Are You Ruining Your Chances of Success?

How to defeat self-sabotage and let your writing shine

Al Nelson
Al Nelson
Oct 25, 2019 · 8 min read
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Let me guess. You’re here because you feel like you’re not getting the results you want from your writing.

You’ve read all the articles. You’ve tried all the “hacks.” You’ve written and edited and promoted till your fingers ache.

You’re in so many Facebook groups now that they all kind of run together. And then you get an invite to a new one. Maybe this will finally be the missing piece!

The hamster wheel keeps spinning, and while you desperately try to keep up, you lose sight of why you started writing in the first place.

There’s some good news: You are not alone.

We have all heard that we can be our own worst critics, but often don’t stop to think about what that actually means.

Why are we still having trouble getting the results we want? The answers may surprise you.

Look within

Take a moment and think about why you write. What you’re hoping to get out of it.

Now think about the feelings that arise when you start to put words down on the page, or when you press that publish button.

That writer’s block? That procrastination? That burning need to shampoo your carpet?

It’s likely a misplaced attribution of fear.

Fear of what, though?

Fear is a weird, many-tentacled thing. It’s insidious and creeps up on you when you least expect it.

We know all about fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of writer’s block. But perhaps your fear is different. Perhaps it’s even masquerading as something else.

Fear of success.

I know what you might be thinking. Fear of success? How could anyone fear that? That’s what you want, right? That’s what you’ve been working for all this time, right?

Well, yes. And no.

Fear of success can hamper your progress even more than fear of failure can, and since it works in different, almost invisible ways, you may not realize it until you’re firmly in its grasp.

Your mental thermostat

Photo by Jarosław Kwoczała on Unsplash

Keith Ellis, author of the book The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals, suggests that we all have a “mental thermostat” that regulates our behavior and our “comfort zone.”

We hear all the time that we need to get out of our comfort zone, try new things, and generally put ourselves out there. In order to do so, we have to change not only the outside circumstances but the inside.

You probably have a thermostat in your house. Think about how it works. If it is too hot indoors, the air conditioner will click on and cool it down until it reaches your specified temperature once more. If it starts to cool down below your desired level, the heater will turn on and raise the temperature gradually.

Both of these things happen automatically, by constantly monitoring the state of your house and taking actions when the temperature crosses a certain threshold.

The same thing happens in your mind.

Why lottery winners end up broke

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Have you ever stopped to consider why many people who win the lottery often end up more broke than ever?

It likely has to do with their mental thermostat. As humans, we have our daily routines and ways of being that are comfortable to us. Even if we’re not particularly happy with the way things are going, we know what to expect for the most part. And that keeps the primitive parts of our brain appeased.

If you’re used to making $1000 a month at your job, and suddenly you’re only making $500, you’d panic, right?

Understandably so. The thermostat in your mind has realized the “temperature” is off, and it spurs you into action to make ends meet.

How does this affect your writing? It works both ways.

Let’s say you start doing a lot better in your work. Maybe you have a few posts that went viral, or maybe the new Medium payment scheme means you’re making more money than you used to be in previous months.

Let’s look at the example again. If you’re using to making $1000, and suddenly you start making $2000 or even $5000, it catapults you far past that comfort zone, albeit in the opposite direction.

At first glance, that sounds great, right? We could all use a little extra cash. But with more success, money, or influence, comes more responsibility. More vulnerability. More decisions.

With great power, comes great responsibility.

Many people are unprepared for this kind of success. Even though they might want it, wish for it, dream about it, the reality is often much different.

In order to get (and keep) your newfound success, you must not only put in the outward work (writing, promoting, networking) to make it happen, but you also need to put in the inner work (in your mindset).

Money is not the root of all evil

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably realized that you’re sabotaging your own success in some way. Even if you don’t want to admit it, that mental thermostat can be a picky thing.

If you truly don’t feel, deep in your gut, that you deserve your newfound success, there will always be new opportunities to lose it again. Money doesn’t buy happiness, as they say, but the truth is much stranger.

Money amplifies the qualities you already have.

If you were a poor jerk and get a bunch of money, it won’t change you as a person. You’ll just be a rich jerk.

On the other hand, if you have used your meager funds to do good in the world or take care of your loved ones, guess what? You’ll be able to do even more of that when you have more money.

So don’t listen to people telling you that money is the root of all evil. It’s merely a tool, a window into our lives. It provides opportunities that we may not have had before, sure, but it is up to us how we respond to them.

That’s the first belief to master: you are worthy of financial success, and having more money does not make you any better or worse of a person.

If you’re waiting around thinking that you’ll never be happy until you have X amount of money, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Finances are like the tides: they come and go often without (or despite) our efforts. They ebb and flow. But one thing is for certain: for every low tide, there is also a high.

For every lean period where the money’s tight and you don’t know how you’re going to make it to next week, there will also be a time of abundance.

That’s how all of nature works, after all. Black and white. Yin and yang. Without light, there would be no darkness.

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

You might think this sounds a little too “woo woo” or new age, but think about the alternative.

Are you really willing to keep doing what you’re doing? Are you willing to keep getting in your own way and missing out on the success and the rewards you deserve?

Give it a try. I am under no delusions that this is an easy process. No, to the contrary.

It might be simple, but it’s hard. Terribly hard.

Especially when you have a lifetime of conditioning to fight against. How do I know? I’ve had to confront the very same beliefs in myself.

As they say with addiction, however, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem.

So take a hard look at your creations. Are you giving them everything they could be?

Or are you coming up with reasons that you can’t, you won’t, or why it will never happen?

Are you worrying (even subconsciously) about what might happen if you really do reach the goals you’re aiming for?

Self-sabotage is real. The mental thermostat is real.

But the good news is, clarity allows us to change that.

Your support team

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Motivational speaker and business mentor Jim Rohn is well known for saying,

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This ties back into the thermostat metaphor and informs what we’re comfortable with in our lives.

Do you have a friend who’s always wearing shorts, no matter the temperature? Or maybe you know someone that’s bundled up 24/7.

People that grew up in the Arctic have a different perception of temperature than people that grew up in the Tropics. It’s a function of their environment.

So, too, is your perception of achievement.

If you’re hanging around people with poor habits all day, it will be a lot harder to become the kind of person you want to become.

Common sense, right?

What if you reversed this idea to surround yourself with people who possess the qualities or habits you admire?

It doesn’t even have to be an in-person relationship, though you should look into local groups or meetups first. Even with the unbelievable power of the Internet for finding and communicating with like-minded people, it can’t quite replace face to face interaction.

But, I’ve totally been in that situation before. If you’re writing on Medium, for instance, it might be hard to find other people in your local area that are also blogging. Even if they are, they may be using different platforms, writing about different topics, or have different goals than you.

One of the things I’m most grateful for in the various Medium-related Facebook groups is the ability to meet other people on the same journey I am. Writing can be an awfully lonely profession, and in these groups, I have the chance to share my stories and learn from others, as well.

I choose to spend time with people that lift me up. That make me believe in the possibility of the future, instead of agonizing about the mistakes of the past.

If you do the same, you will see your “thermostat” change. You will see your attitudes change.

And over time, you will get closer and closer to the life of your dreams.

Al Nelson is a writer, cat lover, and serial napper. He writes about business, productivity, and the power of the written word. Grab his free writing goal tracker.

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