Why We Self-Sabotage (And How to Work Through It)

Why do we self-sabotage when we’re working on the projects that mean the most to us?

Why are we sensitive to feedback when we know it’ll help us grow?

Why do we behave in a way that is counter-productive to our dreams?

I think about questions like these all the time, and I use myself as a “guinea pig” to experiment, test theories, and tweak to get better results.

Tara Sophia Mohr wrote an article on 99u a few years back that sparked a giant “aha!” moment for me, and it’s a concept that I think about all the time.

In short: We sabotage ourselves when we bring our wrong self to the table. Within each creative (and I think of us all as creatives), there are three distinct voices:

The Inner Artist.
The Inner Editor.
The Inner Agent.

Most of us under-use at least one of the three roles and over-use one of the others. To thrive, it requires us to understand when each voice shows up, and how to have them work together.

Here’s my summary of the three types:

The inner artist is required in the early stages of the creative process to receive ideas and inspiration, and flesh out concepts. It’s important in this phase to be in a space of curiosity, safety, and play, and not to include outside opinions as those can stifle our sensitive artist.

The second stage of the creative process is when the editor leads — revising, cutting, and structuring to ensure that the art matches its intended audience. It’s important that the editor doesn’t jump in too quickly, or our artist can get spooked.

In the last phase, the agent steps up to pitch, sell, and market the idea. The agent speaks on behalf of the work, knows what she wants, and is brave and wise in her approach.

Do you recognize yourself in any of those profiles?

Is there one that plays a more dominant role in your life?

As Tara points out, problems in our creative lives often stem from bringing the wrong voice to the mission at hand.

Story time:

A few years ago, when I was working with Seth Godin to launch a publishing experiment with Amazon, he presented me with the opportunity to be considered for writing one of the twelve books. It felt like the opportunity of a lifetime, everything I had ever wanted, and the biggest full-body “YES!” of my life up until that point.

Then, he gave me an assignment and I bit it. Like, completely fell flat on my face and failed miserably. It was wildly embarrassing and painful all at once.

Why? Because my sensitive artist showed up at nearly every stage of the creative process, taking Seth’s feedback personally, not following through on what I said I would, and worrying that “I wasn’t good enough / not ready yet / my voice didn’t matter.”

I took his honest, candid, and thoughtful feedback to mean that something was wrong with me and my writing. My sensitive artist — rather than my wise editor and thick-skinned agent — showed up and sabotaged the opportunity.

Now that I’m stepping into the writing process again, and creating the #WonderOverWorry book, I’m constantly thinking of these three roles.

Sometimes my editor will step in too soon while my artist is in idea and concept mode. I’ll be mid-writing the first version of a story, and my editor will say: “This sucks … Are you sure this ties in? … What if you’re sharing too much detail?” This Worry dialogue can stifle my artist, who wants safe space to write her heart out.

Or, someone will ask me what I’m writing about and my shoulders will cave forward as I share the concept with a quiet and shaky voice. That’s my artist trying to do my agent’s job.

By naming these three sides of my creative self and being aware of the voices each day, I’m able to show up in the most effective way for the work I care about most.

Once you get in touch with your roles — and show up accordingly — you’ll start and finish the work that matters.


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