Self-defeating behaviors: the little habitual things that we do everyday that set us up for failure. The tricky thing is that we may not even realize that what we’re doing is working against us- we just continue to do things that we have always done.
In my never-ending journey toward self-improvement, I realized that that I was the one that got in my way. I can only speak about my experiences, but I have a feeling that these behaviors are pretty common.
1. Procrastination as a defense mechanism
There is a deadline fast approaching for something that is really appealing. You put off working on it until you have time to sit down and really focus. The only problem is that with everything going on, you never get that chunk of time to devote yourself. As you get down to the wire, you scramble at the last minute just to turn in something. Sound familiar?
I did this all of the time. The more important the thing was (GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATIONS, AHH!), the more I procrastinated and failed to put in my best work. If I came across a job opening for a position that I really wanted, I would just email the bland resume sitting on my desktop and quickly fill out an online application while hoping for the best.
If all behavior serves a function, why did I keep doing this when I knew that it would not get me to where I wanted to be?
It gave me a built-in excuse for failure.
When I didn’t get selected to show off my work at an exhibition, didn’t get accepted into the grad school of my choice, and didn’t land that dream internship, it didn’t hurt so bad.
If I had only had the time to really work hard and dedicate myself, I would have totally gotten it.
2. Glorification of busy
I must always accept all responsibilities and say yes to every single opportunity offered to me. I had this vague image of a successful person being the crazed person who can’t be bothered to make sure that their clothes match and is always responding to emails and working on at least fifty different projects at any given time. Being busy equates to being successful; therefore, if I am busy, I will be successful.
I was over-extending myself with responsibilities that weren’t that important for me, and that made it easier to ignore the things that were important.
Hello stress and burnout.
3. Long-term goals without any short-term goals
I could tell you exactly where I wanted to be in five years. I would be working in a specific niche within my field of choice. I would be ultra healthy and have a fulfilling personal life. I had full confidence that I would reach these goals eventually, but they never translated into my day-to-day life. Those goals are far-off, I don’t need to worry about them now because I’ve already got so much on my plate (see #2 above).
Then in the blink of an eye, a year or two has flown by. Those five-year goals no longer seemed so feasible. I would reevaluate my goals and settle for new one’s that seemed more “realistic,” without changing my approach.
I never even gave myself the opportunity to achieve success.
4. Stay up all night stressing out about an important event the next day
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I never put my best foot forward when I’m sleep deprived.
The one thing that these behaviors have in common: protection from my fear of failure. The hard thing to realize that this fear was only setting me up to experience the failure I so wanted to avoid.
How I finally broke the self-defeating cycle:
1. Stress management
First I focused on the physical. I worked on establishing a consistent sleep routine and exercising a little every day. I moved on to cleaning up my diet. After establishing these three things as habits, I almost immediately stopped the horrible late night stressing. My body had been conditioned to fall asleep and wake up at consistent times, which alone has made me much less anxious. Basically, I identified my unhealthy behaviors or things that were preventing me from feeling my best, and replaced with good habits. I know that this advice is everywhere and I was reluctant to give up my vices, but I can’t overstate how much of a difference these three small changes have made. Physical health is the perfect place to start because it is mostly common sense and allows for concrete measures of progress.
Second I carved out some personal time every day. I realized that some quiet time is just as essential as being busy. Sometimes I’ll do some yoga, other times I’ll just drink some tea and watch my favorite TV show.
I also made sure that I carved out quality time with the important people in my life each week and tried to spend more time outside in nature.
Lastly, I incorporated meditation and mindfulness into my daily routine. Not only have these helped me to reduce stress, but they were also invaluable tools for helping me understand myself for step 2.
2. Questioning impulses
Do I really need to take a nap, or am I just avoiding something? Should I really put off working on that application, or should I at least get a start on it today? This step made me aware of all of my little self-defeating tendencies and how I am wired to cope with stress. As the prophecy at Delphi says, “know thyself.”
3. Never forget
Make lists. Make calendar events. Set reminders. I utilize a combination of technology and paper and pen for this. A paper planner helps me visualize the bigger picture of my week and paper lists helps me brainstorm and map things out. Technology makes sure that I am prompted to work on the most important items on my daily to do list and alerted well in advance of upcoming deadlines. I also keep a running idea list of things I would like to flesh out or look into in the future, which helps to keep me from being distracted in the present.
4. Fake it ‘til you make it
Self-fulfilling prophecy is a powerful phenomenon. Whenever I approach a task, I act as if it something that I have already had success doing.
5. But always continue to improve your skills
I started using the time suck that is the Internet to my benefit. I take free online courses, read informative articles, and watch documentaries. Whatever I am working on during the day, during my evening downtime I search for ways to improve or learn about the topic. Read books. Brainstorm. Get creative.