The art of self-sabotage

In recent years I’ve read a number of self-help books, but I’ve rarely felt that they’ve had a positive impact on me and my life. Sometimes I’ve found it hard to connect with it or the exercises difficult to keep up with, while at other times I’ve put down a book feeling worse than when I started.  

That was until I picked up a copy of Emma Gannon’s Sabotage: How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Get Out of Your Own Way. I honestly wasn’t intending to read another self-help book at this time. Although I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently – I think we all have given world events – I was giving myself some time to wallow in my funk for a while. But after reading Emma Gannon’s novel Olive (which if you haven’t read I insist you go and read it this very instant) I then saw she had released this essay and decided to give it a read. Within a few pages I was hooked and learned a LOT about myself. 

This pocket-sized essay talks about the ways in which many of us self-sabotage – for example by procrastinating, or listening to our inner critic and talking ourselves out of doing something we really want. As Emma described the ways in which she’d held herself back I began to see the same traits in myself and quickly found myself nodding along to what I read. It wasn’t until I reached the page where Emma listed all of the sabotage things she’s working on that I realised I just how much I try and sabotage things for myself. 

Her list included: 

  • Being constantly late
  • Staying up too late
  • Leaving things to the last minute
  • Undervaluing myself and my work
  • Not saying how I really feel. 
  • Using ‘self-care’ as an excuse not to do something that fundamentally would be good or challenging or interesting. 
  • Talking myself out of things. 
  • Avoiding replying to emails that would literally take two minutes to respond to.
  • Getting a bit too drunk the night before an important early morning meeting.
  • Saying yes when I mean no.
  • Sleeping in when I have a deadline.
  • Pushing away friends when I’m feeling down.
  • Reading horrible comments. 
  • Scrolling endlessly and pointlessly through my phone right before bed with the bright blue light in my face that keeps me up. 
  • Wearing a white t-shirt before eating spaghetti bolognaise. 
  • Talking myself out of exercising despite knowing deep down that I quite enjoy it once I’m doing it. 

While I couldn’t relate to all of the points listed (although I do somehow wear white every single time I eat bolognaise) there were so many which I was guilty of doing, and after seeing many of my own traits written down on the page it really hit home how much I try and sabotage my own happiness.

Like many people, I am my own worst enemy. People can say what they like about me (and they do, I’ve got the receipts) but I guarantee it won’t be as harsh as anything I’ve ever said about myself. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly talented (my inner voice would certainly agree with that statement) but after reading Sabotage I’ve discovered there are some things on the list that I’m particularly good at.

Procrastinating: I think a lot of us are guilty of this to some extent, but recently I’ve learned so many new ways to procrastinate I think I could write a book about it. I’m brilliant at putting off doing things that don’t need to be done immediately. While I could meet a deadline early, I could also hoover and clean the house from top to bottom, catch up on social media and all of the world’s news, or just sit and stare blankly at a wall. Sometimes I do all three. Admittedly I work best when meeting short deadlines, else I spend more time over-thinking each and every little thing I do; but I’m sure my body would prefer a more stable blood pressure at times.

Distracting myself: In Sabotage Emma Gannon talks about how distraction stops us from realising what’s holding us back, and uses the example of social media to help distract her from what was happening in her own life. It’s been a particularly tough year personally – for all of us of course – and over the past seven months I’ve I’ve been perfecting the art of distraction, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that during lockdown I’ve passed level 6,000 of Candy Crush. 

Pre-empting my own rejection: If there’s one thing I am good at, it’s talking myself out of doing something that’s for my own good. In the past if I’ve seen a job I really want but I don’t tick every single box in the job description, I’ll tell myself I won’t get the job, so there’s no point in applying for it. So many potential dream jobs have passed me by because I’m stuck in my comfort zone and unwilling to put myself forward just in case I get rejected.

There are many other traits I recognised in myself while reading Sabotage, whether it’s constantly undervaluing myself, putting up barriers to try and protect myself, or putting myself down in front of other people, but the one I’m guilty of most often is convincing myself that I’m not good enough. Basically I’m full of M&S chocolate caramel buttons and self-doubt. A recent example of this has involved a book idea I had. I love writing; it’s my happy place and provides a welcome escape from the real world. I’d always wanted to write a book and about 18 months ago I finally got my idea, an idea that I thought could work. At London’s Young Adult Literary Convention (YALC) I pitched my idea to a literary agent who seemed really enthusiastic about the idea and asked me to send it to her once it was written. Inspired by this I set about writing my book, even taking a little trip to Croatia to give myself some writing time (and sunshine). And then after jotting down a few chapters, I began overthinking everything I wrote. I  then told myself the idea wasn’t good enough, that it wouldn’t work – even though a ‘professional’ told me it would – and I haven’t written a single line since. In lockdown I had an idea for another book; a stronger idea if I’m honest but again I haven’t written it because I’ve already told myself it won’t be good enough. I know that I’m doing it, but I’m unable to break the habit of ruining things for myself. At least, that was until I picked up Sabotage. Now this essay has become my personal pocket-sized kick up the backside, and a reminder that the only person I’m hurting by holding myself back, is myself. 

Thanks to Sabotage I’m going to be kinder to myself and make my life easier – or at least try – and I’m going to do more of what makes me happy, hopefully without overthinking each and every single thing I do. That’s why I’ve written this blog, to try and put the fear behind me and to commit to making changes in my life. And it’s come at a good time: November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for those in the know). So this month I’m going to pick up where I left off in planning my novel and then next month I’m going to attempt to write as much of it as possible. It might be good or it might be rubbish, but the important thing is that I’ll at least have tried, plus if another lockdown happens I’ll certainly have the time to sit down and write it. It won’t be easy, and I’m sure I’ll think up a thousand and one excuses as to why I need to rearrange my sock drawer or colour code my bookcase rather than write, but whenever I feel myself slipping I’ll have my copy of Sabotage to remind myself what I’m doing. So thank you to Emma Gannon, not only for bringing Olive into my life, but for giving me a much-needed reality check and for making me realise I can do better. And if I fail, well, at least I’ll set a Candy Crush record.

Sabotage by Emma Gannon is out now.

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