Are You Sabotaging Your Success?


John Strelecky HeadshotBy John P. Strelecky

Robert Waldo Emerson said, “We must be our own before we can be another’s.”  It is an interesting concept.  To truly be something for someone else, we need to first be something for ourselves.

Perhaps there is an idea within Emerson’s words that we can use not as a tool for relationships, but as a tool for our own individual efforts.  Perhaps we must let ourselves be, in order to actually be ourselves.

Have you ever imagined a different life for yourself?  Do you dream of a time when you have an alternate career, more freedom, greater wealth, or a better relationship?  Does your mind ever create a vision where you are happier, more content, and more fulfilled with life?

Most people have those visions or dreams at some point in their lives.  Some are able to take those dreams and turn them into realities.  How do they do it?  How is it that they are able to let themselves be, so that they can be themselves?  One key component is that they don’t sabotage their own success.

Are you having trouble turning your dreams into your realities?  Is the life you imagine for yourself stuck in your imagination?  If your answer is “yes”, or “YES!”, then perhaps you are your own biggest challenge.  Perhaps you are sabotaging yourself.

If so, don’t worry.  With the four steps listed below, you can learn to turn sabotage into success.

Step #1 Look at the Past

Think back over the last three to five years, and identify the ten most significant “success” goals that you thought about achieving, but did not. List them out on a piece of paper and include what the goal was, why you wanted to achieve it, what steps you took to try and accomplish it, and what prevented you from reaching it.  Be as honest with yourself as possible.  After all, this exercise is for you.

Here is an example of how this should look:

  • My Success Goal: Change jobs to something I find more interesting.
  • Why I Wanted To Achieve This Goal:  My current job wasn’t challenging, I didn’t like my boss, and I felt like my career was stagnating.
  • What Steps I Took to Try and Accomplish This Goal: Talked to my friends about it and looked in the newspaper a few times.
  • What Prevented Me from Reaching My Goal: I didn’t see immediate result from my efforts, so I lost interest.

When you are figuring out the answer to “What prevented me from reaching my goal,” use the “Five Why” test to dig a little deeper on your answers.  For example, in the previous illustration you would ask yourself “Why did I lose interest when I didn’t see immediate results?”  Continue to ask “Why?” about your answers until you have gotten to the underlying reason.  Usually this requires asking why five or six times.

Step #2 Find the Patterns

When you have all of your information down on the paper, look for patterns across the ten efforts.  What common behaviors did you exhibit as you were working toward your goals?  At what point did the goals become “unattainable” or no longer worth pursuing?  See if there are one or two main themes that stand out in your answers?  Write down what you uncover.

Step #3 Identify Why the Patterns Exist

Philosopher George Santayana is known for his comment that “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  This is particularly applicable to our own lives.  Learning why we do the things we do is critical to enabling us to change our behavior.

Find a place where you can be alone with no distractions or disturbances and look at the patterns you identified in Step #2. Why do they exist?  Think about events, people, or experiences that have impacted your life.  What influenced you and probably is still influencing you, to act the way you do?

When you were a child did someone say something that forever changed the way you viewed yourself?  Are your actions similar to the ways your parents act?  At some point in your life did you witness an event that modified the way you react in certain situations?  Do you have a particular fear that keeps surfacing when you try to achieve your goals?  Did a particular event with a boss or co-worker leave a lasting scar?

Be ready for some surprises with this step.  Many of us don’t often have time to just be in a quiet environment and think.  That alone may seem a little unusual at first.  Stay with it, because as you start to unlock the pieces of your own personal puzzle, you are likely to have some major “AHA” moments.  Be ready to uncover factors that have been driving you to act the way you do; factors that may be the reason you are sabotaging your own success.

Write down your findings as you go through this.  Don’t focus on capturing your thoughts in a way that is “grammatically correct”, or “makes sense”.  Instead, capture whatever jumps into your mind.  Start writing as soon as you have a thought because the act of writing will stimulate your brain and enable you to tap into your true views and emotions.

Continue writing until you’re out of thoughts on a particular pattern, and then move on to the next pattern.

Step #4 Choose a Different Pattern

The great thing about uncovering a pattern is once you understand why it exists, it is much easier to choose a different one.  For example, suppose you find that each time you are just about to make a decision, you second guess yourself and back out at the last minute.  In going through Step #3, you uncover that this behavior is something you started to do as a child after a teacher embarrassed you in front of the class because of a decision you made.

Knowing the source of the pattern enables you to evaluate it as you are now, not as you were when it was created.  Now as an adult you can look back on that event and realize that the problem was not with you the student, but was with the teacher.  Therefore, you don’t need to act that way anymore.  Now you can choose to act in the way you want.  You can choose a new pattern, one that supports your efforts, not sabotages them.

If you are struggling to find new patterns to use in place of your old ones, watch other people.  Look for individuals who are succeeding in the way you want to succeed, and at the activities you want to be successful at.  Watch what they do in different situations.  Ask them how they feel in a particular environment, or how they handle different scenarios.  Then select and imitate the patterns that are aligned with who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

“We must let ourselves be, in order to be ourselves.”  Find the patterns in your life that are keeping you from turning your dreams into your realities.  Let yourself be you, and go from sabotage to success.

John P. Strelecky has inspired millions of people to live life on their terms.  He has been honored alongside Oprah Winfrey, Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra as one of the hundred most inspirational thought leaders in the field of leadership and personal development.  He is the author of the #1 inspirational best-seller The Why Café.  Visit

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