What's holding you back?

How to Sabotage Your Success

Never let the fear of striking out get in your way. ~ George Herman “Babe” Ruth

As an executive coach, I am privy to clients’ stories of success and failure. I’ve noticed over the years that they commonly share one highly destructive behavior: self-sabotage.

Few of us realize how frequently self-sabotaging beliefs creep into our decisions—sometimes even daily. As the following example illustrates, the root cause may be habitual.

Marty is a creative, intelligent professional who’s on his way up the organizational ladder. One day, he complained to me that he’d been passed over for promotion. He said he was better qualified than the person his bosses chose and that the position would have been his dream job, with more money, flexibility and opportunities to showcase his personal strengths.

“So, why do you think this happened?” I asked.

As we talked, Marty admitted he’d never let anyone know how badly he wanted the job. He assumed his bosses would consider him, but he never actively talked to them about his qualifications or desire.

Marty revealed numerous reasons for his inaction, most of them self-sabotaging. Like many gifted professionals, he exhibited a behavior that psychologists call self-handicapping: anticipating a real or imagined obstacle that might get in the way of success and using it as an excuse to do nothing.

Self-handicapping allows us to protect ourselves from the pain of assuming responsibility for our failures—and we do it all the time.

This behavior is often so subtle that we don’t notice we’re doing it. Consider the manager who has to give a big presentation and fails to practice ahead of time. How about the people who procrastinate on projects and wind up “not having enough time” to do a good job?

In a July 2010 Harvard Business Review article, Stanford University business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer identified self-handicapping as one of three major barriers to building professional power. As he explains, people avoid the pain of failure by refusing to build power in the first place.

Think about it. You’re not alone, since everyone seems to do it to a certain extent. But then just imagine how much more personal power and influence you’d have if you learn to flip the switch and turn off your negative self handicapping.

Of course, if you aren’t aware of doing it, then maybe you’re in denial. I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here, or call (316-634-2328), or leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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