Getting out of your own way: How creatives self-sabotage - REDENDRON

Getting out of your own way: How creatives self-sabotage

Jen is an artist. She had always wanted her art studio to take her work to the next level and had finally achieved that space, but her paralysing phobia of passing time was keeping her from pursuing her dreams.

Chronophobia is the fear of time – characterized by an irrational yet persistent fear of time and of the passing of time.

What has Jen and the irrational fear of timepieces got to do with you, though? Well, you might not have chronophobia, but I’m betting your brain has tried to trip you up with something equally as paralysing as chronophobia when it comes to following your own dreams. And maybe your fears seemed as if it were only in your head, yet still, they had the power to stop you dead in your tracks.

Over there is your dream to create something you want and over here is you, unable to move in that direction. Why? 

Our amygdala (“fear centre” of the brain) tells us that we aren’t good enough, we don’t know what the next step is, we’ll be judged, we don’t have enough money or time to invest, we feel like we are too disorganised and maybe our mom, dad and our partner won’t approve. 

Creatives, as often as it is a sign of intelligence and innovation, it also brings with itself self-doubt, neuroticism and angst. You can learn more about this in an article we published, titled, “Why are you afraid to be an artist?”

When we don’t get what we want, we tend to blame external stimulus but if we look back and reflect on our own actions, we play a big role in the downfall of our own plans or goals. We are rarely aware that we’ve been self-sabotaging ourselves because it often feels quite rational.

The self-sabotaging cycle looks somewhat like this:

1. Unrealistic goals/expectations

2. Procrastinate to avoid facing discomfort.

3. Feel guilty for not doing the things you need to do.

4. Chill out (eat, drink, meditate, spend your feelings)

5. Criticise yourself

Then comes the most debilitating step, which is, repeating your self-sabotaging actions.

Repeating this cycle over and over again starts to damage our spirit and leaves us feeling helpless, gradually eroding our self-trust because we can no longer rely on ourselves to keep the promises we wish we could make to ourselves, or show up for ourselves when we need to. 

We slowly start disconnecting from our future self and ignore our core values by choosing comfort over courage. Then we are forever stuck in our feedback loop of giving up on our goals, focusing only on our present selves.

Breaking the cycle

All hope is not lost, as we can begin to assess our behaviours and twiddle with its parts to recreate ourselves. It starts with the following processes:

Identifying your root causes.

Identifying the root causes of our self-sabotaging behaviour is an important step. Self-destructive habits are rooted in our feelings of self-worth, pleasures, relationship, work, time, money, etc.

1.Self-worth: You don’t feel like you deserve to be successful or you feel inadequate even after putting everything you have.

2. Pleasures: You deny yourself simple pleasures, and then stay up watching Netflix until 2 a.m.

3. Relationship: You don’t adequately acknowledge the valid points other people make. Your partner complains about you overworking on low priority tasks and has a point, but you don’t adequately acknowledge this.

4. Work: You start more projects than you have time to finish.

5. Money: You keep paying for subscriptions you rarely use.

Work on identifying and acknowledging what is causing you to sabotage yourself, and then start making changes to stop those behaviours.

Coping with stressors

Stress can cause numerous consequences, often leading to our self-destructive habits.

Each individual perceives what is stressful differently and this is called a unique appraisal of stress. Stress appraisal refers to the process by which individuals evaluate and cope with a stressful event.

There are two types of appraisals of stress: primary and secondary.

Primary appraisal is an initial evaluation of whether an event is stressful or not.

In the secondary appraisal, you evaluate your coping resources and options for dealing with stress. Often, people aren’t very realistic in their appraisal of potentially stressful events. They either overestimate or underestimate how stressful the circumstance is.

What is your stressor?

1. Frustration: Frustration occurs during a situation when you are faced with a roadblock in the pursuit of your goals.

2. Conflict: It occurs when you have to choose between two or more incompatible wishes.

3. Life Changes: Any significant alteration in one’s living circumstances that require readjustment.

4. Pressure: This involves expectations or demands that one behaves in a certain way. This can be things like pressure from work, the pressure to perform something or even pressure from intimate relationships.

 To overcome these stressors, we need to understand something called the behavioural response (coping). 

If you are stuck in any one of these problems then you can try some of the constructive coping strategies such as; facing a problem directly, distinguishing realistic solutions and identifying personal resources to deal with the situation.

Recognising your self-sabotaging habit 

The P cycle is the most common behavioural traits of self-sabotaging: 

Perfectionism: As artists, we believe perfectionism to be our strengths but that is far from the truth. Instead, it is something that will keep us overwhelmed by fear: fear of rejection, fear of failing, fear of not putting enough effort and the next thing you know, we are back to repeating our self-sabotaging behaviours.

Procrastination: We procrastinate because we are afraid of failing at the tasks that we need to complete and procrastination always creates conflicting stress responses. Procrastination looks positive sometimes and acts as a band-aid for our painful feelings, goals that are unrealistic or unreal, or projects we are not passionate enough about. Procrastination is seductive as it convinces us that tomorrow is our day, or maybe next Monday, or the first of the month, or when we have our parents approval. We all procrastinate sometimes and a little procrastination here and there never kills anybody but it becomes a problem when it starts to sabotage our goals.

Paralysis: Not related to any loss of motor movement of our limb but something more psychological. Paralysis includes the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that nothing has changed. The result is always an erosion of our self-trust followed by a sense of paralysis because nothing changes.

There are so many of us becoming victims of self-sabotage and I still self-sabotage myself from time to time but I do it a lot less than I did it in my past. We don’t need psychodynamic therapies to overcome our self-sabotaging behaviour patterns but awareness is key.

Know that it is unhealthy but yes, always normal. One of the better ways to make goals is to apply the SMART method.

Always choose forward over stuck and courage over comfort. 

References :

1. Mary John Smith’s persuasion and human action (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1982)
2. Schachter-Singer’s cognitive appraisal theory.
3. Holmes and Rahe, 1967.

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