Are You Your Own Worst Enemy at Work? How to Stop the Self-Sabotage and Succeed

Do you self-sabotage at work? It’s easier to get in your own way than you might think.

Little things like being late all the time or apologizing too much can have a serious impact on your success. Even behavior that seems like it would be a plus — perfectionism, for example — can keep you from achieving your goals.

Here are a few ways you might be self-sabotaging and undermining your professional success — and some tips for what to do about it:

You’re a perfectionist  

Jonathan Hoxmark/Unsplash

It’s smart to take your job seriously. But, it’s not great to take yourself too seriously. In other words, it pays to be responsible, but being a perfectionist can really hold you back.

To overachievers, the idea of perfectionism might seem like a good thing. But, it really isn’t. You see, some of the hallmarks of a perfectionist’s belief system are undermining and self-destructive. The mindset tends to be something along the lines of, “You have to be perfect to be get things right. Unless everything is just so, you can’t feel good about yourself or be at peace.” The trouble is, of course, that no one is perfect.

Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to learn and grow from your errors, not beat yourself up over them. That won’t help you to do better next time. So, try to take the ups and downs at work in stride a little. And, expect to make mistakes sometimes. Pride yourself on learning as you go and on being resilient, not on being as perfect as possible.

Letting go of perfectionism will help you to get out of your own way emotionally and, ultimately, this will allow you to be more successful at work.

You don’t negotiate compensation

Negotiating Severance

Negotiating your salary can pay off big time. Even small increases snowball over time to make a significant difference. But, the process isn’t always easy, so many workers avoid it. According to PayScale’s survey, 57 percent of workers haven’t even tried to negotiate.

It’s an intimidating process, but you can’t get that increase unless you ask. Start by doing your homework to determine whether or not your earnings are fair. PayScale’s Salary Survey can tell you what your pay should be based on the market, in terms of what other workers with similar skills, experience and job descriptions are earning in your geographic region. Having this information should help to make the negotiation process a bit easier.

Also, don’t forget that compensation isn’t all about salary. There are other things you can, and should, negotiate, too. Be sure to talk about benefits, vacation time and flexible work arrangements, for example.

Use PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide for tips on how to negotiate your salary, benefits and other aspects of your compensation.

You’re often late


Being a little late once in a while might not seem like a big deal to you … but your boss probably disagrees. Chronic tardiness can make you seem disorganized and irresponsible. So, don’t fool yourself into thinking that being “just a few minutes” late here or there doesn’t matter much.

It pays to be punctual — and not at the beginning of your workday. You also should get to meetings promptly. No one likes to be kept waiting. So, make a point to show your respect for others by reliably arriving on time.

You accept limiting beliefs

impostor syndrome

It’s normal to struggle with some insecurities. But, certain limiting beliefs, or negative assumptions, about yourself can really hold you back at work. It’s worth examining these kinds of ideas and letting go of them as much as you can.

If there is a voice in your head that tells you you aren’t smart enough, educated enough, experienced enough or simply just plain not good enough, take note. Know that these kinds of feelings are common. According to a paper in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, which was reported on by Monster, as many as 70 percent of people deal with feelings of imposter syndrome at some point during their lives. However, as normal as it might be, underestimating yourself is a surefire way to become your own worst enemy at work.

It’s not easy to silence internal voices of self-doubt. It takes practice. But, the first step is realizing that you’re doing it and understanding that it’s common. You’ll gain some much needed perspective once you know that these beliefs are working against you. You won’t take the messages to heart in the same way, once you’ve learned to recognize your limiting beliefs.

When you catch yourself thinking something self-defeating like, “I can’t take this promotion because I’m not ready,” pause for a minute. Question the belief. Is it really true? Then, remind yourself that it’s normal to have feelings of self-doubt, but you don’t want them to negatively affect your career.

Finally, list three true facts that stand opposed to the limiting belief. “I have been at this company for a decade. I am one of the top salespeople here. And, I actually really enjoy a challenge.” This will help you break the habit of putting yourself down so much. And, it will compel you to make better decisions.

You apologize too much

Rye Jessen/Unsplash

Arrogance is unappealing, but so is insecurity. Lack of confidence can get you into all kinds of trouble at work. It’s self-defeating. One way this often manifests is by apologizing too much when you make a mistake.

Of course, it’s important to take responsibility when you make a mistake at work. But, it’s just as important to recognize that this doesn’t mean over-apologizing. When you take responsibility, address the problem, find a fix and move on quickly, others will, too. But, when you linger on the mistake and struggle to get past it, it could diminish others’ confidence in your abilities and in your emotional strength.

Don’t apologize when it’s unnecessary. There is some cultural pressure in our society to do this kind of thing, especially for women. But, it isn’t advisable. Don’t say “sorry to bother you” or “I’m sorry, can you just look at this for me really quickly?” If you have a question, just ask it. Say excuse me and be polite. But, try to act, and speak, in a way that shows that you have a right to be there. Don’t be afraid to hold your head high and demonstrate some confidence.

Over-apologizing is often just a bad habit. But, it undermines your authority and it cuts away at your self-esteem. So, practice doing things differently. Say please, thank you and excuse me. But, save the apologies for when they’re really deserved.

You hang out with negative people

JD Hancock/Flickr

You’ll be sabotaging yourself at work if you spend a lot time hanging out with negative coworkers. Keep in mind that emotions are contagious. If you spend a lot of time with people who complain about work all the time, for example, you’ll probably start to have negative feelings about it, too.

Spending time with difficult or otherwise negative people at work can hurt your career in all kinds of ways. One of the most damaging side-effects relates to how it could impact your reputation at work. Others will notice the company you keep. And, they may start to conflate some of your actions. Hanging out with negative people is a great way to earn a reputation for being negative yourself.

If you really want a career boost, try being more optimistic. It’ll help you to be better equipped with a good attitude for the times when trouble strikes. You’ll become more resilient. And, you’ll feel happier too. Who knows, your positive attitude might just rub off on some of your more negative coworkers.

You worry too much about the future

Zeigarnik Effect
Joshua Earle/Unsplash

There are so many reasons why being in the present helps you to succeed at work. When you’re fully engaged in the here and now, you’re focused and engaged. You work to your highest potential and abilities when in flow state, which is an optimal state of concentration that helps you perform, and feel, your best.

In order to get into flow, you have to limit distractions and engage fully in a task that is both accomplishable and challenging. Imagine a painter who locks themselves away in their studio to finish a piece. Or, an executive who gets carried away writing a proposal and sits at the computer for hours without even noticing the passage of time. Flow state helps immensely in terms of both productivity and creativity.

But, worrying about the future undermines all that. It distracts from the present. You’re concerning yourself with tomorrow instead of thinking about the challenges you’re facing at work today. The practice isn’t just distracting. It also causes stress, which can really hold you back both mentally and physically.

It’s a waste of time and energy to worry about the future. When you’re fully present and engaged in the here and now, you’re more able to be your best self at work.

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