Business is competitive. That's not a mystery. But sometimes, the biggest threat you have to overcome is you. Self-sabotage is real, and its consequences are dire.

Most people self-sabotage because

  • They doubt their ability to handle whatever newness comes from progress.
  • They have low self-esteem and secretly don't believe they're worthy of the success.
  • They have conflicting priorities, such as wanting to stay at home to protect and care for family in the face of a job offer from across the country.
  • They have a developed a negative bias that tells them they don't belong in specific circumstances or positions.
  • They dislike the immediate but temporary discomfort involved in the work that's required.

These mental hurdles can translate to all kinds of behaviors that aren't helpful, such as not tracking money, procrastinating, talking themselves out of talking to potential mentors or looking for "safe" jobs that don't promote any growth.

But overcoming these hurdles is possible. Given the list above,

1. Give yourself tiny challenges. The idea is that, as you conquer the small stuff, you gain confidence and realize that the change isn't quite so scary as you thought. And once you're rid of that fear, you won't feel the need to self-sabotage to keep yourself safe.

2. Engage in behaviors that build you up. This could mean making a list of what you accomplished through the day, helping others through volunteering or simply meditating. It can mean consciously choosing to end toxic relationships in favor of positive social interactions, too.

3. Clarify why. People who have conflicting priorities sometimes can sort out which direction to go in if they dissect the motivations they have behind each one. For example, if someone is guilting you into staying in a dead-end job, this is an unhealthy external motivation. If you can recognize that, you can take steps to draw stronger boundaries and refocus your energy on getting the job you want. Similarly, if you're self-sabotaging because you can't choose between two positive choices, objectively assessing which choice can have the biggest positive influence for both you and others can solve paralyzing divided focus.

4. Commit to forming a new truth. If you have a bias that tricks you into ruining your chances, the only way out is to convince yourself of a new reality. This doesn't happen overnight. It happens by consciously, deliberately telling yourself what is hundreds, even thousands of times until your brain has built a pathway that makes the new truth easier to access than the old one. This might seem a little out in left field, but it's actually the same concept behind the familiar idea of reciting positive mantras. Be brutally honest and question everything in your search for the source of the original truth. Then confront that old truth every time it rears its ugly head.

5. Set up methods of accountability. People can be OK with letting themselves down, but it's an entirely different ballgame when someone else is involved. So if there's something you want or need to do, enlist someone to be your drill sergeant and keep you from quitting. Identify and track specific self-sabotaging behaviors, such as holding to the back of the room during a networking event, and come up with rewards to give yourself for avoiding them. Incremental change is still progress! Other techniques, such as simply uninstalling the software you secretly use to waste time and avoid emails, work, too.

6. Expand the number of people you know. The idea here is not only to increase sources of accountability and support, but to expand the number of people who can give you fresh perspectives. Those perspectives can give you greater clarity about who you are, what you can do, and what might benefit you to do. And once you have that clarity, it's easier to make yourself follow through.

7. Embrace a long-term mindset. Instead of using self-sabotage to avoid what you don't like, lean into the discomfort and remind yourself that any immediate pain is just one moment, just one little temporary blip, and that you just need to move past it on the road to Comfortville. This shift in perspective will keep you from getting mentally overwhelmed and lapsing into the defensive mode self-sabotage hides in.

Published on: Jun 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.