Are you Sabotaging Your Own Success?
A familiar self-preservation strategy could actually be holding you back from reaching your potential.
Imagine this common scenario: Your teachers have always told you that you have a natural ear for music. Picking up new instruments comes easily to you. Guitar, piano, drums: you seem to intuitively know how to play them. In school, you were praised for your natural talents, but as the years wear on, you avoid picking up an instrument outside of the occasional jam session or as a fun party trick. You never practice, and it starts to show in the way you play. Nevertheless, you imagine yourself a great musician in the making. You knowthat if you put effort into the craft, you could master any instrument.
This mindset has stifled and extinguished countless natural talents.
In this example, you have an easy excuse for why you can’t achieve your dream. You can tell all your friends that the reason you aren’t a world-famous rock star is because you just don’t have time to practice.
It’s a cognitive strategy, known as “self-handicapping,” and it stems from insecurity and a subconscious desire to protect oneself from failure. Constructing obstacles to our success protects our self-esteem. It’s an easy scapegoat, and it all boils down to one idea, one thought that we wrap around ourselves like a safety blanket: If you don’t try, you can’t fail.
But I want to ask you something: When you’ve never tested your limits, do you even know where they are? Sure, you can tell yourself that you could have done better if you had given it your all, but how do you know? Somewhere down the line you will realize that your fear of failure has paralyzed you.
So how do you stop getting in your own way?
I don’t know why my business failed. I didn’t get the promotion because my boss hates me. I’ll start my diet tomorrow…Stop Bullshitting. You aren’t fooling anyone — especially not yourself.
Making excuses can be comforting. After all, shifting blame to another person or forces beyond our control preserves our self-image. That preservation, however, comes with a cost. It upholds our self-esteem while stifling our self-improvement.
So, be honest with yourself! The key to getting what you want is self-awareness. I, for one, operate my business in a way that it encourages people to speak up when they can’t do something or might not be the best person for the assignment. My goal for the people I work with is to make them realize that we are all in control of our own futures. Although we cannot always control what happens, the truth is that we have much more agency than we give ourselves credit for.
When fear threatens to take hold of you, you will find success in your daily habits. You will not become a professional musician without practicing every day. Likewise, your daily habits should reflect your larger goals in your life. Do you want to get in shape? Awesome! Create a work out plan on your phone, on post-it notes, in a planner, and stick to it! Do you want to learn to cook? Great! Try out a new recipe every night. When you start to incorporate these smaller goals into your everyday routine, the bigger goals are less daunting.
Not only will you be overcoming that urge to procrastinate on your dreams, you will be getting used to the fact that you won’t always succeed. You aren’t always going to have a great workout or cook a perfect meal or play a flawless song, and that’s okay.
Develop an appreciation for failure. Scratch that. Develop a love of failure. Yes, it’s cliché. There are a thousand quotes on the virtues of learning from failure. But that’s because it’s true!
I can’t guarantee that every one of your failures will bring you closer to your goals. I can’t tell you that your previous failures will keep you from getting knocked on your ass time and time again. What I can tell you is that learning to embrace failure will make you more likely to try things you wouldn’t normally do.
Maybe you’ll be less likely to procrastinate before that next big deadline. Maybe you’ll have the nerve to ask for that promotion. Maybe you’ll finally ask that cutie out on a date. In any case, failure or rejection is not the worst thing that could happen. Never taking that chance to make your life better is what you should really fear.
Self-handicapping comes from an instinct for self-preservation. But let me ask you something: do you really want to preserve everything about yourself, all your flaws and excuses and unrealized dreams? Or will you take the more difficult (but rewarding) step to take a hard look at your own actions and the way you’re holding yourself back?
The decision is, ultimately, yours to make. I will tell you, however, that once you realize the fact that you truly have the power to affect meaningful changes in your life, it’s harder to make the decision to favor ego over advancement.