Self-Sabotage (and how to avoid it)

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Have you ever heard the phrase, "you are your own worst enemy"? When it comes to job searching, this can often be the case but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, a badly written CV can be an example of someone standing in their own way but there are wider and more challenging issues.

Time and again I hear candidates tell me that they "just aren't good in interviews," "there are too many people with better skills/experience/education," "it's too much for me" or "I wasn't successful last time." These candidates apparently "know" they don't stand a chance so, either don't apply or make a really half-hearted application. This aborted/failed attempt then "proves" that they can't or shouldn't keep reaching for that opportunity. Along with that comes a tsunami of doubt, frustration, and discouragement. Sound familiar?

For me, the really difficult aspect of that is that this type of candidate often blames their lack of success on inadequacy. Why? For no rational reason other than negative and limiting "self-talk." Of course, I recognise that when it comes to job search some factors are outside of a candidate's control. And it's important to note that exhibiting some of these behaviours is perfectly normal to one extent or another. It just indicates that you're human! But there are still choices and proactive actions that could influence results. I am going to be honest with you here; I have yet to meet a candidate who doesn't have something to offer a potential employer or truly lacks the potential to progress; just those that limit themselves. That isn't a dose of saccharine or rose-tinted optimism; it is my experience.

One of the other concepts I read about was "negative bias", essentially the idea that something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person than a negative experience of similar intensity. Now I am not a psychologist but, as I understand it, our brains have developed a natural defence system that kicks in when we perceive threats, pain, discomfort, etc. Negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory so that we protect ourselves in the future – a kind of "orange alert" if you like. Unfortunately, this means we can be susceptible to being frightened or intimidated by real or perceived "threats". In practical terms, failure (or at least the fear of failure) is a potential threat. As bizarre as it may sound, success can be as well. Being put in the spotlight, having to work harder or take on more responsibility could be a perceived threat for some of us.

So what can we do about it?

  • Accept that failure is inevitable (but only occasionally) and you can LEARN from it
  • Don't fall over what is behind you – recognise that "the past" has passed. Learn lessons from it, but keep perspective.
  • Realise that you are not responsible for what others think about you, but you ARE responsible for how you respond to it.
  • Recognise your strengths and attributes, gather evidence to support them.
  • Recognise your areas for development and build strategies to improve in those areas. We all have things we are not so good at… not yet, anyway.
  • Re-program; replace your negative self-talk with realistic, fact-based positives. Focusing on positives, no matter how small, will begin to counter-act that negative self-talk/bias.
  • Set, achieve and celebrate smaller goals, on your way to achieving the big ones. Positive outcomes will interrupt negative self-talk and begin to establish a pattern that helps you to more readily accept positives.
  • Take control or your thoughts and emotions and stop calling negativity "being realistic."

In researching and writing this blog, I have read all sorts of material; articles talking about brain chemistry, "fight or flight" responses, mindfulness, etc. All of that has been interesting and, at times, challenging. The key message, however, is clear; while there are no quick fixes, we can choose to keep listening to negatives or not.