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Self-Sabotaging Your Career Growth: How to Recognize It and What to Do About It

Have you ever wanted something badly, yet found yourself putting off the work needed to achieve it? So many of us tend to self-sabotage, in both small ways and big. We leave difficult tasks for the last moment. We postpone serious conversations, allowing ourselves to suffer through the uncertainty rather than pulling the bandaid off. We only pack for our trip overseas 30 minutes before we’re supposed to leave for the airport. We know how bad these actions are, and still, we allow ourselves to do them. Sometimes, we even turn them into habits. But at some point, we need to stop. Otherwise, growth – both professional and personal – becomes impossible. So how do we recognize our self-sabotaging habits? And what can we do about them? Well, the answer lies in how ready we are to leave our comfort zones. Fixing undermining behaviors requires hard work, discipline, and, above all, honesty. If you’re prepared to invest these, then you’ll find that the sky is your limit.

Why Do We Self-Sabotage? More often than not, we’re unaware of the fact that we’re partaking in counterproductive behavior. Sometimes, the habits which are holding us back are well-masked into seemingly positive traits such as perfectionism or modesty. At some point in our lives, these habits could have been helpful. But since then, they’ve become the things holding us back. Therefore, recognizing them is all the more relevant. In truth, self-sabotaging behavior is a learned coping mechanism. It’s a cognitive process which we have come to accept as the norm during trying circumstances, and which has become our go-to whenever we find ourselves faced with certain feelings. For example, we may turn to junk food as a source of comfort when we’re feeling down because of our physical appearance. But what we fail to understand is that, despite the momentary satisfaction, we’re putting ourselves up for more unhappiness down the road. The more we partake in self-sabotaging behavior, the deeper ingrained it becomes, thus more difficult to overcome. There are many reasons why people engage in habits that are holding them back. Most often, this type of behavior stems from fear. Some people are afraid of failure. Others fear change. After all, facing uncertainty can be a scary concept. When it’s not a consequence of fear, self-sabotage may originate from our insecurities or beliefs. Sometimes we do it because we feel a conflict with our internal system of values. Other times, self-sabotage feels good.

What Is It That Makes It Bad for Us? But, if this type of behavior is a coping mechanism, why should we stop? Isn’t it offering us comfort in difficult circumstances? Well, in some ways, that’s true. But it’s also important to realize that bad habits tend to hold us back from growth. Often, they strengthen directly or indirectly self-harming patterns, which may be psychological or physical. Sure, going with a burger instead of a salad for lunch won’t be the end of the world. But in the long-run, it may lead to serious health consequences. Similarly, stopping ourselves from speaking up to our boss about something we’re unhappy with will spare us the momentary discomfort. But on the whole, it’s more likely to lead to dissatisfaction and poor work performance. Once we’re aware of the fact that self-sabotage in its many forms is bad for our personal and professional growth, we need to decide to put a stop to it.

Common Career-Sabotaging Patterns and How to Overcome Them Before you think that you’re alone in your self-sabotaging career habits, it’s good to understand that everyone has them. Famous and successful business people are just as prone to interfering with their professional success as young entrepreneurs getting started. And there are numerous ways to hold yourself back without even realizing it. Some people focus too much on winning. Others engage in negative thoughts, make excuses, or cling to the past. Even perfectionism and maintaining excellent relationships with colleagues can be a form of self-sabotage. Maybe you’re guilty of procrastination, allowing yourself to become distracted, or failing to recognize your worth. Still, these are all habits you can overcome. Think about it this way: if you can change your biological behavioral patterns, such as how you sleep or what you eat, then you can also change the way you act. This is especially true when you know that your career path may depend on said changes. So, if you’re ready to do the hard work and invest yourself in your future success, try to go through the five steps below. See whether you find any unconstructive patterns in your behavior. And remember, everyone has some forms of counterproductive habits. But, they are never un-fixable.

Step #1 — Recognize Negative Thinking Patterns The most challenging step towards achieving our goals is recognizing all the things we do that stop us from attaining them. The reason behind this is simple. Although at times, self-sabotage is bad for us, like physical self-harm or addiction, other times, it can take the form of a habit we feel is positive. Maybe we want everything to be perfect, everyone to love us, or to be the best at what we do. And these can be great incentives, up to a point. However, in reality, they’re more likely to hold us back than help us advance. So think about your goals and wants. Is there anything you’ve been doing that’s stopping you from realizing them? Big or small, the only way to eliminate detrimental cognitive patterns is to recognize their presence. Be mindful of your actions, don’t be afraid of questioning them, and if you do find yourself doing something you shouldn’t be, don’t be harsh. Instead, decide to approach the problem in a kind, growth-oriented manner so that you can help yourself become the best you possibly can.

