Recently, in a class I was teaching on goal-setting, someone raised the topic of self-sabotage. “Why do we do that to ourselves?” I asked the class. “Habit,” came the immediate reply from a participant.
“We don’t mean to do it, we just do it,” said someone else. They are so right! The question is, why on earth would we develop an uncontrollable habit of sabotaging ourselves? Don’t we want to accomplish our goals?
Maybe we do and maybe we don’t. With self-sabotage, it’s as if there are two people inside us – two different selves with two different sets of beliefs.
One self thinks we can achieve our goal. But the other self says something like, “Who do I think I am? It’s not really ‘me’ to achieve a goal like that, much as I’d like to.” This creates inner conflict about working toward the goal.
Until both the optimistic and the doubting selves move closer to agreement, the doubting self will do what it can to prove itself right – in other words, to sabotage the goal.
This is why it’s necessary, before you start working toward something you want, to make sure you’ve chosen a goal that’s consistent with who you think you are. More than just visualizing the success of the goal, you must choose a goal that’s suited to you – not some future, idealized you, but your actual self as you are today.
Through and through, in every part of your being, you must believe that you and your goal belong together. You’ll know you’ve set an achievable goal when you don’t feel anxious about it.
Reduce Inner Conflict
Are your goals consistent with who you think you are today? Can you really picture yourself as a published author? Can you picture yourself healthy and fit? Will you still feel like “you” if you get what you’re after?
Let’s say your big goal is to become the head of a multinational non-profit organization. Can you imagine yourself in that position today? If not, shape your goal to your current self-image and bring it into alignment with who you think you are.
How about a local non-profit? Would it be very “you” to be the leader of something like that? If not, keeping working on it; mold your goal into something that fits for you at this point in your life. Can you see yourself being employed by a non-profit?
Keep working your goal like a lump of clay to bring it into alignment with who you think you are. Maybe the most you can picture without anxiety right now is volunteering for a local charity. If so, make that your goal and move toward it.
Step by Step
Once you’ve been working for the organization for a while, you can more readily imagine yourself being paid for your work, or even running the show.
At that point, the doubting self won’t have quite so much ammunition. Self-sabotage won’t be necessary or even possible because the question, “Who do I think I am?” will have a good answer. “I believe I’m someone who’s familiar with the non-profit sector through my work at XYZ organization.”
The different selves will have to agree on that one because it will be true, and you’ll be able to move forward more easily from a place of congruence.
Once you’re standing on the ladder toward your ultimate goal, the next rung will seem more attainable than when you were at the bottom, looking up at the whole ladder with its top disappearing into the clouds.
Remember to choose goals that are consistent with who you honestly think you are — not your future self, not your potential self, but who you are right here, right now. That way you’ll avoid self-sabotage and build a foundation under your dreams.