First, Don't Make it Worse
Sometimes you pick something to write about and the universe sends an example your way. This month’s theme is self-sabotage and a coaching client brought me a problem that is a perfect illustration of one of the most damaging ways in which self-sabotage manifests in our lives: taking an action out of fear without considering the consequences.
My client found herself in an awful situation totally of her own making. She had made a mistake on a work project, a mistake that was going to require starting a piece of the project over again and she was completely freaked out about it. When her boss asked her how things were going she told a lie. Instead of owning up to the fact of her truly innocent mistake she made up a story.
In order to try to buy time to solve the issue my client found herself embellishing the lie, making it more and more elaborate in her desperate attempt to fix things before she was found out. As you can imagine when she finally came clean to her boss it was not a good conversation. Her boss was justifiably, and predictably, furious and angrier about the deception than about the mistake.
Sometimes we seemingly get away with such action, we are able to fix the situation before anyone else knows anything about what went wrong. Sometimes we don’t, this was one of those times. But either way, we are effectively self-sabotaging. If we get away with the lie, then we are more inclined to resort to the same deflection tactics again. If we are caught out then we are, at the least, putting at risk the relationships we have with those involved.
My client is a brilliant, creative and hard-working woman. Initially I was very surprised at her actions but as I thought about it more I saw how this is something that many of us do, though usually less dramatically. We get so caught up in needing to be perceived as “perfect” that we will take actions we later recognize as ridiculous to preserve that appearance.
By the time I spoke with my client about this she was horrified by the choices that she had made. As we spoke more about what had happened she acknowledged that she didn’t think about telling a lie. The lie came out of her mouth as a knee-jerk reaction to the possibility of her boss’s displeasure. Then, having told the initial lie, more followed as she frantically tried to correct the situation.
There came a point when she was able to take a step back and assess the damage that she was doing to not only her work relationships but to the other areas of her life which were being affected by the stress she had herself created. It was then that she stopped and realized that being honest was the only way through the mess she had made.
Most of us reading this would probably say, “I would never do that” and you likely wouldn’t. But can you honestly say that you have never done something like that? Have you never, in an effort to avoid an unpleasant consequence, taken an action that made the situation worse?
Whenever we let our short term fear or anxiety overwhelm our long term well-being we are self-sabotaging. Yes, it is a miserable experience to have to admit a mistake to someone whose opinion we value or who has power over us. We feel scared and vulnerable and want to avoid the consequence of what we have done, but we can’t. Even if we are successful in avoiding detection we know that we screwed up. We know that we didn’t do the right thing and that awareness eats at our self-esteem.
A necessary element to avoiding self-sabotage is to take the time to take a breath and take a long view. What is it that we truly want? What is it that is most important to us? What kind of person do we want to be in the world? Putting more value on long-term peace than short term gain helps us avoid the knee-jerk response that sets the wheel in motion.
Dealing with this type of self-sabotage demands that we take our time. We need to take the time to both pay attention to our patterns of dealing with stressful situations and time to know what our highest values are. When we are aware of those things we are far more able to pause before responding to a circumstance. When we do this we will have trained ourselves to be more invested in our long term vision than in our short term comfort and we take a big step in making self-sabotage something we used to do.
In my work as a life and creativity coach I often work people who are struggling with this. If you are one of those people reach out. Reach out to a friend, a spiritual advisor or coach, like me, for help in navigating the often tricky waters of self-sabotage.