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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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success sabotaging behaviors

Self-sabotaging Behaviors that Keep You from Getting Promoted – and Earning What You’re Worth!

I am working with an experienced executive in the insurance industry.  He is smart, educated, personable, charismatic, and well-liked by his subordinates.  He is also sabotaging his chances for promotion by procrastinating on small jobs he doesn’t want to do, not meeting project deadlines that others need his input on, and not being viewed as a reliable leader.

We all do it. No matter how successful we are, at one time or another we may fall into the self-sabotage trap, and the price of admission is high.  What happens when we sabotage our own success?

  • We become frustrated at work when others are promoted ahead of us.
  • Our income suffers when we are not advancing.
  • Our self-esteem takes a hit and may drop.
  • We doubt our confidence in our own abilities.
  • We wonder if we made the wrong choices by majoring in our selected field, working in our industry, and staying with this company.

The end result is personal anxiety, burnout, and resentment of your clients, your peers, your leadership, or your business. And that can lead to even more self-sabotaging behaviors.  This downward spiral can quickly turn devastating, but stopping it is easy when you learn to recognize the symptoms.

Symptom #1: Failing to Meet Deadlines

Be honest. How many half-written books, partially planned programs, and unfinished projects are cluttering up your life’s goals right now?

If you’re like a lot of people, the answer is probably several.

You started all of them with great enthusiasm. You planned out the modules or chapters, created the slide decks, and maybe even outlined the sales page. And then…you just stopped working on it.

Maybe you tell yourself that you’re too busy. Maybe you decide that you need to do more research. Or maybe you simply got bored and lost interest.

When we talked, I suggested that he consider this: Map out every day for a week based on deadlines, and work to those deadlines.  Make those dates and times absolutes.  He cannot procrastinate because people are waiting on his parts of the projects. 

Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40 gave us some good advice in our book, Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success.  He said, “I cannot be the reason my people cannot do their jobs.”  Garry cares a lot about his team, and he knows that if he sits on his part of a project, he is the reason his people are going to fail.  Great bosses know they have to help their people succeed, and as a result, he keeps his parts of the projects moving forward.

Symptom #2: The Fear Factor

For my executive, this self-sabotaging symptom is partly a lack of confidence, and it’s keeping him from the success he deserves. He is not sure he can actually succeed so he doesn’t try. 

He says he wants success, but he is so afraid of failing and being embarrassed by the possibility of failure that he doesn’t give his attention to the right projects.  He focuses on the smaller projects that he knows he can do well.  As a result, he is not considered for promotion because he has not tackled some of the bigger projects.  He is afraid to go after the big accounts.  He is worried about being rejected. 

As Winston Churchill famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Many people say that they get stuck because they are afraid of failing.  We’re afraid that even with that amazing coach, we still won’t reach our goals, so we put off applying for that dream job. We’re afraid we’ll look bad when compared to other proposals, so we just don’t send one. But if we want to be successful in business, we must learn to recognize and face our fears, and then do the work anyway.

Symptom #3: Procrastination

Did you mean to apply for that high-end coaching program, but missed the deadline? Or maybe you were going to send a proposal to a potential new client, but waited too long? Or maybe you simply waited too long to take advantage of a sale price on a new app that everyone else is using.  

These and other missed opportunities can often be blamed on simple procrastination.  Procrastination is one of the most destructive habits we have. Procrastination is what keeps us working late at night to make a deadline, costs us money in late fees, and even costs us business.

If you’re prone to procrastination, try these techniques to put an end to it:

  • You don’t want to. We all have to do things we don’t want to do.  If you wait until you feel like doing it, you will never do it.  Understand you are not going to want to do it.  Not now.  Not ever.  But you still need to get it off your plate.
  • Realize that procrastinating just makes the pain last longer. Now you are thinking about it more and that is stressful, because you haven’t done it, and now you are adding it to the things to worry about.  You are creating even more stress for yourself.
  • Visualize the life and business you want. Imagine what it will be like to have that amazing business you’ve been dreaming about. Picture your ideal workday, daydream about that fabulous vacation you’ll take, and imagine VIP days with your ideal client. Imagine your to-do list without this task on it.
  • Reward yourself. It’s okay to give yourself a little incentive for getting things done. Take yourself out to lunch. Go to a workout class. Meet friends for happy hour.  Do what’s most likely to motivate you to power through your doubts and take the next step.


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