in something that is challenging and enjoyable.

While it can be hard to summon a flow state at will, take notice of how you get there. Then aim to replicate it as often as you can because 

Flow proves you’re definitely doing the thing you were made for.

You own your identity

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.
Seth Godin

Yes, impostor syndrome is real and you’re as prone to it as anyone. But at some point on your journey, you’ve become comfortable with your title and status.  

You stop qualifying it or hiding behind your day job, and one day you describe yourself as a writer, or entrepreneur, or artist first and wage slave second. Or if your paid job is your passion, you express that without shame.

Feeling secure in your own skin is a sure sign that you’re further on in your growth than you think. Don’t allow others to project their own fear of failure onto you. 

It’s not arrogant or boastful to own and celebrate your successes, large or small. 

On Your Way

Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.
Leonardo da Vinci

Six behaviours show that you’re doing the right thing in the right way.

  • You look forward to your work
  • You do the grunt work without complaint
  • You focus on process, not results
  • You grow your skills
  • You reach flow state often
  • You own your identity

Success is never guaranteed; all you can do is shift the odds in your favour. Fortunately, that is within your power.

When you find the right path, keep going.