How to Overcome Self-Sabotaging Your Success

There's a part in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist that sticks with me. In it, the main character is about to achieve his heart's desire and he fails right before he achieves his goal because he's afraid. This is a common occurrence that I've heard many friends express to me in trust. What is the cause for this self-sabotage and how can you overcome it?

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I'll start with a story that will put this all into context. I learned some hard lessons in growing up and I'll share one of them with you. I had a rough upbringing and at 19 years of age I wanted to take part in a travel abroad program to Paris. I had studied the French language for six years (all through high school and two years in college) and wanted to take the next step to learn more by visiting my favorite city.

My traveling overseas to France would also help me overcome a bad breakup that I had experienced. I was hurting and thought that by getting away and studying for three weeks in Paris that I would get over my depression and move on with my life. After nearly not being able to attend the study abroad program due to lack of money, I realized that I needed to make a choice. Either I found a way to make it happen or I missed out on a chance of a lifetime. Thankfully, I had the courage to buck the system, take my grandfather's rejection of loaning me the money for the trip and took out a personal loan from a bank (though at 19 I needed my mom to co-sign).

When I went on the trip, my world was changed in amazingly good ways, but I nearly didn't allow it to. I'm going to share something with you that I never really talked about with anyone. I want you to know that I'm not perfect. I screw up and do stupid things and that I can relate to the ways that you may have self-sabotaged your own happiness. For me, I took my camcorder with me on the trip so that I could film all the beauties of Paris, but I also kept a secret video clip on it. I'm ashamed to admit this,  keep in mind that it was 1990, but I brought with me the recorded video of Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love."

I thought that if I brought the video with me, that if I became homesick, I could watch the video through the eyepiece (there were no LCD screens back then) and remember my ex-girlfriend and hope that one day I would find love again.

Instead of dealing with my feelings, I brought a crutch with me to help me get over not only my broken heart, but a tool to help insulate me from what I would be experiencing in Paris. I used the video two or three times when I was there and then a realization came to me. It hit me all of a sudden and I understood that I was afraid. I feared change.

Meeting new people, being away in a foreign country and learning a new language and skills was overwhelming, but instead of admitting that, I nearly destroyed a chance of encountering an amazing time in the city of Paris.

The fear of something new was so great that I almost stuck with the hurt of my current situation.

That's crazy, right? But I didn't know that back then. I only knew that I was hurting and afraid, but didn't know what I needed to do to overcome it. Now I know, and I'll share that with you.

  • Admit your feelings. Say it to someone you trust and love.
  • Know that you're not alone. Other people are afraid of change too. Change is one of the most difficult things for people to accept.
  • Be aware of self-sabotaging behaviors and nip them before they ruin your happiness.

That third one can be tricky. Might be overeating, or drinking too much or, for me, throwing myself too much into work/tasks so that I become blinded to anything else around me. Be mindful of what your own self-sabotaging mode is and be ready for it. If you're not, then you'll create a looping pattern for yourself. You'll work hard for something and then wreck your own plans (and then be hurt). The difficult skill to practice is to admit and be open to change. I wish I could say that this was easy to do, but it isn't.

There's a part "The Art of Asking" book that really hit home to me when I heard Amanda Palmer share the story back in 2014. She explained that she saw a dog once that kept yelping and she asked what what the matter to the dog's owner. The farmer, who owned the dog, replied that the dog was sitting on a nail. When she asked why the dog didn't move, the farmer said, "Must not be hurting enough."

And here's where being honest with yourself kicks in: Is it more comfortable for you to live with the hurt/pain that you've become accustomed or can you face your fear and accept the change? That's a tough question to answer.

What I've learned along the way is that change doesn't happen overnight. Small changes, over time, can stack up to make big changes. A simple example is learning to run. I never ran at all. I hadn't run a mile since high school, but at 38 I decided to start running. I went from never running to several years later running a marathon. I may not be the fastest runner, but I have since run three marathons and eight half-marathons. Change can happen, but it takes time and patience and hard work.

The next time you're in a situation where you're starting to cycle into repetitive self-sabotaging behavior, take time to recognize it, talk about it and fix it. In the end, addressing the problem and honestly admitting to it, will help you not only become happy but open new doors and experiences that you may not even be able to imagine in the present.