There are times in life when we get a chance to pause and reflect on our path and ask ourselves whether we are truly living the lives that we had envisioned for ourselves. You may be wondering why you have not reached the greater levels of success and growth that you had hoped to have achieved in previous years. What could be derailing your efforts and stifling your growth? As a Coach, I find that educating my clients on identifying their internal Saboteurs can help them to push past their fears, break habitual patterns of behavior that keep them stuck and take the kind of action that helps them to reach their potential. If you want to boldly share your unique talents and gifts with the world and achieve more than you ever thought possible, working closely with a Coach can help you finally make a breakthrough.
The concept of Saboteurs has been studied extensively in the coaching field. Other terms that refer to saboteurs may be more commonly expressed at ‘Inner Critic’, ‘Gremlin,’ or ‘Limiting beliefs.’ These negative internal voices influence our behavior and prevent us from taking necessary action to transform our lives. As the years pass, we remain stuck and wonder if we will always be spinning our wheels as others around us climb the ladder of success and achieve the lives of their dreams. One of the most common saboteurs is perfectionism. This is a common problem for many people who are driven to achieve and strive for excellence.
Perfectionists are very idealistic and have deeply rooted needs for perfectionism. A perfectionist has high personal standards that can be very difficult for them to live up to and consequently they become afraid to fail. This keeps them stuck and prevents them from taking action if they perceive their results may fall short of their lofty ideals. Executives that are too perfectionistic may take longer to complete tasks. They can become too self-critical and critical of others. They also attempt to control situations and other people so that they can reduce the possibility of failure. This can be a very frustrating and fruitless endeavor.
Unfortunately, when people become afraid to fail, they also reduce their ability to take risks and to be creative. A healthy attitude towards, and acceptance of, the possibility of failure is critical to success. Reframing failures as lessons and stepping stones to success can help perfectionists become less risk-averse.
‘All or nothing thinking’ is one of the most common cognitive distortions exhibited by many perfectionists. They may have performed well at a certain task but if their performance fails to meet their excessively high standards, then they will feel like failures. However, life is rarely ‘black’ or ‘white.’ The recovering perfectionist must embrace shades of grey. They need to set realistic standards, celebrate incremental growth, and redefine success.
Perfectionists may also become overly-critical of themselves which lowers their self-esteem. If they extend this critical spirit to their interactions with others, they will jeopardize their relationships. Focusing on mistakes and imperfections can make life dull and disappointing. If you are guilty of being too critical, pause and remember that ‘perfect’ is a myth. It is a projected ideal that can never really be achieved because it does not exist. It is an illusion that is subjective and does not reflect reality. Furthermore, if you are guilty of this, remember that your ‘ideal’ or interpretation may not the same as another person’s ideal.
Perfectionism leads to pressure to always perform at a high level and this constant pressure can result in chronic stress. There are many serious diseases that are linked to chronic stress. Letting go of the obsession to be perfect can be very liberating for perfectionists. Accepting ‘good enough’ can also enhance productivity.
Procrastination, another common internal saboteur, is usually a consequence of perfectionism. Fearing failure can be immobilizing for a perfectionist who then becomes trapped in a vicious cycle as he or she feels like a failure for not being productive enough. Procrastination is also a dream slayer as people keep putting off the action steps that are necessary for their dreams to manifest. We are all given a finite amount of time on this planet. Is it really worth it to delay action that can help you achieve the things that really matter to you?
If this article resonates with you and you recognize your perfectionistic tendencies, remember that for you to have the life that you desire, you need to reframe your relationship with your saboteurs and recognize what they are inherently trying to achieve. Are these voices trying to keep you safe in your comfort zone? Are they trying to serve you in some way? First find their positive intent and then explore how they are stifling your growth and development.
To free yourself from the grip of your Saboteur and disempower it, you need to first begin with awareness and study the ways in which it affects your life. Coaching helps us to gain deeper self-awareness and identify our deepest values and desires. By practicing vigilance and an ongoing commitment to a higher vision of yourself that aligns with your values, you can begin to courageously move past your anxieties, insecurities, and fears and start separating yourself from your Saboteur. Empowered living is only possible when you become conscious to your habitual patterns of thinking and behaviors and move into the driver’s seat of your life.
Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach