I define self-defeating behavior as behavior where we sacrifice our long-term success for short-term relief.
Self-defeating behavior is usually a way to cope with or avoid short term discomfort that has negative long-term consequences. Most of these behaviors actually make us feel better immediately because we don’t think through or experience the long term consequences. But, by not doing so, w really defeat ourselves in the long term.
These behaviors are present in both our personal lives and our professional careers.
When we mess up in the workplace, there are usually a lot of people who are interdependent on our work. So when we start affecting the people around us, it not only hurts our success, but it affects them as well. The same is true in our personal lives and with our families. We affect the people that we love the most, and their long term success and happiness, when we engage in self-defeating behavior.
This list is not meant to be all inclusive, just a way to start thinking about overcoming these behaviors in our lives.
- Not delegating. There is a short term, positive feeling we get when we get a task on our to do list completed. But, if it is something that could have been done just as well by someone else, we are taking away from time for bigger projects and long term planning that only we can do.
- Avoiding confrontation. Some unpleasant conversations that we all tend to avoid are: giving a performance review to a direct report at work, discussing a volatile issue with a family member, or standing up for ourselves when we feel that we are not being treated right. Avoiding these and other similar situations in the short term does keep us from experiencing the anxiety and negative emotions that are involved in a confrontation. However, the avoidance also keeps us from taking the first step to improving a bad situation–the initial confrontation.
- Procrastinating due to fear of failure. The highest reward projects and activities usually do involve a risk of failure. The easiest way to avoid failure is by not doing anything. But, for the chance at long term success, peace of mind, and happiness, we have to put aside the fear of failure in the present and move out of our current comfort zones by attempting new things. When I experience that failure anxiety, I ask myself what I was worried about failing at a year ago. Usually I don’t remember. But, I do remember the areas I am better off in now because of a risk I took 12 months ago.
- Prioritizing today’s to-do list and then starting at the bottom. Many times the lower priority items are quicker, easier, and quickly give us that adrenaline of finishing something. The top priorities usually are more complex, take longer, and involve a larger investment of time . That is why it is easy to avoid them. I continually remind myself that I made the priorities by what I believe is going to lead to my long term success . I also strive to keep in mind what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “Don’t judge each day only by the harvest you reap, but also the seeds you plant.” Quite often the high priority activities involve planting seeds that eventually provide our highest yield.
- Focusing on what other people need to do rather than on what you need to do. Teamwork and helping others are critical to long term success, but need to be balanced with getting our own work done, done well, and done on time. Worrying about what other people think of us and working to win their approval by always putting their needs ahead of our own contributes to our lack of positive productivity (and happiness) in the long run.
- Thinking we are indispensable. This is a story that I have had in my files for quiet a while: We all want to be important in our jobs. However the person who thinks “I am the most important part of the team,” should remember this. Life is like a buck of water. We are a part of the whole. But how big is the hole that is left when we take away a large cup of water? The hole suddenly fills up and…so life goes. The nature of life is that there is always someone who can and will take your place, when you think you are irreplaceable.