When I first started business coaching 14 years ago, I remember when one of my first clients told me: “I’m a self sabotager – I stop myself from having success.”
I was totally taken aback!
At the time, I was a business coach focused on helping people create their business vision, their strategy, and their action plan.
Dealing with sabotage was not part of my repertoire! I had no idea what to do with this client — and he ended up finding someone who could help him.
Since that time, I’ve worked with dozens of clients struggling with self-sabotaging their success, and I’ve “cracked the code” on how to transform self-sabotage in order to help them.
So first, what is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is when people do things that block their success — or when they avoid doing things that could lead to accomplishing their goals.
In business, self-sabotage can show up when you have action steps you know would move your business forward – and you don’t take them.
For example, instead of taking the actions to market your business, you spend months trying to figure out your niche message.
Another example: instead of reaching out to people who could refer clients to you, you spend endless hours perfecting your website.
In both of these examples, we are committed to doing actions that would serve our business – we may even have a coach or mastermind group holding us accountable – and yet we end up doing something completely different.
How do you know if you are self-sabotaging?
When you notice that there’s a goal or project you want to achieve, but you keep doing anything and everything other than the necessary actions… take a look if you’re encountering any of the following behavioral patterns.
Perfectionists often struggle with getting started on projects.
And when they do get started, their worry about getting “things right” or “what will other people think” keeps them from finishing.
A little bit of procrastination is a common thing. But when procrastination happens regularly, and you procrastinate on tasks or projects for weeks or months, there’s often something deeper at play.
Staying Isolated and Not Communicating
Not reaching out for help, avoiding others, not sharing our struggle – these are all ways we can keep ourselves from making progress and getting the results we want. When you’re really stuck on a project, or not able to get something done – and you avoid communicating with others – this is a classic self-sabotaging behavior.
What is the CAUSE of self-sabotage?
When someone “sabotages,” what is really going on?
What I’ve discovered is that the core of self-sabotage is usually about FEAR.
There are many types of fear that could be present.
It could be a fear of failure.
Or a fear of rejection or being humiliated.
Or fear of looking like a fraud or an imposter.
A very common fear is of being seen or being visible.
There is even a fear of success (!) – because there’s an unconscious belief that this could lead to losing the connection and love of people you care about. (For example – what will they think if I have more money than them, more successful than them, happier than them, etc.
The bottom line is this: behind the surface level sabotaging behaviors, there’s a fear that’s driving the self-sabotage. It’s an underlying fear of what will happen if you take actions toward a goal – or fear of actually having the thing you want.
This fear is living in the unconscious – so out of sight of the conscious mind.
When you explore the fear, you may discover that it can literally feel life threatening to do the things you want to do. And thus it feels safer to “sabotage” – to either avoid taking action or to distract oneself and get busy with other things, rather than to do the thing that feels unsafe.
It’s important to be aware that “sabotage” behaviors are actually designed to keep you safe. The intention is not to cause you harm, even though to the conscious mind it may feel unpleasant or disruptive.
Letting go of self-sabotage
When I’m working with a client who tells me they’re “self-sabotaging” (i.e. they’re getting in the way of the results they want), the first thing we do is we identify the self-sabotaging behaviors. Those are the symptoms.
Then we dig deeper to find the underlying cause, which is typically fear.
I ask the client “what emotions are coming up around the sabotaging situation?”
Typically, there’s going to be fear, or anxiety (which is another form of fear), or overwhelm (which can hide the underlying fear).
Or there may be other emotions or sensations that mask fear. But underneath them, you can if you really put your awareness on what’s going on, inside your body, you’ll typically notice that there’s some fear there.
See, self-sabotage is a kind of vague term that allows people to stay stuck and safe.
I’m a big believer that the truth sets you free.
Knowing what the specific fear is gives you clarity.
Next, we find the purpose, the positive intention of the fear.
You can ask the fear “what are you afraid of?” and then really get the specific reasons behind the fear. Learning what the fear is trying to accomplish. Having compassion for the fear.
Knowing this, the client is able to understand their fear, embrace and honor their fear, and then ultimately, do the release work to let the fear go.
At Inner Coach
I give my clients tools to release the fear, and I’ll discuss that in a future blog post.