Why You Sabotage Yourself When Everything is On the Line

It’s finally here.

That big day to prove yourself, and you’ve been waiting for it, you’re prepared. But then, when the big moment arrives, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

It happened again. Do you keep wondering why you sabotage yourself during these big moments?

Try not to beat yourself up for this; it happens to many of us. With some introspection and insight, you can change the tide.

Everyone deserves a bad day now and then. However, when a terrible day has evolved into a horrible week, or even worse, an awful month, it’s time to take stock before your reputation is at risk.

It’s critical to be aware of the energy and attitude you project to be successful and revered. The brain defaults to familiar behavior patterns, regardless of whether they are helpful, during periods of pressure and strain.

Self-sabotage is sneaky like that–you may not even realize you’re doing it until the damage is done. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you out! Here are some helpful cues to prevent self-sabotage from taking over.


Choking under pressure

Though it is more commonly discussed in the world of sports, choking under pressure is also a well-known concept in other worlds as well. This happens when an individual freezes and underperforms despite being qualified and having years of practice.

Most of us can recall a few of our own choking experiences. Perhaps you lost your voice or thinking clarity while speaking with a crucial client, boss, or audience. Nobody is exempt: for example, Mahatma Gandhi had a choking episode during his first case before a judge, and “he fled from the courtroom in disgrace.” We may apply lessons learned from the world of sports to the world of management to help prevent “the choke” at work.


The process behind choking under pressure

When we “freeze,” our bodies are putting out a “threat response” in reaction to something in our external world. That “something” varies from person to person. It might look like a tense conversation, bargaining, paperwork, or a public address at work.

When you choke, your body has automatically gone into protection mode from the stress of danger. This includes a release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These can cause an increase in breathing and heart rate, sweating, and dilated pupils.

When under pressure, your working memory gets damaged, causing you to have trouble comprehending and acting on new information, to be more likely to recall and re-experience bad emotions, and to think about actions that should be second nature.


The many components of choking

As choking is a self-sabotaging behavior that takes your performance at the moment down while also setting up a vicious cycle of self-doubt, guilt, and fear, it’s all too easy to choke again, limit future adventures, and even suffer long-term mental health problems.

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Choking usually happens when the pressure of a situation is more significant than your ability to cope with it. This occurs, for example, when what’s at stake is high, and the situation doesn’t happen often. Even though soccer players may find a penalty kick easy during practice, the rarity and importance are much higher in competitions that could eliminate them from proceeding further.

A choke can also happen when you feel anxious or question your abilities, even though the pressure remains constant. The frustrating part is that this demands — resources imbalance can occur completely unconsciously, meaning that while you think you’re ready, your unconscious brain has other ideas.


Reasons why you sabotage yourself

Self-sabotage is an element of choking under pressure. Understanding and learning why you sabotage yourself will significantly help.

Five common self-sabotaging personalities block and, in some situations, stymie future success for some of the world’s most brilliant executives and entrepreneurs.

These negative behaviors include:

  • Complaining. When you constantly point out what is going wrong in a situation, it makes you look like you are not a problem-solver and do not know what is happening.
  • Defensiveness. Always having an excuse for your conduct–even when it isn’t working–will prevent you from establishing confidence with clients and team members.
  • Supercritical. If you’re rejecting every solution because you’re finding an issue with each of them, you’ll never be able to find a solution.
  • Self-deprecation. If you think you can’t handle a problem from the start, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even begin.
  • Being a fatalist. All too often, people dwell on the worst possible outcome and inadvertently bring it into reality. By fixating on failure, they miss out on potential successes.

The majority of individuals identify with only one primary self-sabotaging identity style, while some people identify in several categories.

Acknowledging your negative behaviors is the first step to ending them. The second step is adopting positive replacement behaviors.

Never forget that self-doubt will sabotage performance far more than anything else. To break the self-sabotaging pattern, assign a trigger word to remind you of the new desired behavior. The old behavior will become automated and won’t have power over you anymore.


How to embrace your big moments

If you’re feeling pressure before an event, it’s important to remember that athlete or not, and everyone experiences performance anxiety. However, there are ways to cope with the feelings of anxiousness so that you can prevent them from interfering with your skillset. By utilizing these techniques, you’ll be able to reduce the pressure and better access your abilities come game-time.

