The Best Laid Plans…

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CVI, No. 1January, 2006

Leslie Cardell, LCSW

So here we are, just a few weeks into the New Year. Resolutions have been made; goals have been set for the future. How many of them have already been broken, or set aside for another day? That ten pounds is not leaving your hips; the guys at the gym were glad to see you a few times, but are once again forgetting your name. And those plans to develop new contacts, to record a CD? If this is an all too familiar and frustrating experience, you may have wondered if you’re doing something to sabotage your efforts in achieving those goals you seemingly wanted.

How do you succeed in failing?

Perhaps you procrastinate – put off the task long enough and the moment will have passed. Then it’s no longer even a possibility, or there isn’t the time to do it well. Do you distract yourself with other issues that suddenly seem so much more important? Do you question and criticize yourself each step of the way until you feel crippled by self-doubt?

Perhaps you set unrealistic goals or a timetable doomed to failure. Are you expecting perfection so that somehow you’re never quite ready to take that next step? Or no matter what you accomplish, it will never be good enough – so why even try? Maybe you keep everything very vague and never clearly formulate just exactly what you do want for yourself.

We’ve all experienced the consequences of self-sabotage from the mundane to the monumental. The weight never lost, the opportunity wasted. You may have felt very frustrated, questioning why you don’t “just do it.” Makes you wonder if self-sabotage serves some kind of purpose.

Is there something to be gained by failing?

The desire to accomplish a goal isn’t enough if there are conflicting beliefs or desires involved as well. One part of you may want to accomplish the goal while another part does not. When the naysayer is stronger, self-sabotage is the result.

Many different kinds of issues can underlie self-sabotaging behavior. Perhaps you got a message at some point in your life that set limits on what you believe you are able to do. It can feel dangerous to challenge those conceptions, to want different things.

You may have lost touch with your own inner experience of what really matters to you, and be overly focused on meeting the expectations of others. If your own desires have been set aside for what you think you “should” want, it can be difficult to stay motivated.

Really going after what you want means you’ll have to take responsibility for the outcome whether it’s a positive or negative one. If the idea of falling short of your own—or others’—expectations feels intolerable, sabotage is a way of controlling your failure, and maintaining the fantasy of future success—if only you’d finish that demo…

If you were to achieve the more important goals in your life how do you imagine that would affect your relationships? Would friends and family be resentful of your success? Would people expect even more of you? Would they dislike your competitiveness and ambition, or resent your ability to focus on your own needs instead of theirs? By failing, do you get a kind of attention that you would lose if you seemed not to need others in the same way? Ask yourself how you benefit from the effects of your sabotage.

Knowing more about how you undermine your best efforts, where you get stuck, and what you get stuck on, gives you the information you need to loosen the grip of old beliefs, challenge the false ones, and start moving forward. As always, if you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised by this article, please feel free to call the MAP office for a confidential appointment.

Leslie Cardell is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and the coordinator of the Musicians’ Assistance Program’s services.