Step #2 — Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Difficult Questions Once you’ve identified a detrimental habit, you need to get to the root of it. And this requires complete honesty with yourself. Let’s say you think you deserve a raise at work. But, you’ve been putting off asking your boss. Why is this? Are you afraid of rejection? Perhaps you think that asking will negatively impact your relationship? Maybe, deep down, you’re entertaining the idea that you aren’t worth more? Would asking make you feel vulnerable? Or maybe, deep down, you feel like your current position isn’t the best choice for you, and getting a raise would strengthen your bonds to a place you don’t want to be. Any of these questions are difficult to ask. And to answer them, you will need to dig deep. Still, no matter how intimidating, remember that self-knowledge is a fundamental element to leading a satisfying life. Yes, along the way, you could find out things about yourself that are scary. But instead of the risks, why not focus your attention on everything you stand to gain? After all, your boss might 100% agree that you deserve more, and turns out to be happy you took the incentive to ask.

Step #3 — Come up With an Easy-To-Follow Plan Once we’ve recognized our self-sabotaging habits and gotten to their source, we need to come up with efficient ways to overcome them. For most people, something as simple as creating an action plan may turn out to be the best way forward. Sometimes, we can be intimidated by our wants. But, many people find that breaking goals up into smaller, more attainable achievements is a good recipe against self-doubt and procrastination. Think of your dream career goal. It can be absolutely anything. Chances are if you thought about something difficult like becoming the CEO of a multinational corporation, you might feel like it’s impossible to achieve. Nonetheless, it’s still important to keep in mind that very few people get to become CEO without having some relevant experience first. So focus your energy on what it takes to gain that experience. It can be applying for a relevant position, investing in your education, and completing side-projects that will equip you with insight and knowledge. Your plan can also include things like paying closer attention to your networking efforts or brushing up your LinkedIn profile. It’s always a good idea to write down your dream, and then break it up into a step-by-step checklist. You can even give yourself deadlines by which you want to complete each task. This way, you’re not only taking an analytical approach to your success, but you’re also preparing a plan that you can follow without becoming overwhelmed or demotivated along the way.

Step #4 — Hold Yourself Accountable, but Don’t Forget to Celebrate Success One of the most common reasons people fail to achieve their ambitions is that they don’t hold themselves accountable. Entertaining the idea that we want something is not the same as really committing to making something happen. And sometimes, accountability is that little push in the right direction we all need. If you don’t feel comfortable announcing your dreams and aspirations to the entire world, you can talk them over with a trusted friend. Or, if you’re too shy for that as well, you can write them down in your journal, or download a habit-tracking app. But know that once you’ve decided to do something, it’s important to show commitment. Nonetheless, while working to improve your discipline, don’t forget about the other end of the spectrum. Self-validation is just as important as accountability, so reward yourself for a job well done. Not only will it give you an instant dose of dopamine, but in the long-run, it will help you develop positive cognitive schemata. This way, you’ll be more equipped to push through when things get tough.

Step #5 — Embrace the Fact That Growth Is a Flexible Concept Do you have the feeling that the reason behind your self-sabotaging behavior isn’t a lack of discipline or an actionable plan? If the answer is yes, consider whether you’re putting things off due to your logical wants conflicting with your core values. Often in life, we set our sights on concepts that we just so happen to outgrow. So, instead of admitting to ourselves that our wants have changed, we engage in unconstructive actions, which aren’t getting us anywhere. We’re not moving forward. We’re not defining new objectives. Instead, we’re in a place where we’re neither happy nor dissatisfied. And it is precisely this limbo of indifference that’s the worst thing we can do to our career. Because, even though we’re all right at the moment, we are ultimately setting ourselves up for resentment. Bonus Step — Allow Yourself to Seek Out Help Now, in most cases, we’re aware of how we undermine our success. After all, it’s not that hard to know when we’re procrastinating or failing to stand up for ourselves. But there are certain habits which we can’t always change on our own. And that’s when talking to people can have particular significance. If you feel like you’re struggling to rise to your full potential, don’t underestimate the benefits you can get by talking to a therapist or even a career coach. These highly trained professionals can not only help you address the problems you already know you have, but they may help you become great at what you do. If, however, career coaching is not an option for you, look for other ways to maximize your potential. Practice meditation and mindfulness. Furthermore, invest in your self-understanding as much as you do in your skill development. Finally, look for resources that will allow you to grow and develop at your own pace. Know that the road to self-acceptance and self-care isn’t always comfortable, but in the end, it is always worth the work.

Final Thoughts If you feel like you’re engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, whether professionally or personally, know that there are steps you can take to overcome these bad habits. But, as with everything in life worth working for, it’s going to take effort, perseverance, and complete honesty. Be prepared for the fact that you will have to leave your comfort zone. Moreover, you may realize along the way that the career path you’re currently on may not be the best one for you. You may discover harsh truths or find that your priorities have shifted. But also know that all of that is all right. After all, this is your career path that’s in question. And only you can know what is true to your beliefs and desires. So don’t be afraid of going for it. And, along the way, make sure to reward yourself for all those small victories. In the end, they’ll be the ones that spur you on when the going gets tough.



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