If you are human, sometimes you self-sabotage. No matter how many self-help courses you’ve done, in some area of your life, at some moment, sometimes you just Do The Wrong Thing at a time when pretty much anyone would have been able to identify that it was the wrong thing.
The problem is that you don’t know you are doing it at the time. When you are in the midst of Doing The Wrong Thing, you are passionately convinced you are doing the absolutely right thing. When you look back on it, you don’t even really see how you could have been so passionate about it, much less convinced it was right.
So how do you stop it as it’s happening?
In this article I’ll show you 3 things:
- How it looks, in real life, in real time, so you have a good chance of seeing it.
- When it is most likely to occur, so you have a good chance of knowing it’s coming.
- A few techniques for stopping it in its tracks. Actually, you probably need this section the least. Because, in this case, recognizing you are being irrational is probably enough to stop you.
How does it look?
True story. My partner and had just emerged from a week-long argument about some lines in the logo of our new company. During this argument, there were long, heated e-mails written about the minutiae of color and texture choices. The mails were sprinkled with choice vocabulary like “devil child, ego, control freak”, and ultimately one of us threatened to leave because of the thickness of a wiggly line on the logo.
So, that’s how it looks in real life. Here are the symptoms:
- You are extremely emotional: angry, passionate, outraged.
- You are obsessed with this issue.
- The topic of discussion is trivial and obviously not the “real” problem.
- People around you who hear about this don’t see what the big deal is.
- Someone makes a comment about your health or hormones (which will invariably make it worse — I am glad neither of us made that mistake this time, but it crossed our minds.).
- You are absolutely sure you are right.
- If you are not the decision-maker, you are looking for ways to prove the decision-maker is wrong.
- You are ready to quit. It’s a matter of principle, after all.
- Some huge, urgent emergency happens that you just absolutely must take care of and that dream you are working on just isn’t as important. (Like health of a loved one.) I will address this in the final section here.
Sound familiar? Have you ever quit something under these circumstances.?That’s normal.
When does it happen?
It happens precisely when it seems inevitable that things will change dramatically. The week that happened was one of the most amazing weeks in Gangly Sister’s history to date. We had 3 discussions with major corporations. We went into production. Our Facebook page increased 10-fold and thousands of people watched our video on YouTube — and we don’t even know why. It just HAPPENED.
In other words, both my partner and I started to be confident that this business will work. That means selling or quitting our other businesses, leaving our comfort zone, and in some cases, letting down friends and relatives in our lives who we have worked with for over a decade. That’s a BIG CHANGE. If you are in a family-owned business, it’s an extremely big change.
That’s why self-sabotage like this is so destructive. It literally happens at a time where, if you just kept your trap shut, that thing you were wishing for would fall into your lap. You did all the work to get to this moment, and when it arrives, you are almost guaranteed to have a crisis like this.
Warning signs self-sabotage is about to happen:
- The hugest customer says “yes” over the phone but didn’t yet sign the contract.
- You have the “dream” meeting set up with just the right person or company. (This could be in your personal life, too.)
- Money or leads suddenly come streaming in.
- Someone makes you a dream offer that involves quitting, moving, spending less time with family, etc.
- Things just seem to magically be coming together faster than you thought they would.
- You are frustrated when the weekend arrives because you want to get back to work already.
When things are too good to be true, watch out for your own worst enemy: You.
On an evolutionary level, humans are designed to resist change, because it is potentially dangerous. That’s why. I won’t go deeper into this, because it’s boring. Either take my word for it, or observe the world around you to see it is true.
How do I stop it in real time?
- First of all, recognize you are in this state of almost-success-high emotion.
- Follow the 24-hour rule. In fact, do this all the time. If you ever get a text, mail, image, or verbal comment that triggers a high emotion, wait 24 hours before responding. Do not respond when highly emotional.
- Don’t send email. Don’t text, have any kind of IM or text chat or do anything written. Use verbal or face-to-face conversation. I cannot emphasize this enough. Written conversation is extremely dangerous when you are in a high-emotion state.
- Have a great colleague, mentor or coach, and tell them what is going on. Have a list (even a mental list) of those people in your life you can come to, who know how you are at your worst, and who always give sage advice. Call one of them before you make a decision or send a text, mail or message of any sort.
My business partner and I were able to see this was happening to one of us. We promised one another that when we see one another self-sabotaging, we will point it out, laugh and have another great lunch together. We did that. We did not hash through every e-mail of the last week, or “handle” anything. We just said, “Oh, look! Fear of change! Ha ha ha,” and moved on.
What about the emergency?
It is an irony but a fact that the worst things happen at the worst times. As one of my colleagues once said “I’m sure this crisis in my family life happened the same week because I’ve been grouchy at home.” (No, she didn’t really use the word “grouchy”. We all know what word she did use, but I don’t use degrading-to-women words in public blog posts.)
That’s one explanation, but we all know that it’s not that simple. Someone doesn’t get fatally ill because you were grouchy.
I want to be sensitive to these situations. I’m not saying to skip your best friend’s funeral or your child’s graduation because of your software release deadline.
But Note: This. Is. A. Test.
Your will and drive to pursue your dreams are being tested, in the most stressful way possible. It doesn’t happen to everyone, by the way. For some reason, this kind of sudden emergency is rare with me, but it is common for a lot of people.
People who are successful need to do 2 things in this situation:
- Build a team. That team might be in your company to cover for you, or in your family, to care for an ill loved one. You will not succeed alone. That’s worth repeating. You will not succeed alone. You cannot do it all. Simultaneous crises are a symptom of the need to scale up, share your problems with more people, and share the solutions with more people.
- Do things nobody else would do. To achieve what others have not, you need to do things others have not done. That’s obvious. You might have to take a loan, fire someone you love, trust someone inexperienced, fly to the other side of the world with 2-hours notice, repair something that isn’t your fault, or stick your kids with a babysitter for the whole weekend. It most likely will be something that is socially unacceptable to the people around you. If you are totally committed to your success you will do this impossible thing.
I promise you that in retrospect, you will wonder why you thought it was such a big deal. (When the next crisis comes along and is 10 times more difficult to pass.)
And yes, that next crisis has a good chance of being 10 times more complex. Good for you. It means you have grown that much in your life that you’re taking on even more challenges. That’s what life is all about.