Blog Post

Patterns of Self Defeat

You will find no shortage of lists containing advice on how to succeed. Here is a list of self-defeating behaviours that rear their heads in my life. Most of these are related or intertwined, but I think there are subtle points of distinction. I post them here not to revel in my shame and ineffectualness, but to help myself get better.

Any of these sound familiar?

  1. Reluctance to try something new unless I know can be excellent instantly. Related: Why bother playing if I know I cannot win; only play games I can win; thinking that I have to be excellent at something to even try it.
  2. Create a project so complex and ambitious that it cannot be accomplished, and do not allow leeway for a modified or diminished scope. Then give up, because if the project cannot be done to its ideal end, why bother?
  3. Purposely over-estimate how long something will take to accomplish, despite historical evidence that my time estimates are always wrong. Inevitably, after the task is done, I wonder why I put it off for so long.
  4. Holding myself to an impossibly high standard, and hating myself because I can never live up to it. Related: granting other people more slack than I grant myself.
  5. Taking comfort in my role as the class smartass – the one who sneers at others who are actually doing the work. This keeps me safe. I never have to strive because I have set low everyone’s expectations.
  6. Failure to realize that making change in my life requires changing many parts of it. For every YES I wish to say, a dozen NO’s must also be said. Related: Assuming that any change can be implemented effortlessly, with no real sacrifice or adjustment; assuming that change in one area doesn’t mean change in others (it always does).
  7. Thinking that I can do anything worthwhile alone. The hero complex. It’s an attractive thought – doing something by myself, for myself, and, when I get to the podium, thanking nobody but myself. This is beyond foolhardy – it is simply not the way important work gets done in the real world.
  8. Believing that “the way I am” is inalterable. A big barrier. Truth is, behaviour and attitude are changeable, and they MUST change for any progress or change to occur. In my life, I have quit smoking, quit drinking, lost weight, got my diet under control, and started a sustainable fitness routine. Not all at once (took me ten years), and with varying levels of success. I’m not stating that as a boast, I’m stating it as proof that behaviours once thought to be immutable CAN be changed.
  9. Not recognizing that fundamental change is not an unequivocal victory. There are always casualties. Quitting drinking and smoking altered my social sphere drastically – I still miss going to the pub or having a puff with colleagues. My fitness routine kills six or seven hours per week – two weeknights and a weekend afternoon are given over to fitness. This means I can’t see friends or do as many events as I used to. It means saying NO to many other things.
  10. Fear of appearing incompetent. Everyone wants look like they know exactly what they are doing in every moment. As we get older, it may become harder to open ourselves up to new endeavours, partly because we feel that we’ve reached a certain level of general competence. It can be painful to try something new. Both young and old have this fear: the young because it makes them look inexperienced (they are), and the old because they should have outrun incompetency by now (they haven’t).
  11. Thinking that natural talent and ability are enough to succeed. Everyone is good at something, but it takes much more to fully flush out those talents and abilities: A good mentor (other people, as mentioned above), a positive, supportive environment, and most of all, tons of hard work and practice. These are all cliches, and they’re all true. The gutters are lined with talented amateurs.
  12. Failure to allow for a revised destination. From where I am to where I want to be is never, ever a straight line with predictable checkpoints along the way. The destination always changes. It MUST change. In fact, if the destination doesn’t change in some way (perhaps becoming a broader endeavour, or focusing in on a narrower part), it may be a good sign that I’m off the rails.

What holds you back? Let me know →

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