A draft of this essay sat in my drafts folder for over a year – talk about self-sabotage! I tinkered with it every few months, but could not get it over the finish line. Today I am giving myself the full time I need to work through this message. Here’s the thing – in the effort to get things done, sometimes I focus too much on productive at the expense of sustainable. I wonder if that might ring true for you too.

  • You focus on being the mother doing it all for your kids… at the expense of your relationship with your partner.
  • Time, energy, and finances are directed towards purchasing the house or planning a wedding… at the expense of the life you will be living for the next 50 years.
  • Your effort is used on everyone else… at the expense of not knowing what you really like.

Self-sabotage is usually not a conscious action. Often it creeps into our lives in phases. The actions that we eventually view as self-sabotage can even start out being helpful.

Phase One: It Works…

Before thoughts and behaviors sabotage us, they protect us. They work until they don’t.

Let’s say you are a new mom with a full time job out of the house. You must be a master at putting infant needs first, then compartmentalizing those needs while you are at work. When your baby goes to sleep at night you might start to crack open that compartment, but more likely you have a partner that might have a feeling or thought to run through with you. Or there are chores, errands or other minutiae to wade through.

It may seem like there is precious little time for you to have thoughts and feelings independent of others during this season.

Phase Two: …Until It Doesn’t

Then the season passes, your infant no longer relies on you for survival. However your lizard brain has not gotten the message and you are still in fight, flight or freeze all the time. You still feel uncomfortable having a feeling of your own.

Or more likely, you don’t realize it has been 5 years since you have considered your own thoughts and opinions. You have just piled on more. A raise at work, a side hustle, more activities for your kids (resulting in more logistics for you), returning to school, relocating, volunteering, etc.

All of these things can be good stress, but they are still create pressure and time constraints. They still take up time and space. Before you know it you have created a life you just want to hide from.

Phase Three: Sustainably Productive Adjustments

When I was little my mom taught us that if we were ever lost in a store, we should stand still and she would find us. At least this is what I remember – it might have been an after school special or a Box Car Children book. Regardless, the sentiment is the same. When you feel lost and overwhelmed in chaos, getting still is a good place to start. If you get still you might be able to see a way forward, maybe literal or proverbial sunshine will start to come through the cracks. In order to be able to move past this acute burnout, you need to create space to avoid self-sabotage. Reaction happens when you are butted up against the stressor. Response happens when you have space for discernment.

I want to share three ways making space might look for you, one in each dimension of Sustainable Productivity.

Health & Fitness Dimension – Sleep. I have written about sleep here and here as well as dedicated a podcast episode to it (you can listen here). Sleep is when our body physically and mentally takes out the trash in our bodies. It helps to reboot your systems. If you shortchange this process, you will struggle to make good decisions. For example, if you are committed to healthy eating, but you sleep only five hours a night, self-sabotage creeps in when you pass by Biscuitville. It isn’t willpower, chemical change in your body from being sleep deprived inspire these cravings.

Mental Well-being Dimension – Schedule buffer. In a recent essay I talked about time blocking. I cannot overemphasize the need for buffer time in your schedule. I used to work for a woman who would accept a meeting scheduled to end across town at 9:45 am, then book a meeting with me for 10:00 am. It was physically impossible for her to do both. If you are feeling burned out, schedule buffers can help build in rest. Literally blocking an hour as “Rest” or giving yourself twice the amount of time needed for a task or adding time at the end of a meeting to do your notes and follow ups. Buffers could be as simple as giving yourself realistic time to drive from one place to another.

Environmental Surroundings – Manage screen time. Stay with me on this, it is not eliminating screen time. Sustainable Productivity is about small adjustments you can maintain over time. Overhauling your screen time is not a small adjustment. But what if you put down screens 10 minutes earlier than you do today. Or started 10 minutes later. Maybe you see how much screen time you rack up today, then for the next week, try to average 10 minutes less? You will know intuitively what feels easiest or most important to you. Trust your instincts. Give your eyes, hands, and mind a rest from devices.

These are just a few suggestions on how rest can help you avoid self-sabotage. When you feel rested and centered, you can start to see other small changes you need to make and where you are ruining your chances for success. This is another area where there is no finish line. But that is good news – you can make these adjustments as small as you need to in order to have success.

Sustainable You Reflections

  1. Where does self-sabotage appear in your life?
  2. Which, if any, of the three suggestions resonate with you? How could you adapt them to fit your life?

There are infinite number of ways to rest. I would love to hear what you choose. You can reach me at Susan@SustainableSue.com or via DM on Instagram

Until next time remember to create productive results in a way that you can sustain and that work for you.