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  • Writer's pictureJon Mechan

Eliminating Self-Sabotage

Today I'd like to start with an excerpt from a novel I read recently.

Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories. Cities are a story. Money is a story. Space was a story, once. A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story. Or maybe the people kill the king because they don’t like his story and have begun to tell themselves a different one.

- Becky Chambers - Record of a Spaceborn Few

As coaches, we frequently examine stories with our clients. Often the first step is pointing out that there is a story at all.

For example, everyone has a story about money, of some sort. "Money is the root of all evil", "You can never have enough money", "If I don't have enough money x will happen".

The key thing is to identify what stories you are telling yourself, and, crucially, to figure out if they're true or not.

This is where self-sabotage comes in. Sometimes these stories can be unhelpful and at worst actively self-sabotaging. "I could never get up in front of an audience and speak" for example is a great way of ensuring that you never will.

Story time at Da Vinci's house

Changing the Story

How can you go about changing the stories you tell yourself?

The most powerful way to change a story is to look for the evidence of its truth. Many stories were "true" at some point in the past - that's how they were created, after all - but are they still true now?

Is your story the solution to a problem that no longer exists?

Let me give you an example. I client I worked with a while ago was having trouble with their boss. It was a repeating pattern throughout their career. They weren't able to progress into more senior roles and they had received feedback that they 'lacked fortitude', 'had no strategic ability', or were 'unable to make tough decisions'.

When we delved into this it turned out that early in their career they'd had a boss that had essentially terrorized them into believing that no matter what they did it wouldn't be good enough. This boss constantly 'joked' about firing them if they didn't do a good job. (Leadership tip: never joke about firing people. Ever.)

This created a story for them that they should do everything they possibly could to please their boss, even if it meant sacrificing their physical and mental health. This people-pleasing persona got them a fair way but at a certain point created an impression of weakness and inability to create and hold an opinion. They had the potential to be a great leader but weren't demonstrating good leadership.

The only way to change this story was to examine whether it was still true. Did they really need to say yes to everything in order to stay employed? What would happen if they stood up for themselves? How could they create greater respect for themselves and their teams?

The realization that they were living their lives according to an old unhelpful story was a revelation.

Once they'd had this epiphany it was possible to create a new story. This involved looking at who they wanted to be, how they wanted to present themselves, and what kind of leader they really were. We examined what their beliefs and values were, and how those would manifest in their leadership. Their new story was along the lines of 'I am a strong leader, who is fair to my team and not afraid to stand up for what's right'.

They now hold a VP position at a very well-known company, and are absolutely thriving.

What are the stories that are defining you? What stories are you telling yourself? Are they true? Where could you change those stories?

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