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Not applying for a good job. Staying silent when you should speak up. People self-sabotage like this all the time. Episode 78 of Faithful on the Clock dives into why people self-sabotage and gives advice on how both workers and leaders can dig out.
[00:39] - The common message about work and happiness is that work is a route to happiness. We don’t consider that some people might not want to be happy, but those people exist.
[01:22] - Reasons why people self-sabotage #1: The concept of happiness is frightening because people aren’t taught how to handle it well.
[02:15] - Reasons why people self-sabotage #2: Previous experience makes happiness feel unfamiliar and, therefore, unsafe.
[02:41] - Reason why people self-sabotage #3: People fear that if they’re too happy, they’re not being empathetic enough to those who suffer and, therefore, are “bad” people.
[03:12] - It might be more accurate to say that people fear getting hurt more than they fear happiness, but they still try to self-protect before they allow themselves to be content.
[03:28] - Self-sabotage is also spiritual warfare. The devil uses it to steal our joy because he knows that if we don’t have joy, we won’t look to God as a provider of that joy. He wants to cut at God by making us miserable and severing our connection to Him. Keeping your joy is the biggest backhand you can give to the devil.
[05:05] - Embracing safety at the expense of your happiness can keep you away from work experience that can help you reach your potential, negatively influencing your finances and relationships.
[05:40] - Given how many people have experienced trauma, the odds are good that, as a leader, you’ll encounter those who self-sabotage. Your job is to lift them out of that habit or reflex.
[06:11] - From the worker's perspective, start taking your joy back by sitting in your stress. You have to train your brain that what creates stress for you (including situations where happiness is an option) isn’t a threat. The only way to do that is by facing the discomfort. You cannot avoid it.
[07:47] - Once you get used to sitting in your stress, ask yourself “why” a few times to dig down to the root causes of your anxiety.
[08:41] - The 5-whys method comes from Sakichi Toyoda. The fact it emphasizes countermeasures makes it good for dealing with immediate overwhelm or temptations.
[09:36] - Once you know where your beliefs come from, challenge them. Ideally, make the challenges actionable with a countermeasure.
[10:37] - When establishing countermeasures, it’s good to lean on your core values. But many people have contradictory values (cognitive dissonance). Finding trustworthy people is necessary to bring you into mental singularity so you don’t keep flip-flopping back and forth in your behaviors. But this can be difficult because people can associate relationship and connection with happiness, which can be triggering.
[12:37] - From the leader side, focus on strengthening your relationship with a struggling worker. Forcing them to take opportunities can increase their stress and make them resent you.
[13:12] - Be a champion for your workers who are struggling.
[13:28] - Affirmations and recommendations that are expectedly and randomly given can communicate to self-sabotaging workers what you think they deserve and are capable of doing.
[13:58] - Operational policies and programs can support self-sabotaging workers on a broad scale.
In the work environment, there’s a strong message that people should go through self-development and improve as a means to become successful and, subsequently, happy. But people often subconsciously or deliberately do things to sabotage their own success and joy.
Being afraid to be happy is a real condition called cherophobia. It can happen because people don’t know how to handle happiness when they get it, expect bad things to happen because that’s been their norm, or because they don’t want to be perceived as unempathetic.
Self-sabotage that keeps you away from joy can be seen as spiritual warfare. God wants us to be joyful and have a happy relationship with Him. But the devil is determined to rob us of that joy so that we don’t understand how much better things are with God and why pursuing Him could help. He wants to deliberately hurt God by keeping us miserable.
Self-sabotage can prevent you from getting work experience that will help you reach your full potential, which can influence you financially and socially. As a leader, the odds are high that you’ll deal with workers who hold themselves back, too. Your job is to help those workers overcome their fear of joy so they can move forward.
Getting comfortable sitting in your stress around happiness is one of the best ways to tackle self-sabotage. It helps your brain stop avoiding situations where happiness could result. You cannot deal with self-sabotage through avoidance.
The five-whys method is a useful strategy for uncovering why happiness makes you uncomfortable.
Once you know where your beliefs around happiness come from, you can actively challenge them. It’s best if you can do this in actionable ways that integrate countermeasures. Countermeasures should attach to your core values, but it’s not unusual for people to experience cognitive dissonance and believe contradictory things. So it’s beneficial to find people who can bring you into singularity about what you think.
