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Stop Playing Small: How to Overcome Self-Sabotage in Work and Relationships

Stop Playing Small: How to Overcome Self-Sabotage in Work and Relationships
Stop Playing Small: How to Overcome Self-Sabotage in Work and Relationships

Picture this: Your boss approaches you with a fantastic opportunity to pitch a new idea to the executive team. It could lead to a big promotion, a raise, and a lot of positive attention. However, you freeze and hesitate. You find yourself questioning your abilities, feeling paranoid, and worrying about potential failure. Instead of taking the chance, you let the opportunity pass you by. You've just experienced the harsh reality of unintended self-sabotage.

In both work and relationships, we often play it safe, act too cautiously, and become afraid to speak the truth. We mistakenly believe that we're protecting ourselves when, in reality, we are sabotaging our chances of greater success.

Have you ever stopped to think about the unintended consequences of playing it too safe? Or maybe you play it safe too often? When we hold back due to fear, we think we're protecting ourselves, but we are reinforcing our own limiting beliefs, which will eventually show up as insecurity, regret, or imposter syndrome.

1. Unintended Self-Sabotage Limits Your Career - By avoiding risks, you are also avoiding opportunities for growth and advancement. Playing small frequently will make you appear weak in the eyes of your colleagues and bosses. Having the courage to take calculated risks can lead to new challenges, new opportunities, higher levels of credibility and respect, and ultimately, professional success. You might be thinking, “You don’t understand our company politics.” After 27 years of coaching people in business, I have seen the worst cultures and politics on this planet. I promise. And, without doubt, I still suggest examining how often and why you are playing small and find a way to shift gears into bolder, appropriately placed truth-telling. It is the only way to be seen as a key player, instead of an “extra.”

2. Playing Small Damages Your Relationships - In the personal realm, fear and avoidance will lead to inadvertently hurting our relationships with those around us. Refusing to take chances leads to a stagnant and unfulfilling life. When you hesitate, avoid conflict, or hold back from speaking the truth, you miss the chance to connect with the other person, resolve core issues, and build trust where insecurity, hurt, and confusion might exist. This includes being afraid to set boundaries. Ultimately, it will lead to resentment, frustration, and misunderstanding. Being open and honest in relationships is key to building stronger, more meaningful connections.

3. Taking Smaller, Calculated Risks Builds Confidence - As we dismiss our doubts and step out of our comfort zone, we reinforce to ourselves that we are capable, which builds the confidence to continue to make bolder choices. This confidence will lead to more self-assurance, and as we become more productive and effective, we increase our “mojo.” Yes, I’m serious; we all need that spark. Not arrogance or fake swagger, but an inner knowing that you can make things happen in your life. It is magnetizing to others.

4. Going Big Builds Resilience in the Face of Failure - Risk-taking is not just about the potential for success, it’s also about building resilience, a character trait that can change the quality and trajectory of your life. Failures can – and will – happen, and I could argue they are necessary for us to grow as healthy humans. I find that the things in my personal life and work that are truly meaningful and life-enhancing usually require me to think and do things out of my comfort zone. The comfort zone is called that for a reason, it's comfortable. When we stay comfortable for too long and too often, it will become a zone of complacency, apathy, and self-deception. The only way out is to lean into experiences and decisions that feel a little (or a lot) scary. Win or lose, you will build a new thinking pattern that will make the next potential risk seem less risky.

5. Going Big Leads to Greater Long-Term Success - People who consistently take calculated risks, try new things, and learn from their missteps have much greater chances of exceeding their goals and realizing their dreams. Only by venturing out of our comfort zone can we develop the mindset required to take on more substantial challenges, and to pull your fantasies and dreams out of your head, and into physical experience.

Living life without any regrets should be a goal for everyone. This means taking risks and living life to the fullest. Here are two suggestions for you to stop or at least reduce the frequency of playing small:

A. Shift your mindset. Start by identifying what beliefs or fears are holding you back.

Are you scared of failure?

Do you avoid the truth?

Are you holding back telling people about what you want or what you believe?

Do you worry about what others might think?

Once you have identified your limiting beliefs, reframe. Instead of worrying about failure, focus on what you can learn from trying something new or disclosing your truth to someone you trust. Instead of worrying about what other people think, trust yourself. The rewards may surprise you.

B. Take small steps outside of your comfort zone. Start by trying one new thing a week that you normally wouldn't do. It could be as simple as taking a different route to work or trying a new dinner recipe. Then start building up to bigger challenges. The more things you try, the most comfortable you will be with discomfort and the feelings of accomplishment on the other side.

Making the choice to do the “hard things” will pay off in big ways. Pushing yourself out of what seems safe will lead to increased confidence, deeper connections, new opportunities, and career growth.


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