What’s stopping you?

Do you self-sabotage and allow obstacles or feelings to get in the way of your goals? Make 2017 a year to change all that…
What’s stopping you?
January 12, 2017   |    Jo Usmar



What colour are the statements you most agree with?

The questions…

Statement 1: Core beliefs
There is only success or failure, no middle ground
Life is unfair – especially to me. Other people always get lucky
I don’t think I deserve success or happiness
I don’t like failing, but I’ll see it as a learning curve

Statement 2: Comfort zone
Being competitive spurs me on to try new things
I enjoy the buzz of nearly getting caught out
I am terrified of failing, so don’t push myself
I seize opportunities even if they scare me

Statement 3: Work assignments
If it’s not perfect, why bother?
I’ll always give a different opinion on something, just to make things interesting
I feel like a fraud and will rarely take the lead
I have enough faith in my abilities to put myself out there

Statement 4: Comparing yourself
I hate working with others – they might mess things up for me
I get envious of other people’s success
I’m not as good as everyone else
I’m pretty good at taking criticism from others

Statement 5: Conflict and resolution
I need to be in total control at all times
Conflict and arguments are healthy – it’s how you get the best out of people
I’m constantly anxious that I’m letting people (including myself) down
Everyone makes mistakes; it’s not the end of the world if things go wrong


You’re a perfectionist

If you’re losing a tennis match, you’ll start swearing at yourself, cursing your racket or shouting at your opponent. If you don’t improve, you’ll give up. If you’re not going to win and you can’t control the outcome, what’s the point? Forget seeing things as learning or good for teamwork. Things have to be perfect or you’ll have failed.

You have an idea of how things should be and if they fall short you’ll berate yourself. Say,
by a miracle, you do succeed – you manage to meet your own near-impossible standards
– you’ll move the goalposts: ‘That jog should have been faster… That sex should have been better.’ Living this way makes life a slog for everyone.

Self-saviour behaviour: Recognise that things are rarely black or white, there’s usually a grey area. Look for the good in what may happen – so you might not get the job, but you’ll make some new contacts. Your new relationship may not last forever, but it might be fun while it does.

Also test yourself – try things that you know you’ll be rubbish at: swing dancing, life drawing or singing. Laugh at how bad you are. Perfectionism is driven by a fear of what others think – but no one’s perfect and people like those who aren’t.

Perfection’s boring, intimidating and alienating. It’s our shared experiences and foibles that make us relatable and interesting.

You’re a drama lover

You feel at your most alive when you’re at the centre of a crisis – for example, when your heart’s thumping and your blood is pumping because you’ve procrastinated so long over your project that the deadline’s now only a day away. Or when you know your partner’s about to find those flirty messages you’ve been sending to your colleague.

You can self-sabotage due to a desire to feel the physical rush of stress. Otherwise, you may play the victim, and thereby take no responsibility for what happens. Yet neither the rush from the pressure or the cuddly vibes from the sympathy last long and then you’re left dealing with the fall-out – the hurt feelings, the guilt, anger, confusion and shame.

Self-saviour behaviour: Acknowledge that any ‘high’ you feel doesn’t last and that you’re setting yourself up for longer-term angst. While we are built to thrive on a certain amount of pressure, there is a tipping point – where good stress turns bad.

When stress turns to anxiety and the fight-or-flight reflex kicks in (racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating, clammy skin, cold feet or hands, nausea and the sense of threat), you are incapable of thinking rationally, so don’t push it.

You’re a low self-esteem battler

There are a myriad of reasons why someone may suffer from low self-esteem (LSE) – it can be specific to certain situations or it can be a permanent fixture in your life, affecting everything. Long-term insecurity tends to come from deep-rooted beliefs that you’re not good enough, established in childhood or from a traumatic experience that alters how you view yourself and how you cope.

LSE can lead to self-sabotage because your fear of failure, ridicule or vulnerability means you skip opportunities or fail on purpose. You, therefore, know why you failed and don’t have to deal with any anticipatory anxiety at how things might work out.

Self-saviour behaviour: Write down ‘Thoughts are not facts’ in a notebook and then read it every day. Indeed, they are just hypotheses from your biased brain – opinions that can be challenged.

The inner critic that lives in your head loves berating you. Don’t let them get away with it. Ask yourself: ‘Have I succeeded at something similar before?’ ‘What skills do I have that may help?’ ‘What’s the worst that might happen? If that happened, could I cope with it?’ We always indulge worst-case scenarios that bear little resemblance to reality.

Stepping back from these vile imaginings will prove them to be ridiculous, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is helpful for this.

The worst is usually never that bad – and even if it did happen, you could cope with it. If LSE is affecting your life, see your GP.

You’re not a self-saboteur

Recognising and taking opportunities (even if they scare you), challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone are all signs of a healthy attitude towards trying new things. Yes, you may still feel anxious about the outcome, but you know you can cope with the fall-out if you make a mistake, encounter a problem or if you fail.

You’ll congratulate yourself for having a go, then take what you’ve learned and move on. After all, it’s better to have tried and stumbled than to have never tried at all. But the likelihood is, you probably won’t stumble at all.


We all feel frightened sometimes, but if fear is holding you back, it’s time to make some changes. This Book Will Make You Fearless by Jo Usmar is out now (£8.99, Quercus).


Self-sabotage: The facts

You believe you are going to fail so behave in ways that ensure you will. This reconfirms your conviction that it’s best not to try as you’re not good enough, the world’s against you or other people are just luckier. No wonder you think it’s easier to fail on your own terms.

Giving up, not trying or making it near-impossible to succeed so you can think: ‘I knew it!’ when it goes wrong won’t make you feel good. It’s a twisted sense of satisfaction that comes from believing the deck is stacked against you. It breeds resentment and dissatisfaction – and you’ll have added guilt on top, as you know it’s down to you. You’re not giving yourself a chance to disprove your fears.

To stop these emotions piling up, many people resort to telling victim stories to justify their behaviour. Stuff like: ‘I had no choice,’ or ‘Nothing ever works out for me.’ These only serve to aggravate your feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, which ramps up your anxiety. You need to own your behaviour. Take responsibility for the decisions you’re making. This isn’t down to fate or circumstance. You choose how to face a situation – how to interpret what you have to do. You can decide to break these negative cycles that stop you progressing.

Think of the last three times you tripped yourself up. What were you facing, what didyou do, why did you do it and how did it make you feel? Are the situations related? What form does your self-sabotage take? This will make you aware of self-sabotaging tendencies in the future, so you can ask yourself: ‘Do I really want to do this? How will it make me feel?’


Balance asked Londoners if they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone or if they hold themselves back

Yawn Liang, 20, Bethnal Green, a student, says: ‘I like an easygoing life – I’m not bothered about perfection. Failure is inevitable, so I won’t stop trying even if I think I won’t be able to reach my end goals.’

Max Bayley, 29, Richmond, an account manager, says: ‘I sabotage myself in my personal life – I make plans and break them quickly – but not at work. At work I’m a perfectionist; I deal with high-value projects under pressure, so I have to be relentless. I take the hit if it means an easier outcome.’

Esther Poter, 47, Islington, a life coach, says: ‘It’s only human to sabotage your life to save yourself from things you think are scary. I don’t like staying in my comfort zone – I wouldn’t grow, learn or take exotic trips. I do like to have a plan, so I can take action to get to where I want to be.’

Lucy Tillett, 26, Redbridge, in business development, says: ‘I presume the worst a lot of the time. It’s natural to make excuses initially, but I’m learning to go away and reflect on things, then admit if I’m wrong.’

Dima, 33, Highbury, a manager, says: ‘I use the words “act but don’t react” to teach me to take a step back from sabotaging myself and to take time to think. If you don’t have what you want, you may not have tried anything different.’

Danish Khairul, 18, Barnet, a student, says: ‘I procrastinate if I have a big project. I leave everything until the last minute, as I get distracted a lot. Social media is the culprit. I do have a comfort zone but I try to step out of it academically.’

Cate Carrell, 31, Hackney, a lawyer, says: ‘You can think you won’t thrive in your career because one person doesn’t agree with you. People may have a difficult boss who leads them to question their self-worth. Talk to those who believe in you, and recognise your achievements.’

Yannek Bendler, 23, Stratford, a salesman, says: ‘I regularly try things I haven’t done before and I’m happy to leave my comfort zone. If something goes wrong I’m comfortable owning up to it. If you’re honest with people first off, then it’s usually OK and you can sort it out.’


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