This image is me.
In every major achievement in my life, I’ve gotten cold feet or slowed down or hesitated or got sick or something, right before the end.
Depending on how significant the achievement is, it might be a day or a week before I get there, or it might be a few months.
But last year for the first time I really noticed how significant it is. I had several major milestones I either hit (or didn’t), and I saw the pattern for the first time.
One milestone was losing weight.
I’d decided in April 2019 I was going to lose 60 pounds. I was overweight and I knew it. I stood on the scale and was 199.2 pounds, and I stared at it, knowing fine well my body shape means 140 is much more healthy and more realistic for what I do and my age and time of life. I decided that’s it enough was enough and it was time to walk and count calories and lose that weight. I’d done it before, with 20 pounds. I’d done it before, with 40 pounds. And this time I would do it with 60 and this would be the last time, ever, I had to lose that level of weight. I was not going to be the person who later had to lose 100 pounds. In my 60’s.
So I started, and I kept going. I tracked the numbers and walked the miles and posted the results….and got within 4 pounds of my goal and just slowed right down.
Then I stopped.
And started going backwards.
I started gaining the weight back. Ordering takeaway - which is my trigger purchase, my “here we go into the abyss dear friends”, a warning signal all is not well. That I’m giving up. That it’s not just the one takeaway order, it’s the next one and the next one and the overeating and the sugar and … before I knew it I’d gained back 18 pounds and I had even further to go.
Another milestone is the book I’m writing.
I didn’t quite intend to write that book - I had other books I wanted to write, other topics I thought were more interesting and more fun with more creativity and sketching and clever ways to lay out the book and encapsulating more of “me” than this other one. But I started a google doc to summarise some key points about the accelerator course I’ve been running for accountants for six years. Then I started pulling content from blogs I’ve been writing for nine years...then I looked at these things and realised how much every accountant needs to know them and learn them, so I thought I’d turn it into a guide, and then I counted the words and realised I had nearly 60,000 words….which is a book.
And then i just….sat there. Let the words sit there. Stalled. I was frozen.
I listened to a podcast the other day (The Place We Find Ourselves) about how the nervous system is constantly surveying your environment to determine how safe and supported you feel. And based on that level of safety or lack thereof, or anything which feels remotely threatening, the system triggers reactions of how to respond - including the fight / flight/freeze options, or the shut down. The ‘freeze’ option means you’re extra aware, fully on alert, ready to take another action but not moving at all. The ‘shut down’ option means you’re just ...blank. Not moving. Given up. Nothing is going to help so you just stop.
The podcast was connecting it to relationships and how we respond in an argument or a difficulty, but my mind seems to trigger that kind of response in advance of something going really really well. The business starts growing with higher sales and profits and more team members and more opportunities? Instant shut down. I get sick, I get a migraine, I pull back and do little nothings instead of the major opportunities which are right before me.
Even sitting here writing this Note is easier than writing the article I’ve been asked to write for a significant opportunity for me and PF.
I’m still reading Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights which I mentioned in a previous Note. It’s taking me a long time because he keeps saying things which cause me to stop and think and mull it over and wonder about it and get curious. (Which to be fair is the very best kind of book, although as someone with a competitive nature I’m feeling like it’s “taking too long” to read.)
Last Saturday I was sitting reading it and stopped to think about this :
“More often than we care to admit,
We dont get what we want
because we quit early
we didn’t take the necessary risk to get it”
That’s what my brain is doing to me when I get too close to an impossible goal. Or a goal that is just tough, and some people told me I could never do it.
Maybe no one told me that - maybe it was merely my own brain telling me that.
Maybe I was the one saying you can never do it, and then I showed myself, and now the two me’s are in conflict and don’t know how to fight it out so they just freeze. And do nothing. In an endless state of paralysis.
I did have a goal I achieved recently which someone told me I could not do.
Literally sat there in a meeting with me and my accountants and told me “You will not be able to make this business a success. You won’t be able to manage the finances and you can’t do it on your own”. (It only struck me later how this was not only harsh towards me, it was pretty offensive to my amazing accountants sitting there, who help me manage the finances every day. But hey ho - there were bigger issues going on and I knew it.) A month ago I not only paid off a massive debt related to that situation, but was told by our accountants that we are one of (if not the most) profitable client they have - and all they serve is agencies. We’ve got 10 people in the company now, and our profit percentages are similar to what they were when I was alone doing all the work with freelancers, working probably twice the number of hours I work now in a week.
There were many times along the road in the last five years when I froze. Or stopped. Or got sick. Or got weary. Or wanted to give up.
But as I got close to the end I sort of forgot about the original goal (pay off the debt) and just focused on my own goal of having a profitable scalable agency in which my team are doing the client work, and I’m doing the strategy and the leadership and being the caretaker of the culture.
I tracked it and watched how far I’d come and some days bemoaned how long it was taking….and then suddenly at the start of December I realised hey, one more payment and it’s done. I’m done.
Maybe what helped the most with that particular goal was it comprised multiple goals in one, and by the time I got towards the end, I had new goals of profits and scalability and team. Which meant the original goal was still there, still being worked towards, but...it wasn’t consuming me. There were other things to think about. Other goals, even.
Maybe that’s when I achieve the most and stick with my goals the best.
Maybe having multiple goals helps keep me from getting frozen or stuck, too attentive to just the one goal, and focusing in multiple areas so I can switch gears when I feel frozen in one place, and start moving in another.
I feel like writing this Note out has helped me make just a little more progress in this.
Figure myself out. Consider how to sort of “trick my mind” a bit so I keep going.
Like saying “I’m not going to wash ALL the dishes, I’m just going to fill the sink with hot soapy water.” But then once you do that, you figure you may as well wash a dish or two and then...before you know it they’re all done. You know it’s a trick when you start, but you have to have the trick or you won’t start.
Because I’m tired of self sabotage.
It’s frustrating and even angering to see myself so close to a goal, and then slow down or even stop, when I could just push that little bit more and be there. Arrive! Maybe I get fearful of the arrival. Maybe I doubt my own abilities.
Maybe I’m my worst critic when everyone else is telling me “you can do it” and believing in me more than I am myself.
Maybe there’s a part of me saying no you can’t, you’re not that good, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. And since one of my two core life values is Honesty, the two me’s conflict in trying to figure out which one is true, and they stop altogether.
That’s what i’m working on this year.
Stopping the self sabotage.
Having the meeting which will move me forward to the goal even when for reasons I’m not clear on I’m tempted to cancel it. Choosing to go for a walk when suddenly I’m only a few pounds off the goal and am tempted to pull back and sit inside and order takeaway. Finding an editor for the book. Recording the video about the book. Not quitting early.
After all, it looks like when I “get there”, I’ll have three or four other major goals anyway which are in progress. It’s sort of how I do things.
And that’s okay. But self sabotage is not okay, and it ends here.
When does your self sabotage kick in? Before you hit a goal, or right after you’ve hit the goal?
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