Last week I learned a very important lesson: when someone asks you what you felt you did well, do not, under any circumstances, launch into a laundry list of self-criticism. Sure, it’s good to be able to identify your own areas for improvement, but when you’re being asked what worked and then start sharing what didn’t, all you’re doing is putting the focus on the negative and sabotaging yourself.
When I launched The Executive Roundtable in 2008, I opened my first PowerRoundtable session by thanking my friend who had hosted the event for me at her swanky club. I jokingly said “I’m thankful X is a member, because I sure couldn’t afford a membership here!” Afterwards, my friend Mel (who I may add is never short on feedback), said to me “Stop with that self-deprecating stuff. You don’t need it and it just takes away from your success.” (It may have been a bit more colourful than that, but you get the picture).
It was awesome feedback and I’m grateful that she shared it with me. Her point was, here I am launching a new business and the people in the room that were attending want to be part of something that’s “winning”. Not feeling that they’re in a group that’s financially sketchy. Interestingly, I ended up joining that same club a couple of months later and the owner talked to me about how difficult it was to attract members. The theme kept continuing each time I bumped into her and made me wonder “why is no body joining? Have I made a mistake? Is this club really viable or have I just taking a big gamble?” Interestingly, they continue to struggle to attract members… could they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Self-sabotage essentially occurs because we go into things expecting to fail. In my case, maybe by joking about my financial position at the time that I launched my business was a way to make me feel better should the business stall.
Self-sabotage often starts with that pesky inner critic that may be whispering in your ear things like “this presentation isn’t going to go well. You didn’t prepare enough.” You then hit the stage and open with a remark like this: “I’m looking forward to today’s presentation but I have to let you know, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare so please keep that in mind as we move through. There was more that I would have done if I’d had a bit more time.” Essentially, you’ve planted the expectation that you’re not prepared and, when you get feedback after the presentation that your content was a bit light, you’ve lived up to your “promise”. (For tips on how to tame an inner critic, check out our post Kick Your Fears to the Curb, Not Your Ambitions.)
Self-sabotage also comes from our behaviours. How many of us want to lose weight and then reach for a chocolate bar in the grocery aisle? Afterwards you think “why did I do that?” If you’re continually asking yourself that question, maybe it’s time to dig deeper to tune in to understand the pattern of self-sabotage that you may be repeating.
Having a sense of humour about your failings and foibles isn’t a bad thing. Just be mindful of how you use it to make sure you’re not crossing over that fine line between self-deprecation and self-sabotage. Work is tough enough as it is. You don’t need to add to the pressure by getting in your own way!