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Overcoming Self-Sabotage Tendencies: Flipping Your Own Lid to Get Present

  • POSTED ON AUGUST 10, 2022

I have been looking forward to this event all month.

On a predetermined night late in the year, as is our annual tradition, a collection of my favorite friends from across the country gather on Zoom to celebrate the season.

Though I have had a grueling 11-hour workday and can sense my emotional energy is somewhat low, I make my best effort to shake off the string of coaching calls, change my clothes, and prepare a reviving snack so I will be at my best and brightest.

I’m ready to be nourished and delighted by this uncensored, rowdy crew of friends.

But when the event opens, I can feel myself shrinking back in my skin, struggling to get a word in edgewise and growing more and more uncomfortable as the night goes on. I am dimly aware that my inability to be fully present at the moment is costing me my favorite evening. But I feel unable to snap into focus, pulling in and out of the party like a poorly tuned camera lens.

I am also aware that the longer I wait to speak, the harder it gets. I become increasingly panicked and disappointed as the evening unravels in a direction I feel powerless to shift.

This pattern is not new to me.

Spontaneous Introversion: The Recipe for Self-Sabotage

For much of my life, I have sensed in various stressful or anticipated situations a low-grade performance anxiety that can show up as spontaneous introversion, tentative contributions, waiting to be called on to speak, resistance to being around others, and, eventually, a total withdrawal so far into my shell it becomes nearly impossible to extract myself.

If the event starts off on this foot — be it a high school dance or a family dinner or a corporate board meeting — it can become paralyzing and painful to suffer through as I attempt to hide what’s happening for fear that others will sense it (they usually do).

At some point, the story creation in my own brain — spinning voices that say “you don’t need this” or “get out of here” or “these are not your people” — becomes overwhelming and self-reinforcing, creating the self-sabotaging behavior that causes me to have an emotional withdrawal and create isolation around myself.

I end up lonely and absent. And others, despite my best efforts to hide my thoughts, feel at turns curious and confused by my sudden mood shift.

Perhaps you can relate.

So, what is going on with these mysterious mood hijackings and how — as leaders — can we take back control over creating the impact and experience we want?

Lid Up Vs. Lid Down

At the Co-Active Training Institute, we define leaders as those who are responsible for their world. In choosing to be responsible for our world, we are choosing a creative and proactive approach to both responding to and creating the world we want to live in and staying away from self-sabotage.

In leadership training, we learned that leaders generally have two modes available to them: we’ll call them “lid up” and “lid down.” When your lid is up, you feel most yourself. You feel energized, authentic, proactive, and participatory. You feel capable and responsible, and you are able to respond creatively and powerfully to whatever comes up, moment by moment. When your lid is down, the opposite is true: you experience blame and victimhood, feeling trapped, stuck, or stifled. You feel fundamentally insecure and under-resourced, incapable of bringing your best self to the table.

A similar concept is introduced in the Conscious Leadership work that proponents call being “above the line” or “below the line.”

If we presume at as leaders, we are responsible for creating our world, then we are responsible for also flipping our lids and helping ourselves get back to our best in any situation. Naturally, for some environments, it will be more challenging than others, and I recognize that in some situations if safety is not available, defensive or cautious postures are appropriate.

But when we are safe and well-resourced, what can we do when we confront a situation where we feel incapable of flipping our own lids as I did with my friends?

Tips for Overcoming Tendencies of Self-Sabotage

Below are some of the tools and tips I’ve developed to help you in flipping your lid and interrupt your own pattern of self-sabotage:

  1. Know your triggers. We all have situations, people, activities, and environments where our lid comes down. What are yours? Find the repeat places and start to identify why: Does being in a suit with a room full of executives trigger your impostor syndrome? Does visiting your mother-in-law around the holidays tend to trigger your control issues? Get curious and notice your patterns for shutting down or withdrawing.
  2. Develop your lid-flippers. What helps you, no matter what, get present and back into your seat of power? For some, it’s a mantra or phrase to repeat, a great dance to a Beyoncé song, a special set of clothing, a pep talk from a best friend, a treat that reminds you of home. Strategize and vision forward how you will keep yourself engaged and present before, during, and after the challenging situation.
  3. Get into a relationship. When you start to shut down or pull back unexpectedly or inconveniently, get back into a relationship with someone. Brené Browne’s research says being socially rejected is akin to physical pain: the same part of the brain that lights up during brain scans when we experience physical pain lights up when we experience the emotional pain of rejection. Stop the meeting, check in with someone privately before, during, or after, share your fear, or ask for support to help you get back into connection with someone, grounding you in the present.
  4. Tell on yourself early and often. Research shows that the longer we wait to speak, the harder it becomes over time. If you have something hard to say during a meeting, contribute up front, ideally in the first few minutes of a meeting, to get comfortable throwing your voice in the space so you can use it later. Check-in questions that allow every meeting participant to get their voice into the room are helpful for this reason, helping meeting participants to be present and increasing chances of participation throughout.

Taking Back Control: Fighting Against Self-Sabotage

At the end of the day, no fewer than four people reached out to check in on me after my lid went down during the friends’ gathering. Despite my best efforts, my withdrawal was felt in the room, and I know now that had I spoken up earlier, and badly claimed space to speak more of my emotions at the beginning, I would have been able to stay more engaged throughout the night and brought my full self to the table. And that clearly would have resulted in a better experience for all, even if it meant I brought the more complicated pieces.

I now understand that when I am brave enough to speak and get engaged, I make it safe for others to do the same.

And isn’t life so much more interesting when we’re actually fully present for those experiences we have chosen?

Have you ever experienced instances of self-sabotage? Do you have any advice on how to stop self-sabotaging behavior? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Gia Storms Photo
Written By

Gia Storms

Gia Storms specializes in developing leaders, transforming teams and bringing meaning and purpose to the workplace. As executive coach, she brings energy, courage and  ferocity developed after 15 years working in politics and business. Prior to becoming a coach, Gia was the Chief Communications Officer at the Hammer Museum at UCLA and VP of Communications at the Times Square Alliance in New York. Today, she facilitates trainings across the U.S., teaches coaching for  the Co-Active Training Institute, works within major corporations like Microsoft and Google and writes a regularly on leadership. Originally from Seattle, Gia is a graduate of the University of Santa Monica’s Spiritual Psychology Program and Barnard College and lives in Los Angeles.

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