BY TERRA MAHMOUDI
ILLUSTRATED BY AVA WILLIAMS
Decisions can be hard to make, and sometimes they can feel downright impossible. Add to the mix the well-documented fact that humans are incredibly good at lying to themselves, and you’ve got a recipe for chronic self-doubt. Just heat, stir, and cry!
The idea of self-sabotage—that we subconsciously choose and rationalize actions that keep us in our comfort zones but obstruct our goals—is nothing new. It’s not uncommon, either. Between gentle warnings from caring friends and family to morning shows touting the latest scientific studies, the message that maybe you’re not being entirely honest with yourself is everywhere.
Decided not to apply for the promotion at your agency? That’s CLASSIC self-sabotage, they’ll caution. You might as well apply to keep your options open, right?
Are you sure you’re skipping the networking event because you feel under the weather, or are you just letting fear control you? Think about it, they’ll urge you—you don’t want to hold yourself back!
While self-sabotaging behavior is a very real issue for some, widespread acceptance of its premise—that we can’t trust ourselves—can be equally destructive if not paralyzing when it comes to decision-making. The impact is especially pronounced when faced with a choice between doing something or not doing something, between saying “yes” or saying “no.”
You’ve been there. Your gut is telling you not to do something, but you worry that maybe the message isn’t actually coming from your gut—maybe it’s your inner saboteur trying to keep you cozy and complacent. So, you examine your instincts, challenge your logic, and try your best to convince yourself that you should (want to) throw your name in the hat for the promotion, you should (want to) go to the networking meetup, you should, you should, you should. It’s a relentless, time-consuming back-and-forth, an exhausting and torturous dance between your gut and your impressions.
I’ve been there, too. Recently, in fact. (Frequent flyer, waddup!) Presented with a job opportunity that seemed like a perfect fit, the choice should’ve been obvious. I knew I should want it, but I just couldn’t get my gut in line. After some quick analysis, I was still leaning towards saying “no,” but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t sabotaging my professional goals by opting out. To be cautious, I investigated my options, sought advice from others, weighed the pros and cons, and tried to play out the different consequences in my head—I even googled “intuition vs. self-sabotage” in hopes of finding a definitive guide on the matter—all to find myself stuck in incertitude. It was a stalemate—to do or not to do. Lying awake in bed that night, I reviewed my options. Since I can’t tell if it’s my gut or fear that’s telling me not to do it, I guess the safest choice is to just say “yes” and keep my options open, I reasoned. Then I smelled it. It was bullshit.
Spending excessive time and energy second-guessing your instincts or doing something you don’t want to do in case it’s self-sabotage isn’t the “safest” option—it’s just another form of self-sabotage. If self-sabotaging behavior lets fear drive the decision-making process, then by living in fear of self-sabotage, I was more or less just giving fear the keys.
I needed a way to bring confidence back to my decision-making process, one that kept fear relegated to the passenger seat (I’ve heard it comes along for the ride regardless of an invitation). If I wanted to stop wondering whether I could trust my gut, I would have to test my gut. That’s when I started to view every big decision as an opportunity to test my intuition against actual results. It’s a practice known as feedback analysis in the business world, but I like to think of it as the “dear diary method” because that sounds more fun.
Here’s how it works: Whenever I have a big decision to make, I do whatever I need to do to be informed, then I make the decision in accordance with what my now-well-informed gut (or whatever I interpret as my gut) says to do. Then, I write down the decision, my reasoning, and what I predict the outcome will be. A few months down the road, I’ll check back in and compare my expectations with the actual results. Now, it doesn’t even matter whether or not I can tell the difference between my gut and fear, because soon I’ll have documentation revealing my strengths and weaknesses. For example, I might discover that I am a total badass at making decisions related to my career advancement but a total bobo when it comes to decisions related to my savings account. With that awareness, I’ll know when I can trust myself and when I probably need to push myself a little harder—and I can be confident in both cases.
It’s definitely a long-term approach, one that I’m sure to adapt along the way, but I’m comforted to know that I’ll get better and more confident with every decision I make. In the meantime, when doubt starts to bubble up, I remind myself that each decision is just one small step in my entire journey—that’s it! And once I take that step, I can always change course.