There was once a wise old man
He was so wise he could answer any question asked of him, no matter how difficult.
One day, two young boys decided, “We’re going to sabotage that old man. We’ll catch a bird, and go to the old man, and say, ‘This that we hold in our hands today, is it alive or is it dead?’ If he says ‘Dead,’ we’ll turn it loose and let it fly, and if he says ‘Alive,’ we’ll crush it.”
Sometimes it seems as if you’re crushing your dreams — that your life is not in your hands
If you’ve ever set a goal and then not achieved it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It can seem as if someone else is controlling your life when in actuality you’re just sabotaging yourself!
Welcome to what it is to be human!
To avoid sabotage, prevent procrastination and achieve your dreams, it’s crucial to take a systems approach.
As a human being, you are part of many systems
A system is a set of connected things or parts that form a complex whole;
- a family.
- a team.
- a workforce.
- a committee.
- a road or rail network.
- the weather.
- a forest, etc.
- Your body is a complex system.
When you change something within a system, it affects other parts of the system
Even minor changes or introducing something new can have a major impact. The birth of a new baby changes the dynamics of a family. Certain foods can cause indigestion, stomachache, headache, and skin problems for some.
And from a global perspective, notice how the introduction of the internet has disrupted the postal service, the film, and music industries, how we communicate and how we purchase goods and services, even how we read!
Compatibility is the issue
If you try to make a change, that is at odds (or not compatible) with other parts of a system, the change is less likely to ‘stick’. And if you are successful in making the change or achieving a goal that conflicts with the rest of the system, you risk creating problems in other areas of that system.
An unfortunate, non-compatible change to a system
New Zealand imported stoats and ferrets to control rats. Unfortunately, little, if any, attention was given to the wider system — New Zealand’s environment and ecology. Many New Zealand birds — like our Kiwi — are poor flyers or completely flightless, having had no predators until man arrived. Many nest on or near the ground. Stoats and ferrets devastated the native bird populations, causing the annihilation of some species.
Don’t annihilate your goal!
Rather than drive your goal into extinction, you’ll want to make sure it’s compatible; that it’s going to fit with all the diverse systems that make up your life. If it’s not a good fit, you’ll sabotage yourself — or create fresh problems down the track. Sabotaging the goal is a way to maintain your current compatibility.
How to avoid self-sabotage
To avoid self-sabotage it’s vital to make sure any change or goal will be a good fit for you and those many systems of which you’re a part?
What follows are some ways practical ways of testing compatibility using specific questions. Before reading on, it would be useful if you had some goal in mind or a change that you’d like to make. That way, what follows will be more meaningful. However, I have used an example to make it clear how these questions can inform your goals and prevent self-sabotage. Your honest answers let you check the compatibility of your goal or change, and will highlight any incompatibilities.
Think of the goal or the change you want to make
My example goal/change is: “I want to feel confident and to state my point of view in work meetings.”
Now ask yourself these questions:
“What will you gain when you…” (insert your goal or change), for example,
“What would you gain by feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings?”
Write your answer. You can repeat the question several times until you can’t come up with any more answers. Typical answers to my example goal might include:
- I’ll feel better about myself.
- I’ll be glad I could speak up instead of getting resentful afterward.
- Others will see me in a more positive light.
- I’ll feel as if I’m contributing.
- I’m getting out of my comfort zone.
“What will you lose when you … (insert your goal or change)?”
(You will always lose something, so please consider this question fully. (Some of the things you’ll lose you’ll be glad of, but others you may not.) Using my example again,
“What will you lose when you feel confident and state your point of view in meetings?” Answers might include:
- My feeling of being in the outer circle.
- My feeling of insecurity.
- My nervousness about wanting to speak, but not being able to.
- I might lose some friends because I’m behaving differently.
(Optional – depending on the answer to question 2.)
“How can you overcome what you’ll lose and still achieve (insert your goal or change)?”
In my example, most of what I’ll lose I’m going to be happy about. But losing friends because I’m behaving differently doesn’t seem positive.
So when I consider this question in relation to my answer, I come up with; “If my current friends can’t cope with me speaking up for myself, well, maybe it’s time to get new friends.”
“What are you gaining now by not having (insert your goal or change) that will change when you have (insert your goal or change)?”
I know! This messes with your head! It’s still important to consider it fully.
E.g. “What are you gaining now by not feeling confident and stating your point of view in meetings that will change when you do feel confident and state your point of view in meetings?”
- I’m comfortable. It’s easy for me to say nothing — I don’t have to take part.
- People leave me alone — they expect nothing from me.
- I don’t get tasks to complete after the meeting.
“What are you losing now by not having (insert your goal or change) that will change when you have (insert your goal or change)?”
Yes — messes with your head even more!
E.g. “What are you losing now by not feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings that will change when you do feel confident and state your point of view in work meetings?”
- I’m losing out on being considered for a promotion.
- The opportunity to share my unique points of view.
- The respect of my colleagues.
“What are the consequences of not achieving (insert your goal or change)?”
“What are the consequences of not feeling confident and stating your point of view in meetings?”
- I won’t get promoted.
- My colleagues won’t know what I think.
- I’ll lose the respect of my colleagues.
- I’ll feel like a loser.
- I won’t earn more money.
Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen ~ Alyce P Cornyn-Selby
“How does having (insert your goal or change) fit with other goals or outcomes you may have?”
E.g., “How does feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings fit with any other goals or outcomes you may have?”
- It fits in well. I’d like to be promoted, so I need to say what I think in these situations.
- It’s a wonderful skill to have in any environment, really.
- I think it’ll help me feel confident when I’m singing too!
“Does (insert your goal or change) fit with your values in this area?”
E.g. “Does feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings fit with your values in this area?”
- Yes, because I consider openness and honesty are important. But I’m not being open or honest at present because I say nothing, even when I disagree.
- I also value different points of view. But I’m not letting people know what my point of view is!
“Does (insert your goal or change) give you more choices and enhance your life?”
E.g. “Does feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings give you more choices and enhance your life?”
- Yes, because it will give me the confidence to speak up in other areas as well, such as social situations.
- Having confidence in myself is always useful!
“Do you believe (insert your goal or change) is possible and achievable?”
E.g. “Do you believe feeling confident and stating your point of view in work meetings is possible and achievable?”
- Yes, absolutely!
If any of the above questions result in an answer that shows a roadblock, explore the goal a little more. Perhaps you can change it slightly to avoid self-sabotage.
You’ll find more useful questions to reduce the risk of self-sabotage in chapter Six of my Goal Setting book.
Reduce the risk
When you’ve answered all the questions thoughtfully and honestly, your goal will be pretty watertight. You can get started knowing that it’s compatible and that you’ve reduced the risk of self-sabotage and procrastination.
You will have taken life back into your own hands
The young boys had a bird in their hands that they’d managed to catch. They carried it to the old man, and they said, “This that we hold in our hands today, is it alive or is it dead?”
The wise old man looked at the boys and he smiled.
And he said, “It’s in your hands.”
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