By Elayne Savage, PhD
I've been planning to write another blog about self-sabotage . . . and then it just about wrote itself when the best ever revealing examples materialized during Gov. Romney's trip to Great Britain, Israel and Poland.
My purpose is not to make a political statement here, but I can't resist using these recent terrific illustrations of self-sabotage.
When Showoffmanship Becomes Self-Sabotage
It's easy to self-sabotage. Just open mouth, insert foot. And showing off is a sure-fire way of accomplishing this.
The Romney campaign's pre-journey press release emphasized how his three country trip was intended to boost his foreign policy credentials. His aides expressed hope the tour would offer opportunities for Gov. Romney to show statesmanship and demonstrate he can be an effective world leader. His aides stated his travel abroad was to "learn and listen."
Unfortunately Mr. Romney's 'learn and listen' intention quickly turned into 'self-importance and showoffmanship.'
Open Mouth, Insert Foot
You've probably heard the stories too many times, so I'll briefly summarize how these incidents look a lot to me like self-sabotage. Mitt Romney offended his British hosts when he questioned whether London sufficiently prepared for the Olympics. I suppose when you've been Chief Executive of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games you may think you know a little something about organizing the event - and you probably do.
But why choose to puff yourself up by showing your superior knowledge in a way that makes your hosts look inadequate? Unless the need to show off takes precedence over good sense.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot – Yet Again
The next stop was Israel where Gov. Romney made a statement about differences in the Palestinian and Israeli cultures. Seems to me making this kind of comparison assumes you've done some research. But then again, a little knowledge goes a long way in getting us into trouble - especially when we are showing it off.
Making comparative statements about cultures is a sure-fire way of offending people. Surely not the wisest diplomatic comment if you're trying to be President of the United States.
Open Mouth, Insert Foot – Third Time's a Charm
And then came Poland. That's the place where Rick Gorka, Mitt Romney's traveling spokesperson, became irritated by a reporter's questions and yelled out to the press corps (and the world) “kiss my a**” and “shove it.”Was Gorka imitating his boss and showing off? Was he puffing himself up and bullying? He managed to anger the press - not a great way to endear yourself or the candidate you are spokesperson for. Sure looks like another example of sabotaging behavior.
It seems Mr. Romney and his aides managed to get quite a few people to feel slighted and take things personally during this foreign tour. That's unfortunate because it would have been a fine opportunity for this presidential hopeful to show his presidential-ness and prowess at diplomacy. Instead, his showoffmanship backfired and ends up looking a lot like self-sabotage.
Opposing Voices in Stereophonic Sound
Self-sabotage is often a reflection of ambivalence. By this I mean an internal conflict is playing out - a clash between two opposing voices: "I can. I can't." "I want to. I don't." Might Mr. Romney be feeling some conflict here about being The Prez? Could there be two conflicting messages regarding his desire to be president and his self-doubt about his ability to do a good job?
Have you ever craved the prestige of a position of importance, yet secretly feared you might not have what it takes to get the job done? Maybe you felt a bit insecure. Maybe not quite comfortable in your own skin. If you think negative thoughts about doing it, you may conjure up some sort of stumbling block. And then, of course, you don't have to find out if you really are capable.
The influence of ambivalence is of course not restricted to politicians and their staffs. Nor is it only showoffmanship that can trip us up. When those conflicting voices start reverberating, we manage to find creative ways to sabotage ourselves in our personal and professional relationships.
Self-sabotage is self-rejecting behavior. It happens when self-doubt creeps in.
The dictionary definition of sabotage is 'an act or process tending to hamper or hurt' or 'any undermining of a cause.'
My favorite description of 'sabotage' is the intriguing image that history offers.
Origins of "Sabotage" – Clogging Up the Machinery
You may know that 'sabot' is a French word meaning wooden shoe or clog. It's said the term originated during the Industrial Revolution when discontented workers threw their sabots into factory machinery to damage it. The word 'saboteur' came to mean 'working carelessly,' 'clumsiness,’ 'botching' or ‘bungling,’ The meaning broadened to include any purposeful and disruptive behavior.
What are the ways you sabotage yourself? How do you jam-up, clog, or stop your machinery?
Over the years I've become quite the expert at sabotaging myself. I've encountered windows of opportunity, but let them float by without acting. I have been known to mis-address correspondence, make typing errors on important emails when I wanted to impress someone. More times than I can count, I've not listened to that small warning voice, and blurt out something inappropriate. Once I even missed a plane when I was on my way to present a program for an out-of state organization!
Now I recheck things before sending them out and I try to plan carefully so I don't mess up.
Do you find yourself clogging up your machinery with self-doubt about your capability and competence? Are you sometimes overcome with feelings of inadequacy? Do you ever block our success by working against your own best interests?
Self-sabotage can take a myriad of forms. We sabotage relationships — both work and personal. We sabotage our health and well-being. We sabotage respect for ourselves. And we get pretty good at it too!
Have you ever pushed yourself so hard bicycling or running or on the treadmill that you strain a muscle and can't exercise again for a week or two? Could this be a form of self-sabotage?
When we don't listen to our inner voice, we miss opportunities, Or conversely, we might ignore that warning voice that pops us when we are about to say something that could get us into trouble. You know the voice I mean, " The one that says" Best to keep your mouth shut – now!" And all too often we don't listen. Many of us could sure benefit from developing a good filtering system.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to be influenced by a friend, advisor, coach, or therapist? "Do this." "Say that," "Write what I suggest." And we find ourselves blindly following their suggestion without thinking it through. Sometimes we don't consider the repercussions or the effect of our words or actions on others. (As arelationship and workplace coach, I've learned how the misuse of power can be counter-productive. Even though my clients ask for 'advice,' I try to present ideas as 'options' and 'choices.')
Sometimes we sabotage ourselves by taking chances and getting sloppy. And sometimes we get caught. Maybe there's some ambivalence about getting away with something and a part sort of wants to be found out. It's easy enough to get forgetful and leave materials or devices around that others might find.
Sometimes we sabotage ourselves because we have a need for self punishment – especially for the litany of times we think we've done something "bad."
Because these thoughts are often below our radar we're not aware of them. If you want to overcome self-sabotaging behaviors, you have to know you're doing it. If you can't see something, you can't change it.
When you recognize your doubts and fears you begin to understand how they affect your behavior.
By 'walking alongside yourself' and mindfully recognizing your thoughts and actions, you can make a conscious choice to experiment with trying out new behavior.
Try Asking Yourself:
- Why might I be holding myself back? What am I uncomfortable about? What uncertainties do I have? What might I be afraid of?
- Which do I fear more – failure or success?
- What's the worst thing that could happen? Then say the answer out loud. Even better to state it out loud to another person. Hearing yourself say the words helps take the charge off of the fear.
Wouldn't it be great to become your own best supporter instead of your worst saboteur?
© Elayne Savage, PhD
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