Getting Back on Track: How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

By Pamela Thorne

Many people don't realize how they are sabotaging their own career success. This article describes seven typical patterns, and what can be done to get back on track.

Are you stuck in a job you hate? Is your career ladder propped against the wrong wall? Perhaps you are sabotaging yourself with a mindset that is within your control to change. To break the habit of underachievement, you first need to acknowledge behavior that could be harming your career prospects. Here are some of the patterns that typically hold people back.

Hiding in the background - Hiders don't speak up, and allow others to get credit for achievements. They are so keen to be a team player that they forget their own ambitions and dreams. They isolate themselves from key decision makers. When opportunities arise, they have so little faith in themselves, that they fail to see them. Years later, they wonder why they are still stuck in the same job.

Playing the blame game - Blamers excuse their lack of success by blaming others: "How can you get ahead in an organization like this?" As there are always plenty of people to blame, they never run out of targets for their feelings. Deep down though, they know they are being inauthentic. After a while it takes more and more energy to keep the blame up.

Procrastinating - Procrastinators have great plans. They just don't get around to carrying them out. It's so easy to put things off - until next year, until the performance evaluation, until so-and-so resigns. The trouble is that procrastination becomes a habitual way of thinking, and the more entrenched it is, the harder it is to break out of the pattern.

Apathy - "Why bother? The system won't let me go far anyway?" Apathetic people have given up before even trying.

Avoiding the issue altogether - Avoiders keep themselves busy with unnecessary activities, such as gossip or non-work related distractions. There's a lot of energetic action, but they are just spinning their wheels in the sand – while others are moving ahead.

Neglecting your professional development - Not keeping your skills current is a sure-fire way to sabotage your career, and limit opportunities.

Staying When You Should Go - Sometimes people know that a job doesn't match their abilities, skills, or interests but they stick with it because they don't know what else to do, or feel they've already invested too much to change course.

Any of these behavior patterns over time will limit your career prospects, diminish your sense of fulfillment, and leave you with a nagging sense of frustration. It's a slow downward spiral of settling for less.

How to Stop the Self-Sabotage

Follow the step-by-step guide below to eliminate the poor behavioral patterns and achieve positive results. A good source of impartial advice with each step is your organization's career counselor.

  1. The first step to getting back on track is to see things as they really are. I call it the "R" factor. It's not necessarily pleasant or easy, but it's vital if you want things to improve. Begin by acknowledging your self-sabotaging behavior. Ask yourself if you've had enough of being stuck and feeling dissatisfied. They key question is: Are you willing to move out of your comfort zone to make things better?
  2. The next step is to create an inspiring goal for yourself – one that is realistic and within the realms of possibility, but still excites you. If you can't feel passionate about your goal, then following through is going to be tough. Write down your goal and keep it somewhere where you will see it regularly.
  3. Now list some small, realistic steps that will lead you from where you are now to where you want to be. Give yourself small exercises where you can practice the new behavior. For example: if you've been hiding in the shadows, make it a point at the next staff meeting to speak up about a relevant issue. Prepare notes beforehand if you need to.
  4. Periodically review your progress and make any necessary adjustments. If you feel your motivation slipping, go back to your written goals. Soon you will be where you want to be, and will look back at the old you with a sense of satisfaction.

Once you have achieved the first step, move forward to the next, and keep going until you reach your objective. The only way to change is to consistently do things differently, until they become the new habit. Go on, what have you got to lose?

Pamela Thorne is a training consultant specializing in communication, business writing, and team building. Pamela also provides one-on-one coaching in personal and professional development. Her company's website is http://www.peopleskillsconsulting.com/. Email her at pamelathorne@mindspring.com

Reprint Permission:

This article originally appeared in NCDA's web magazine, Career Convergence at www.ncda.org. Copyright National Career Development Association, November 2007. Reprinted with permission.

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