LeadershipPersonal Development

Words as Self-Sabotage

3 Steps to Get Your Brain Back on Track

You are often your own worst enemy. It starts with the words out of your mouth and the voices in your head. From telling yourself that you aren’t knowledgeable enough to take on a new challenge to the nagging doubts about important career moves, the negative words in your mind are obstacles to the success you want to achieve.

A little self-doubt is normal because life is filled with uncertainty. The risks that you take to stretch yourself and succeed are real ones, accompanied by the possibility of failure. But when you speak ill to yourself, you are hurting your chances for success.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are three simple steps you can take right now to stop sabotaging yourself—and affirm your capacity for success.

1. Change the words in your mind

Gospel singer Hezekiah Walker once sang, “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.” But each and every day, people sabotage themselves with the I can’ts and I’m not good enoughs in their minds. Not only do these words cause career-limiting procrastination and indecision, they even contribute to physical ailments and untimely deaths.

Simply ignoring these words of doubt isn’t enough. You must combat them with affirmations of your capacity to take on challenges and succeed. This starts at the end of the day by listing and reciting I cans, I ams, and even I wills, affirming your ability to achieve. By affirming yourself before going to bed, you organize and focus your mind on achievement.

Another strategy lies in recalling your past successes—and writing them down so you can reference them every now and then. Even the simplest signposted achievement can cause you to feel positive about your ability to succeed in the future. More importantly, those thoughts, along with the positive words, crowd out the negative words stuck on repeat in your head.

2. Deal with the fears inside

William Shakespeare wrote in Measure for Measure that “Our doubts are traitors.” They make us “lose the good we oft might win.” Those doubts, and the words of self-sabotage that emerge from them, result from the fears of failure. Too often, these fears are allowed to fester.

You must realize that fear is not a sign that you are incapable, but merely the signal that you must take on the next challenge. By understanding fear as a positive signal, you can then take action instead of wallowing in indecision and procrastination. That fear can even help you find ways to avoid pitfalls on the way to progress.

At the same time, you should accept fear as a healthy way of driving your own self-improvement. You may not know everything you need to take on the next challenge. So read books on the areas you are about to undertake, and seek advice from sponsors, mentors, and others whom you trust.

3. Embrace the fact that you are enough.

Once you embrace words of affirmation and leverage your fear for success, you will stop engaging in self-sabotage—and see yourself as more than capable of achieving what you set out to do.

“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards,” said the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. This means looking at your past successes and moments of overcoming adversity, then using those lessons to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Another step lies in realizing that you are smarter and talented than you think you are. If you have achieved in the past, you can succeed in the future. By remembering this, you are engaging in what author Margie Warrell describes as calling out the critic, dissecting the doubts and words of self-sabotage that keep you from seeing your full potential.

Finally, you should stay true to yourself. This is critical in pushing back against words of self-doubt and the self-sabotage that results from them. Steve Jobs once said that you shouldn’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your inner voice. Knowledge that you are being true to your best self is a great way of shutting out the inner critic as well.

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