How to Stop Self-Sabotage

In the workplace, there are various sources of potential external stressors: conflicts with colleagues; difficult bosses; unhealthy company cultures; non-ideal work conditions (like that kitchen table turned home office that you’re currently sharing with your spouse).

Less obvious are the stressors that originate from within — all of those ways in which we unintentionally prevent ourselves from doing our best work. Some experts call it self-sabotage, and chances are, we all engage in it to some extent.

In recent months, as many of us find ourselves physically distanced from our teams, the risk of self-sabotage can loom larger than ever.

Gone are the water cooler chats when we offer advice and support.

Gone are the in-person meetings where we can get comfortable bouncing ideas off of each other.

We become our own worst critics.

During the pandemic, my company Jotform released a new product, Jotform Tables, that was three years in the making. For many of us, myself included, it required a deliberate effort to overcome internal stressors — like being overly self-sufficient. Because a project of this scale couldn’t have been done without collaboration and teamwork.

In this process, I discovered that by cultivating some awareness, we can develop strategies to overcome the ways in which we hold ourselves back.

Here, a closer look at four of the more pervasive forms of self-sabotage, and expert-backed advice for working through them.

1. Imposter syndrome

What if I told you that one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century felt like a fraud. Hard to imagine, but the truth is that Maya Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” admitted to having what we now call “imposter syndrome.”

Said Angelou:

I have written eleven book, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’

It’s that feeling that we’re underqualified for the role we’re in and it usually stems from a deep-seated lack of confidence. And as Angelou’s admission suggests, it’s a lot more common than we think.

For entrepreneurs, imposter syndrome can hurt not just your personal wellbeing, but your bottom line as well.

The Vertel Group founder Ann Vertel explains, “When it hits new business owners, the effects are both subtle and powerful, causing them to doubt their accomplishments and preventing them from taking necessary risks.”

The path to overcoming imposter begins with acknowledging it.

Kandi Wiens writes for Harvard Business Review:

Breaking free from this trap starts with recognizing your feelings of inadequacy and reframing your self-talk. To strengthen yourself in the fight against burnout, make self-compassion — not debilitating self-criticism — a habit.

When that inner voice pipes up with negative self-talk, actively try to replace those thoughts with compassion. And remember: we all get that imposter feeling sometimes — how we manage it is what matters.

2. A case of perfectionism

We’ve been hardwired to strive for perfection if we want our businesses to succeed. To settle for anything less may seem like settling for mediocrity.

But as research has shown, perfectionism can be debilitating. In fact, researchers who analyzed four decades of studies on the topic found that perfectionism is a much bigger weakness than many professionals probably assume. While there were some benefits to being a perfectionist — like high motivation — they were also more likely to set inflexible and excessively high standards, to evaluate their behavior overly critically, to hold an all-or-nothing mindset about their performance.

To overcome perfectionism, Kandi Wiens recommends asking yourself:“How can I get things done without the heavy burden of it having to be perfect?”

For you, that might look like: How can I complete this project without obsessing over every detail? Or how can I prepare this presentation without worrying about everything that could go wrong?

By finding a middle ground, we can accomplish things without sacrificing our work quality or wellbeing.

3. Overly self-sufficient

Being able to work autonomously is critical for an entrepreneur. But insisting on total self-sufficiency is a surefire way of shortchanging yourself of the benefits of collaborating with others.

According to Psychology Today, studies show that people who report the most emotional balance, life satisfaction, and optimism about the future are those who are able to lean on and confide in others at times — and also to work independently, as needed.

Researchers have found that people who avoid asking for help may suffer significant social and professional costs. They have a tendency to avoid seeking valuable help from educators or colleagues because involving others makes them feel needy.

If you’re not accustomed to asking for others’ input, consider the benefits: you’ll learn more, increase your effectiveness through collaboration, and, you may be surprised to find, improve your relationships with coworkers.

There’s truth to the saying: two heads are better than one. Start practicing today.

4. Always on the defense

When someone criticizes our work, it’s only natural to feel under attack. In fact, defensiveness is one of our most natural impulses.

Problems arise, however, when we become unable to hear any criticism at all. As entrepreneurs, it prevents us from going through the very necessary stages of listening, understanding, and improving our products or services.

In the past, at Jotform, we’ve been thrilled to release a new product only to discover that our users preferred the older version. By continuing to listen, however, we realized that rather than abandoning the new product altogether, our users would be happier still to be given the option of choosing between the two. So that’s what we did.

To get over a defensive tendency, first recognize: we all have it.

No one enjoys hearing criticisms of their work.

Then, practice listening — not reacting, not thinking of counterarguments.

By calmly listening — to your coworkers, users, your partner, or whomever — you may realize that the attack isn’t personal, and you can focus on ways to solve the issue together.

With all of the challenges of being an entrepreneur in today’s economic climate, the last thing anyone needs is to sabotage their own business. Hopefully, the above tips can help calm some of your internal stressors.

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the bestselling author of Automate Your Busywork. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from Jotform users. You can reach Aytekin from his official website

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