What comes to mind when you think about self-sabotage? It’s an expression that doesn’t enter the personal lexicon of many, but to many others, it brings up memories of behaviors that make them want to sink through the floor and disappear from sight.
At the beginning of the New Year, eager to set some new directions, I read a wonderful article by Ted Leonhardt (@tedleonhardt), a Seattle-based designer and illustrator, former creative director, and publisher. Not only was the article interesting and frank—Mr. Leonhardt detailed his fears and failures without sugarcoating—it captured me because I felt as though he had seized my lapels and was talking to me.
Early on in his article, Mr. Leonhardt says, “I was so afraid of failure, and I let my flight-or-fight tendency take over. And rather than confronting my fear head-on, I chose to push it away … ” In a story about a presentation to a potential client, Mr. Leonhard tells of being so “afraid to discover what I didn’t know,” that he essentially decided to wing it and do minimal preparation.
The result? The CEO’s name was misspelled on the first page of the presentation (which the CEO pointed out.) To make matters worse, Mr. Leonhardt offered samples of his firm’s work that were irrelevant. The executive sponsor who had gotten him the hearing refused to meet his eyes, and Mr. Leonhardt left as quickly as he could. Interestingly enough, the night before the presentation, he had spent several hours talking to waitstaff at a local diner. All had worked at the prospect’s company, and all had good ideas and suggestions which he had the good sense to incorporate. Alas, this was a classic case of too little, too late.
So how did Mr. Leonhardt get past his appetite for self-sabotage? He notes that his conversations at the diner had been fun and further, “Had I made an effort to do something like this several weeks earlier, my meeting might have ended differently.” His solution, which will work for any of us, was to realize that he could move past his fear by focusing, instead, on his clients’ needs and concerns. By choosing to shift the emphasis from himself to areas where his expertise could be helpful, he got the confidence he needed. “The more I thought about how I can help, the more confident I get. I can then start to plan and find myself enjoying the challenge of solving the puzzle. Before I know it, I’m in a state of creative flow.”
As a writer, I often reflect on the power of words and how we can use them to reframe a situation. A while back, I saw a video in which a group of people changed “have” to “get to.” I have to do the laundry becomes “I get to do the laundry,” which can start a cascade of thoughts around how fortunate we are to have washing machines, how good it feels to see a pile of folded laundry, how nice it smells, and so on. In a more limited sense, this is what I think Mr. Leonhardt is talking about. When you get right down to it, laundry or large, fear-provoking project, you’re choosing to “tell yourself a different story, one that gets you to take positive steps, rather than remain paralyzed with fear.”
Ioulia Bolchakova — 123rf.com