As an employer, if you see someone self-sabotage, don’t insist they take shots, as people need to keep their autonomy and sense of choice to avoid becoming resentful. Instead, work on your relationship and build trust. Make recommendations and give affirmations, and on a broad scale, support people through organizational policies.
Watch both the videos mentioned in this episode. Journal about your reaction or discuss them with someone you trust.
Identify one area where you’ve been withholding your own joy. Then identify one action step you can take to break your habits around that area.
Put Psalm 18:19 in a prominent place where you can remind yourself that God wants you to be happy. Meditate on what He sacrificed to ensure you could have joy.
What’s coming up next:
People often stay away from God because they think He's angry. But what happens in your work and overall life if you stay away because you believe He's disappointed? Episode 80 of Faithful on the Clock offers encouragement.
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Welcome back to the Faithful on the Clock podcast, everybody, the show where all the gnomes in the garden run around to get your faith and work aligned. If you've ever done anything like avoiding office networking opportunities, minimizing the compliment from a boss or coworker, or not applying for a job you know you were qualified for, keep listening, because today's show is all about self-sabotage. Hopefully, this episode will help you lend a hand to other people who self-sabotage, as well, so let's get started.
I want you to think for a minute about the message you hear about work and happiness. It probably goes something like, you know, you’ve gotta do all this self-development and become your best self to be successful and find some joy. And so the assumption underneath that is that people are working in part because they want to be happy. Even though we all complain about how much work can suck, we see work as a route to an enjoyable life. And we don't think too much that maybe people wouldn't want to be happy. But as those examples of behaviors I threw out at the opening of the show reveal, sometimes people really do shoot themselves in the foot and do things that are going to lead them away from success and joy.
So why do people do this? Well, as licensed therapist Katie Morton explains on her YouTube channel, sometimes, the concept of being happy is actually frightening. And this is a real fear. It's called cherophobia. And one of the biggest reasons people develop this fear is that they're never really taught how to handle happiness or success well. They're told that happiness is something that they should aim for, but they're not taught what to do when they actually have fame or money or power or any of that stuff. And so you can probably think of plenty of celebrity examples here, where people reached the top and then kind of spiraled down. And I think sometimes people push happiness away because they have no concept of what to do when they get to the next level. They're scared that they won't be able to maintain happiness once they have it, so they don’t really take any good risks.
And then sometimes, you know, maybe you come from a really chaotic life or situation. If that's your background, then happiness might not have been your norm. So then once you experience happiness, it feels really unsafe because it's not familiar. And this is where you might say to yourself, "Wait. I can't be happy and enjoy this, because I just know the other shoe is gonna drop any minute, so I have to keep my guard up."
And then the last reason people might not wanna be happy is because they think that if they're happy, then they aren't being empathetic enough to others who suffer. And I kind of point to what I call starving-kids-in-Africa syndrome on this one, where people might say, "How can I be happy when other people in the world have nothing or are dying?" So if this is the case for you, you might struggle to let yourself be happy as a way to prove you aren't bad and to avoid all of the judgment and rejection that might come from that.
So, looking at all of these points, it might be more accurate to say that some people fear getting hurt rather than to say they don't want to be happy or successful. But they vehemently will self-protect before they allow themselves to embrace contentment.
So, now that you know a little bit of the psychology going on, I really want you to think about this as potential spiritual warfare. We know that God is a God of joy. One of my favorite verses ever that I use as a life verse is Psalm 18:19. It says, "He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me." And I love this verse because it reminds me that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was not an accident. Like, He rescued me on purpose, the same as you. So, I really want you to understand that God wants you to be happy. Now, to be clear, that is not a license to just go out and do whatever you want and be sinful just because it makes you feel good. But God is naturally joyful and He wants to share that character with us and have us experience happiness both on this Earth and in heaven with Him. And I talk about this in the book that I'm writing, Joyful God, but essentially, the devil is gonna use every trick he has in the book to keep you from experiencing that joy. He knows that it's gonna cut God really deep if he can disconnect you from that joy and relationship with God. And so my personal view is that the devil likes to get inside your head and whisper all these lies to you, you know, like the shoe is going to drop, so that he can steal your joy. But the biggest backhand you ever can give the devil is to maintain the joy and relationship God wants you to have. It's one of the best ways you've got to keep the devil in his place.