Be there repeatedly.

Just as great athletes visualize themselves succeeding during big moments, we activate the same part of our brain when we see ourselves taking an action as when we actually perform that action. That’s why mental imagery is often used to help people relearn movement in physical therapy, for example, after a stroke.

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Various genres have outstanding performers who are all firm believers in the power of visualization. Visualization has several advantages, including the ability to recall past triumphs at critical moments.

It teaches athletes how to handle their expectations and emotions more successfully. There is a significant amount of scientific evidence demonstrating the ability of mental imagery to improve strength, accuracy, and endurance while also reducing anxiety and increasing the feeling of control in emergency situations.

When preparing for a high-profile event at work, imagine it in as much clarity and detail as possible. What will it feel and look like to walk into your boss’s office to request a raise? How does it make you feel as you walk out in front of the crowd, into the boardroom, onto the stage, or even join ZOOM? What are the first words that come out of your mouth?

Practice for pressure.

Pressure is a major component of performance, and top performers train not only for skills and abilities but also for pressure. Many sports teams utilize various types of mental fortitude training to put athletes under pressure to deliberately induce their choke-response over time.

Coaches use mental, technical, tactical, or physical competitive stressors to put their players under unaccustomed duress. For instance, they might demand that right-footed soccer players only utilize their left foot during practice; or they may bring stronger opponents on board by surprise.

Preparing is critical whether you’re rehearsing in front of a TV or a packed house. By asking your viewers to interrupt you, make a negative remark, or switch off their computers, you can raise the stakes and force yourself to continue without your supporting slides.

You must realize that one possible reason you sabotage yourself is that you’ve been practicing for the wrong outcome – which is a mistake many people make.

Create a pre-performance routine.

You might wonder why athletes perform certain rituals before they take their shot at an essential serve in tennis, free-throw in basketball, or penalty kick in soccer. They do it to stay composed and focused through routines they’ve established for themselves pre-performance.

Before a big event or presentation, many people have some sort of routine to get them in the zone. These might include breathing exercises, repeating a phrase or mantra, listening to music, drinking tea, or stretching. Having a pre-performance routine can help you clear your mind and focus on the task.

A routine can be accessed whenever you need to revert back to the skills and behaviors you’ve been trained for. You might develop a smaller routine to return to when you notice yourself struggling.

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Don’t think, just perform.

Big-time performers know that overthinking in the moment can make them doubt themselves or focus on every detail of a movement, which may trigger a choke. To avoid this, they opt for “self-distraction” in the minutes or hours prior to their big moment.

There are many ways to combat performance pressure, such as listening to music, reading, or doing something that occupies your hands and distracts you from your thoughts.

Mindfulness and meditation exercises teach you to be aware of your surroundings while remaining awake, attentive, and present within yourself in the moment. Mindfulness and meditation have been scientifically proven to calm the brain and nervous system, reduce anxiety and boost performance.

Writing down your concerns might also assist you in performance. Mindfulness programs are becoming increasingly popular in businesses, and supporting applications have been found to be efficient in decreasing performance anxiety as long as people use them consistently.

Keep in mind that overthinking may be a big reason why you sabotage yourself.

Create a stress mindset.

Many high-achieving individuals see pressure as a blessing. Having this mindset suggests that you have worked hard to get to this point and can handle the situation at hand. This outlook will change your way of thinking from viewing stress as something negative that uses up all your energy to feeling charged by moments that would typically add more stress.

The next time you get nervous and your heart starts to race, don’t try to calm yourself down — it won’t work. Instead, tell yourself that you’re excited and ready for peak performance. It’s a chance to show off your skills and abilities.

Choking is prevented by small actions such as self-talk or inner conversation, in which you tell yourself you’re enthusiastic.

Rationalize the event and your bumps along the way.

When working towards a goal, it’s essential to keep your performance in perspective and not let the desired outcome overwhelm you. This means separating your identity from the results, for example.

This is to say that a loss does not imply you are a loser, and a win does not mean you are a winner. Looking at your life as a whole may also help put the big event into perspective.

Reframing a current event can help minimize its effects and importance.


Final thoughts

Now is the time to seize these big moments and forget why you sabotage yourself. If you falter, each day can be a clean slate until you get it right.

Becoming a top performer means optimizing and maximizing your full potential – especially when it counts.