My Room

Sabotage and motivation

Sabotage and motivation
Yaroslava Matveichuk
Co-founder at My Room, lead facilitator, group analyst, psychoanalyst, entrepreneur
How can we motivate ourselves? Our employees? Whole teams?
Which carrot can we also hang in front of this donkey so it would run non-stop?
Of course, sometimes we realize that the goal we're running to isn't ours. And there's no carrot in the world that would make us reach this goal. But let's say there is something I really, truly want. Why does something always go wrong? I'm postponing it, forgetting it, I'm anxious, finally, I'm disappointed in myself and can't do anything. WHY?

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

When we're little, our will is not as strong as our parents'. We are constantly told what to do, and our willpower is just forming. No one wants to hear you object and complain—just do it.

But what if I don't wanna do it? What if they hurt me there? But I'm also hurt here, so... Maybe there's something wrong with me?
What can I do to fight against the wishes of adults? I can get sick. Consciously or not, but this is a great way to sabotage things we don't want to do.

And we can also sabotage nice things! For example, I'm a grown-up now. I'm getting promoted. They will pay me a lot of money, lots of cool stuff... lots of responsibility, also. I probably can't handle it. Better make a few mistakes, pick a fight with someone. Or get sick again!
Acting by a template is safe, trying something new and opening a new door is scary.

I'm stuck. I don't see a way out. My head feels clouded, no thoughts, no ideas.
Does everybody see that I don't know what to do? Please, let it be unnoticed!

I'm afraid and ashamed. It's oh so scary to take a step towards your true desire. To stand up and put a stop to something that has been unbearable for a long time. To get angry! To say what I really think. To take an offer that's gonna change my life.

Sabotage can also be a way to punish ourselves. It sure had happened before, when we were kids. It's very simple for a kid to take the blame. And it starts a chain of dominos:
  • I'm waiting for something pleasant (excitement)
  • Oh, I'm not worth it (guilt)
  • I can't ask for it (fear)
  • I should be punished for it (sabotage)
  • But I really wanted it (regret)

When I sabotage myself, create a catastrophe, and then save the day, for a short moment I feel like a fucking Batman. Never mind that I ruined the Gotham city myself, but I did save it afterwards! I can do it again three times before the town people will get tired of my heroism. And I will probably burn out.

Sabotage in teamwork

There's also a common idea that I'm successful when I do it alone, and all my mishaps are caused by other people. Then the group I'm working with is not an ally, it's a threat, it cannot be trusted. There's me, and there's them. No unity, no synergy, I'm not joining them. It's a scary place to be in, too.

This idea gets in the way if you're trying to work in a team.

These are just a few ways we can sabotage teamwork:
  • Silence—when we all see that we're doing something wrong, but no one is saying anything
  • Arguing—drawing team's attention to oneself, asking lots of questions, fighting, nitpicking instead of helping and solving problems.
  • Procrastinating—focusing on the least important tasks that are more about decoration than actual use, functionality, or money.
  • Absence—dropping out of the work right before the project is about to be launched and everyone is working their asses off.

We can ignore it or just be silently mad at it (which is also sabotage, by the way).
Or we can take a risk and take an expedition into trust and radical honesty.

How to deal with sabotage?
As adults, we can learn to notice self-sabotage and stop it.

Ask yourself: how do I stop myself from moving forward?
  • I always postpone things like...
  • I often forget tasks like...
  • I tend to be late for meetings like...
  • I never ask for help when I'm...

When you've found your patterns, go over these questions:

Which emotions make me do this?
Which thoughts and beliefs are making me feel these emotions? Can I trust them or they've outlived themselves?
What do you want to say to yourself now?
What would you like to say to your team?
Noticing your patterns is a huge success. After it, you have little left to do: go on and try new patterns. Make small steps towards new behavior, new ways to support yourself. And don't forget to appreciate how brave you are.

How to deal with sabotage in a group

For group work, facilitation sessions on sabotage can get great results. A facilitator can help a team to go through this experience of self-exploration by creating a safe space where all members can talk about their own and mutual ways of sabotaging the processes.
Usually, it gets easier and safer already after the first session: we are all alike, we put ourselves out there and our shame didn't kill us, we are brave. Now we can get out of this rut, even without external help. We've grown.

Discussing sabotage with your team is a beautiful process of mindful ecosystem analysis. It's like testing software: we find all the bugs, name them and describe them. And the system starts to work better, without destroying itself. And, most importantly, we can develop the code further and anticipate possible complications. We can help each other to live through fear, sabotage less and less.
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