So, to me, the biggest issue is that the devil is trying to convince you that pursuing happiness isn't a safe thing to do. But from the worker's perspective, what is embracing safety at the expense of your happiness really gonna do? It's most likely gonna keep you away from the work experience that will help you develop to your full potential. And if you don't get that experience, you might really struggle financially and interpersonally because you're never really stretching yourself in new situations that are outside your experience or comfort zone.
But you can look at this from the leadership perspective, as well. There are millions of people around the world, and statistically, the data suggests that about 30% of people have been exposed to four or more traumatic events. And there's a lot of suffering going on in the world. So, the likelihood is really high that, at some point as a leader, you'll probably deal with somebody who has real talent or skill but who holds themselves back, and your job as a leader is to bring them up out of that.
So, let's tackle this first from the worker's perspective. One of the best things you can do to start embracing your happiness is to let yourself sit in your stress when you experience it. And I know that might seem a little counterproductive, right? Stress stinks. It doesn't feel good. So why in the world would you wanna sit in it? Well, I saw a video by another therapist named Emma McAdam, and I thought she explained it really well. I'll link to her video as well as the one from Katie Morton in the show notes so you have those as references. But essentially, if you constantly run away from what makes you feel bad, which in this case is happy events, your brain essentially points a knowing finger to the sky and says, "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha! See?! Avoidance keeps me safe! Let's do a ton more of that!" And so you avoid more and more and more. So, your tolerance for what's uncomfortable actually decreases, which ultimately increases your stress around whatever could make you happy. It all just kind of backfires on you. But if you learn to acknowledge your emotion as neither good nor bad, but just a passing experience that's trying to communicate something to you, if you face and sit in that stress or other negative emotion, then your brain learns that it doesn't have to get you to run away from those sources of happiness for you to be safe. Each time you can get through the stress, you have evidence that the shoe didn't drop. You survived. You'll be okay.
Now, once you have a little practice with this, you can start digging into why happiness is scary for you. And I don't want you to be surprised if you have to peel back a few layers of the onion to get a real answer. So, let me give you an example. Suppose you keep putting off updating your resume and, as a result, great jobs just keep slipping through your fingers. The first layer might be, okay, why are you putting off updating your resume? And maybe you say that you're putting it off because it's a lot of work. The next layer might be, okay, it's a lot of work, but why does the idea of it being a lot of work bother you? And to that, you might say that having a lot of work is really overwhelming. Layer three, you say, all right, why does it seem overwhelming? The answer there might be that you've never had anybody to help you with anything. And your fourth question could be, why didn't people help?
What I'm calling the onion strategy here is based on the five-whys method that was popularized for business by Toyota Industries founder Sakichi Toyoda. And what's really cool about this method is that it emphasizes countermeasures rather than long-term solutions, which makes it really great for preventing the same kinds of mistakes in the immediate here and now. A countermeasure doesn’t have to be a full-blown fix. It just needs to work for the moment you’re in. And sometimes, when we’re dealing with strong emotions, that’s all we need to keep moving forward to a more successful future, is just something to get us past our biggest immediate temptation or point of overwhelm. And we just do that over and over again as we build real strategies and habits. But what I want to point out really quickly here is that you can drill down with as many whys as you need to to get to the root issue. It doesn't have to be just five, okay?
But once you know where your beliefs come from, the next step is to actively challenge those beliefs. And a great way to do this is to call out familiar thoughts when you have them. And I know this might feel a little bit strange at first. You might feel a little self-conscious. That's fine. But you might tell yourself something like, "There's that old idea that the shoe’s going to drop again. I know where that comes from, but I don't have to believe or act on that anymore." And if you really want to be awesome about this, make it actionable toward positive change and the person you want to be with a countermeasure. So you might say something like, "That old belief that the shoe was gonna drop made me not reach out for good jobs. But I'll put myself back in the driver's seat by signing up for job alerts from LinkedIn." And one thing I found really helpful here is to try to identify at least one thing you stand to gain from embracing success, and conversely, try to identify at least one thing you could stand to lose if you maintain your old behavior.
