It was 1:30 in the afternoon but in my little corner of the world, it might as well have been 1:30 in the wee hours of the morning. I was wading through pages of content and research I’d compiled for a paper I was writing for African Aesthetics, a graduate class I needed to pull out an A in to keep up my sparkling 4.0 GPA. My professor was a stern little man with zero tolerance for BS—I could only recall seeing him smile once and I think that was more of a grimace of politeness than genuine glee—and he made one thing clear. Anybody who didn’t have the project on his desk in his office by 4 p.m. could forget about getting any kind of grade, much less that much-desired first letter of the alphabet.

Now mind you, he had handed down the assignment a good three weeks before it was due. But I am a habitual sufferer of that most classic form of self-sabotage: procrastination. So while I piddled away those 21-odd days leading up to the big deadline doing only Lord knows what, I could’ve been working incrementally towards getting ‘er done and done thoughtfully, carefully and introspectively. Instead, I found myself flipping through books and printouts like a raving madwoman, typing the first incoherent thought that came to mind in order to make page count rather than impressing him with my wit and insight. For almost 24 hours, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t shower and—I ain’t too ashamed to admit it—I didn’t even brush my teeth.

I drove like a Dale Earnhardt groupie to campus in what I slept in, hair sprazzled all over my head like brown cactus spines, and made it to his door at 3:48. He wasn’t even there.

We all have at least one personality quirk that can be filed squarely under the self-sabotage category. It’s easy to get in a habit of blaming circumstances, situations and people for halting progress in our lives when in actuality, it’s that trait (or two or three) that deserves the bulk of the blame. That’s a hard pill for anybody working toward a bigger goal to swallow. You can plan and make vision boards and jot down as many courses of action as your Papermate can pump out, but while you’re waiting for success, you need to get clear about things you’re doing to slow down your own progress.

You have an issue and you’re not taking the steps to correct it. There are too many self-help books, too many support groups and—don’t be too proud—too many licensed therapists to be carrying around baggage from bad relationships and negative experiences that mentally and emotionally bind you. Black folks, for whatever reason, consider it a badge of honor to absorb as many hurts as life can throw at us. But bottling that mess up only works to be a hindrance. You’ve got to figure out why you do what you do in order to stop doing it. I’d lay across somebody’s couch in a hot second if it meant the difference between a life of accomplishment and a life of cyclical craziness.

You engage in self-destructive behaviors that you’ll beat yourself up for later. You swore up and down you weren’t going to do it again. Made your friends and family hold you to it. Vowed that you’d learned your lesson that last time and there was no way you were going to get caught doing the same bullcrap anymore. You have to recognize your triggers when you’re about to start sabotaging yourself. If your thing is sleeping with the same dude who’s dogged you out a thousand times, take a pause before you hop in the shower for your pre-booty call scrub down to notice what you’re about to do and make a different decision for yourself. There’s always time, even in the middle of the same ol’ same ol’ routine, to stop setting yourself up for your own disappointment. You ain’t going to do nothin’ but use that as a continual excuse to keep doing it over and over (and over).

You stall out before you even start. Just do it already, dammit. Make a move. You’re waiting on the planets to align but you’re wasting time because they’re never going to be exactly where you’d like them to be. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve learned the hard way that procrastination is a flagrant waste of time. It’s jacked up plenty of my plans and thrown an unnecessary wrench in the progress towards things I passionately claimed to want. But I had to learn that that kind of behavior is a crutch to keep me from stepping into something new. Move on. Move up. Chile, just move.

Do you ever sabotage yourself? How do you deal with it? 

13 Comments

  1. As soon as I can afford a therapist or career/life coach, the check will be written in 2 milliseconds. After a while you need an outside perspective that’s a professional to really get into the meat of your issues and find out why they exist.

    My self sabotage tends to be my overactive mind and fleeting emotions. My dream is to be a published writer. Last year I put in the work with one blog for months writing because I loved it not because of the money. Surprisingly, I was offered to be paid. In grand fashion, I stopped writing for them. The excuses were endless. One was I had to focus on getting a real job. I will say fear of stepping up was one cause of me running away.

    I ended up not writing for months and beating myself up for it. I’ve since gotten over my fear and started writing again. I even pitched some work to a few sites although it was rejected, I’m still glad I got back up again. Now I just need to continue putting in the effort until I get a yes.

    It’s crazy how the things we say we want can scare us enough to run away when its in front of us.

  2. I’ve been crippled by all 3 at one time or another. Fortunately, I’m a check-list junkie who actually gets enjoyment from crossing things off my list. So as long as I can break a project (external or internal) down into smaller pieces, I’ll gain some momentum once I get started.

  3. Admit it, you were thinking about me when you wrote this piece!
    Seriously, this is an exact description of how I do – or rather, do not – do things.
    Self-sabotage is a bitch, and realising the reasons can be hard and sobering.
    This is where self acceptance steps in.
    It is ok to be scared, unsure, insecure, doubting.
    (Btw, I recently read: Doubt has killed more dreams than failure ever will. Sounds true to me..)
    Yes, I want to be that successful, all achieving, efficient, sportive, eating-healthy-only etc person.
    But right now, I am not – yet.
    And it is ok, the way it is right now.

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