Rising Above Self-Sabotage in Sales


Do you want to be successful at your career?

It seems like an asinine question, doesn’t it? Still, so many salespeople suffer from a severe identity crisis. It’s like they don’t know they are success stories in the making! I’d like to propose that this identity crisis doesn’t come from a confusion of identity, but in fact comes from a long history of self-sabotage. At some point in our lives, we have either experienced debilitating failure, been emotionally damaged, or even maintain a deep seeded regret from a missed opportunity. This kind of self-sabotage leaves us stuck in a state or moment that it seems impossible to escape from.

Self-Sabotage is defined by many psychologists as a process instead of an action. It becomes a form of chain reaction that starts with a trigger based on either a belief instilled in you when you were young or experiences throughout your life that you have come to believe. A simple example might go like this:

Imagine you are in choir and practicing for a big recital. One of your good friends or a parent is having a bad day and tells you that you don’t sound very good. Depending on that relationship, you may accept the challenge and try to learn to sing better, but you may also lose your confidence in your singing ability. Given the opportunity to sing a solo, you say may “no” because you believe you are not good. Even years later, you find yourself unable to sing in a public situation because you remember that you are not good. You may have the voice of an angel, but to avoid experiencing the disappointment you felt practicing for this recital and hearing you are not good, you don’t sing. Moreover, when you have an opportunity to do something fun like holiday caroling or karaoke, you find yourself lying and say you can’t make it. Then, to make yourself feel better and ultimately make matters worse, you eat an entire tub of rocky road ice cream. 

If you experience a self-sabotage trigger, then you consciously or subconsciously begin a process that at one point allowed you to separate yourself from a negative situation. It may have even made you feel good or appeased, replacing disappointment with reward.


It’s not like we just self-sabotage ourselves because we don’t want the good things at the end of our hard work. We self-sabotage because at some point we learned that initiating this process protects us from failure or pain. The problem is that even if it did protect us at one time in our lives, it becomes the wall we need to scale to experience success instead of the protection we once thought that wall held. Let’s explore some of these self-sabotage actions. 

Common types of career self-sabotage:

  1. Procrastination 
  2. Drug of Alcohol Abuse
  3. Compulsive Spending
  4. Extreme Self-Deprecation or Self-Absorption
  5. Verbally Abusive Behavior
  6. Habitual or Pathological Lying

These bad behaviors often have their triggers related to a form of failure. Perhaps you gave your all to a certain task and it fell apart spectacularly. Never wanting to feel that way again, you learn a behavior that insulates you from those feelings. You may procrastinate to keep yourself from investing too much effort in something and then failing. Maybe you found that being loud and verbally abusive keeps your co-workers from asking you why you didn’t complete a task you committed to. Regardless of what your self-sabotage is, you will find that it is a barrier that keeps you from success and to achieve your goals, you most likely need to find and challenge this behavior.

Let us approach the question again: Do you want to be successful at your career?

The answer should be a resounding YES! You don’t just want to be successful, you want to be an unstoppable force, like a hurricane, that lets nothing keep you from achieving your goals. To do that, you have to ensure that you have not inadvertently chained yourself to the kind of hurt or failure that stops you in your tracks. Self-awareness is the care plan to defeating self-sabotage. So how do you become self-aware? You need to find your absolute truth.

Absolute Truth

There are at least two sides to every story. In the midst of those sides is an absolute truth. No matter how a person or situation is motivated, there is only one truth. However, our view of an event can shape how we react to it. If you own a convenience store and someone steals a can of food, you would naturally claim that they are stealing and that stealing is wrong. If the thief stole the food because his/her family is starving, then he/she may feel justified in the act. The absolute truth is that someone came and took a can a food. Why they did it and how you feel about it are relevant, but ultimately there is only one truth. If you are the store owner, you lost a can of food due to a person’s actions. If you are the thief, you took a can that belonged to a convenience store owner. 

Sometimes, we are the thief and sometimes we are the store owner. Identifying when you are thief is hard, because the thief cares more about his family then the law or the store owner. This could justify your actions, but it doesn’t change them. When you can practice empathy and start to see the absolute truth, you can let go of the trigger that begins the self-sabotage process. 

Consider the following steps to address and overcome self-sabotage.

Step 1: Admit that you are sometimes wrong

Sometimes, you decide to do something selfish instead of something right. Sometimes you lie to others about your participation in a mistake. Sometimes you lie to yourself. Sometimes you are the thief in the example above. It’s important to work at being honest with yourself. This step is one you have to be careful with, as some people will dwell on mistakes and relive failures. This step comes with a huge responsibility to accept that being successful means owning all past options and moving on. There is no DeLorean or flux capacitor and Doc Brown isn’t going to help you fix the past. It’s our job to fix the future in our favor.

Step 2: Understand that no mistake or abuse is attached to you, but if you have it, then you are holding on to it

Admitting you are wrong and owning a poor choice, mistake or issue doesn’t mean it stays with you. You can let go. In fact, you must let it go or it manifests into self-sabotage. The same goes with a bad situation or abuse. If it’s still with you, you are holding on to it. It lacks the capacity to hold on to you. We are defined by our victories, not our failures. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” It’s your job to leave history in the past and leverage now to build a winning future.

Step 3: Take time to look at your situation and how you've reacted to it

Overwhelming odds are often part of a salesperson or executive’s job. Having to put in extra hours and rise to incredibly challenging situations are everyday tasks for many folks. When you are facing challenges, do you rise to the occasion and fight like a champion or do you start building a narrative that gets you out of your situation? You have to open your eyes and evaluate how you react to career difficulty. Do you look to the finish line or count the exits? This will help you to understand how you handle stress and challenges and give you a clear path to choose success over excuses.

Step 4: Ask yourself how this mistake or abuse has affected you

There are going to be pains and hurts that take more than a simple article’s 5-step process to diagnosis. However, you may find that you are ready to own your situation and face your self-sabotage. If this is you, you have to ask yourself how your choices affect you. When you are facing a tough month or you are coming in below quota into the last week of the quarter, how do you naturally respond. Do you think this response is the formula for a success story? How do you think you should modify your reaction to achieve your personal goals?

Step 5: Let go of the pain, the mistake, the abuse and leave it behind

After you’ve admitted you are not perfect, realized you are the only one who carries the past with you, considered your reaction to a tough situation, and decided if your reaction will put you on the path to success then one step remains. Good or bad, you have to set you focus toward the success in the future and leave the past right where it belongs. In the past.

So one final time: Do you want to be successful at your career?

If you want true success, the road is paved with hard work and self-improvement. We all have a tendency to do some self-sabotage, but it does not define us. We can leave our self-sabotage in the past, but we have to recognize when we are doing it and choose not to sabotage our situation. We stay hopeful and put our efforts toward winning. After all, relentless optimism is a characteristic of successful people.

Interested in learning more about being successful in sales this upcoming year? Check out our blog: 6 Key Metrics to Succeed in 2018: Two-Part Series on Strategizing 2018 Sales

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