One kind of little side note that I wanna make here when we're talking about establishing countermeasures as part of getting your joy back is that I think it's incredibly helpful if those countermeasures are attached to our core values. Because our core values are going to ground us and keep us from straying into the weeds. But what I see all the time, and what I'll just be honest, I've struggled with, too, is that sometimes we have core values that are contradictory. So, some examples of this might be, everybody else deserves a nice big house but not me, or wearing cheap clothes is horrible for the planet but I have to do it because I have no money. And you genuinely believe both sides of these things. You're not being disgenuine or trying to be a hypocrite. It's just that you are trying to live out two value sets that contradict each other and there's a conflict there inside of you. And in psychology, we call this cognitive dissonance, where there are two ideas that are contrary to each other that you can't really reconcile. So my biggest piece of advice here for you is to find people who can bring you into singularity with what you think. This can be mentors, friends, family members, whoever. But I refer to them as mental dirt shovelers. Because they're going to dig through all of the mess that's inside of your head and clean things up and help you see where things don't jive. And it might take you a long time to find these people. They have to be people that you can trust. And if you're scared to be happy, it might be really hard for you to find those people because on some level you associate relationship and connection with feeling good, right? You might not wanna feel too close because that offers a chance to feel better and it's triggering. But take the time to find at least one person who can fill this role for you. Because otherwise when you try to establish countermeasures, it's gonna be really hard because you're going to keep flip-flopping from one belief to the next and be inconsistent in what you do.
So now I just want to look at this from more of the employer side. If you are a leader who sees that someone isn't taking the shots that they should take don't just try to pressure them into the roles or positions that they don't want. All that's going to do is increase their stress and make them resent you. They need to keep their autonomy and choice intact. Instead, work on strengthening the relationship you have with them to build trust. If you can build trust, then you can fill that role of being a mental dirt shoveler if they need you to.
And once you have trust in place, really be a champion for them. Maybe that means reducing the hurdles they have to take a new option, going through training with your support, connecting the worker with other advocates, or sharing your own stories to help them understand that you empathize.
You also can offer affirmations and recommendations. And what that's going to do is help communicate and clarify the concept you have of what the worker deserves and is capable of doing. And I think that those affirmations and recommendations really need to come in both regular and unexpected ways. Like, when you talk to the worker in performance reviews, that's expected, right? But if you give some kudos or advice at the water cooler, you know, maybe they're not expecting that so much.
And then on a broader scale, there are organizational or policy strategies that can help people avoid getting stuck. For instance, you might work with your HR department to build a program that helps workers identify areas where they can excel in ways that might qualify them for other roles within your company. That program might also help the workers develop career course goals, outline why those goals make sense, and offer the point-by-point steps the workers need to cover to move forward. But the biggest thing is that you want to avoid seeing people who avoid joy and success as being lazy or lacking ambition. Because often they're not. They're just scared, right? They are fear-driven out of a basic need to feel safe.
So, looking at all of this, let's just wrap up with a prayer.
Lord, one of the biggest gifts You give to us is joy. But the devil's out there, and he's going to try every trick in the book to keep that joy from us. He wants us to self-sabotage so we don't understand what it's like to be happy. Because if we don't know what that's like, we have no real drive or motivation to want to be closer to You as a provider of that joy. So Lord, in those moments where we are tempted to hold ourselves back, give us the courage to respond to that voice with a no. Keep us focused on all of the good things You want us to have so that we don't give the devil an inch of ground to stand on. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
That's gonna do it for today. If episodes like this help you out at all, head on over to faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm/support or patreon.com/faithfulontheclock. Either one of those websites is gonna let you sign up to be a sponsor for the show, or you can use the Captivate support page to give a one-off tip for donation. Every little bit helps, so please consider donating. You've got two weeks until the next show to do that, and for that show, I'm gonna be talking about what happens in your work if you feel like God is disappointed in you — and how to get back to feeling like He’s your biggest fan so you can get better results. I hope you'll give that a listen, and until then, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.