Are you a self-saboteur?

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No, it’s not some kind of strange sexual predilection. A self-saboteur is someone who specializes in willfully and maliciously destroying or impeding his or her progress toward a desired goal.

Why on earth would anyone choose to sabotage themselves? That’s crazy! I wouldn’t do that to anyone, much less to myself!

Are you sure about that?

The trouble with sabotage is saboteurs are sneaky. Sabotage makes things look like accidents, like unavoidable flaws in the system. And sabotage springs up wherever progress, or change, is underway. 

Think about it. If you want to win a war, sabotaging the enemy’s efforts toward establishing permanent change is one of the greatest tools in your arsenal of resistance. 

For today, let’s hit one of the most common and basic forms of self-sabotage: procrastination. Procrastination is time thievery. Interestingly, though most of us think the source of procrastination is simply a bad case of laziness, most research suggests a tendency to procrastinate stems from anxiety, fear, and low self-esteem.


Like I said yesterday, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words per day. Not much for a writer, really. I churn out that many words just replying to e-mails, changing my FB status, tweeting on Twitter and writing blog posts! But when it comes to sitting down in the chair and saying, “I’m going to put 1,667 words together in a novel format, so at the end of this month I’ll have a completed first draft to work from,” the procrastination saboteur sneaks in, grabs me from behind, and wheels me around to another room, to do some other project.

I come from a long line of workaholics, so relaxing makes me feel guilty. I don’t go do something fun when self-sabotage strikes (my husband will rent a movie, or take a nap, or plop on the sofa and watch hours of Japanese ninja competition… in Japanese). I’ll find myself darning socks (who darns socks these days, anyway?), or watching my computer defragment its hard drive, or suddenly having a need to clean the grunge from around the dishwasher seal.

By the time my inner saboteur is through with me, it’s either too late or I’m too exhausted to set fingers to keyboard and be creative. And the inner saboteur slinks away with a wicked grin, mission accomplished.

Students procrastinate homework assignments until it’s too late to do the job right. Some students do their work, then fail to turn it in. That’s self-sabotage, and it springs from some source of internal resistance. Maybe he or she believes she’s dumb, maybe she’s afraid of being labeled a nerd or a geek if she gets good grades.

Adults procrastinate balancing their checkbooks and paying bills until their finances are tohu va bohu (Hebrew for “without form and void,” or “a literal mess.”) Have you ever procrastinated car or home repairs? Our home repair procrastination resulted in a broken arm (mine) and a collapsed bedroom ceiling, all in one night. Oops. 

I know a man who procrastinated a doctor’s visit until he was bleeding so badly internally he had to undergo emergency surgery. That’s self-sabotage at its worst.

Have you ever sabotaged your own diet or exercise program? Nah. Nobody does that, right? No, we all do, and that may just explain why 70 percent of Americans are overweight. Here’s the classic application of dietary self-sabotage: “I’ll start my diet tomorrow. But tonight I’m going to finish off this bag of Double-Stuff Oreos so there won’t be anything tempting in the cupboard tomorrow.”

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The crux of the issue is this:  All change – good or bad – creates resistance. It’s just a law. Yielding to self-sabotage just multiplies the resistance that’s already there. It’s like a boxer hitting himself in the face twice for every swing he takes at his opponent. You’re making your own life more difficult, on purpose! 

Right now, I want you to pick ONE project, one task, one action you’ve delayed or procrastinated (not all of them, because that might push you over the edge of sanity). Is it cleaning the fridge? Calling your mother-in-law? Having that difficult talk with your teenager? 

Just pick ONE thing you can do right this minute. Even if it’s midnight, you can still clean the fridge (or talk to the teenager). You could even call your MIL, though that might not be very productive!

Picture yourself squashing that self-saboteur under the bottom of your shoe. You’ll be amazed how good you feel when you’ve broken through that resistance and accomplished a task! 

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