It’s inevitable. I’ll be watching the finals in an Olympic event, and there will always be that one athlete who, on the brink of getting a medal, will suddenly stumble (literally and figuratively). In their tearful post-interview, they’ll say something along the lines of “I don’t know what happened. I guess it just wasn’t mean to be.”
Or a player in a professional team sport will get a lucrative contract extension after an amazing season. Not long after, the player suddenly experiences an unproductive streak and gets absolutely no goals/touchdowns/etc. The harder he tries, the worse his performance seems to get. “He doesn’t deserve his new 10 trillion dollar contract!” a washed-up-athlete-turned-host will predictably complain on a sports newscast. “Now that he’s got his money, he doesn’t care!” I, in turn, will yell back, “You don’t get it! It’s self-sabotage! It’s a psychological thing!” And naturally, whoever happens to be in the room with me will gently say, “Honey, they can’t hear you. It’s a TV.”
The point is, when you consistently find yourself falling just short of success you need to take a moment to stop and reflect. Maybe it’s nerves. A streak of bad luck that keeps coming back, like a rash. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a deeply-ingrained tendency to sabotage yourself. And these may be the reasons why:
- You would hate for others, like friends and family to be jealous of your success. You don’t want to stand out as a result of your accomplishments, so you avoid talking about your successes, downplay your achievements, or just don’t try hard. (When my friend got jealous of my consistent honor roll performance the first year of high school, I stopped working hard. My grades dropped to the class average. I picked acceptance over success, and regret it to this day).
- You don’t set the bar high and don’t set regular goals for yourself. The disappointment of attaining an easy goal is less demoralizing than failing to achieve a more challenging objective. However, there is something even more dispiriting: The feeling of being stuck in an unproductive rut.
Make it a point to set goals for yourself. They don’t have to be extremely difficult feats – just enough to give you a decent challenge. That room that you’ve wanted to organize for years? Start cleaning it up. Those art classes you’ve been considering? Get yourself signed up. That extra weight you’d like to lose? How about starting with just the first 5 pounds?
- You’re worried that being successful means carrying a heavy load of responsibility and pressure that you just don’t want to shoulder (or are afraid you won’t be able to handle). It’s the person who battles to get a promotion only to realize how much extra work and effort is required once they get the position. Some call it laziness…I call it short-sightedness.
- You don’t celebrate small successes – it’s either “go big or go home.” This happens a lot with people who are on a weight loss journey. Rather than celebrating that half-pound or one-pound loss, and recognizing that sometimes, they won’t lose weight as their body adjusts to their new lifestyle, they suddenly declare their efforts are worthless, and drown their sorrows in delicious, scrumptious fries (well, at least in my case).
- You see failure as shameful defeat rather than as an important lesson to be learned. Maybe the tendency to hate failure was instilled in us during school; after all, whenever we failed a test teachers just had to advertise it with a big, red F. The truth is, failure is just another way of saying, “The way you approached this didn’t work. Try again, or try a different approach.”
The best part about failure is that you’ll be able to determine exactly what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. When an Olympic athlete fails to medal, she doesn’t grab her shoes and say, “Forget this! I’m going home.” She reviews videos of her performance to determine exactly where she can improve.
- You back away from challenges that are not a guaranteed success or have allowed self-doubt to dictate your decisions. You just don’t think you have what it takes to succeed.
Sidebar: If you find yourself shying away from challenges that push you outside your comfort zone, remember this: As an infant, the fact that taking your first steps would be a challenge never crossed your mind. All you had was an inherent knowing that you just had to keep picking yourself up and try again. Without that inherent desire to keep trying and to keep pushing your limits, you’d still be crawling on the floor, only as a not-so-cute adult. Challenges are meant to push you. Failing and making mistakes is just part of the process.
- You give up too easily. If you cruised through life and always got whatever you wanted, I guarantee you would not be content. Seriously – stop laughing. Deep down, we like to be challenged; otherwise, we’d become terribly bored. So if your weight loss journey isn’t going as smoothly as you hoped it would, or your pet project just hasn’t gotten off the ground yet, don’t throw in the towel. Keep trying and something will give. That, I also guarantee.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan
- You would rather just get by than push yourself to reach your full potential.
After graduating from high school, my friend decided that she would prefer a retail job than to go to college.
“College is not for me. I’m not as smart as you and I don’t think I would do well.”
While she’s accomplished a great deal in her life (overcoming learning difficulties; becoming the mother of two beautiful and healthy children), she’s always preferred to do just enough to get by rather than push herself to achieve more. She recently confessed to me that feels frustrated and restless – and wasn’t sure why.
“Maybe you need a new challenge?” I suggested.
The last time I spoke to her, she sounded completely different. She went back to school and is taking some courses in Office Administration.
“It’s a little difficult since I haven’t been in school in a while, but I’m loving it!” she said.
Bottom line: You really don’t know what you’re capable of accomplishing unless you allow yourself to try.