There are a lot of challenges out there. If you are actively participating in life, trying to make things happen, accepting responsibilities, and coping with the demands that all of the actions create, you are challenged every day and in virtually every way.
It is not easy nor should you necessarily want it to be, but why would you want to make it more difficult on yourself?
There are plenty of enemies to face, hurdles to clear, and difficulties to overcome without creating more of a challenge for yourself. Yet, there is a pretty good chance that you do are one of those people that makes your life unnecessarily difficult and that you may not even know you are doing it.
Do you classify yourself as a perfectionist? Have you ever told someone that you are your own worst enemy or your own harshest critic? Do you second guess your decisions? Does guilt weigh you down? Do you sometimes avoid taking action or making a decision because you have anxiety about the potential result of that action or decision?
If you answered yes to even one of those questions, I have to break it to you. You have self-defeatist tendencies and you may even be losing a very important battle.
Everyone has a self-defeatist lurking within. He is that pesky creature that resides in your brain and intermittently rains on your parades, sucks joy from your otherwise wonderful moments, impairs your forward progress, and even lessens the value of your accomplishments if you allow him to do so.
So there really is only one decision to make here and that is to defeat the self-defeatist!
It won’t be easy. He is sly and he comes at you with a variety of disguises. He has already worked his way into your decision making and thought processes so you will have to re-train your mind if you want to truly defeat him over a sustainable period of time. You can’t defeat him in the long run, however, if you don’t first learn how to defeat him in the short term. This can be your starting point.
The first step in confronting any problem is to first identify what it is so that you can begin to do something about it. I have defined a self-defeatist, but you will need to be able to recognize all of his disguises if you want to start winning your battle against him.
Let’s start with the perfectionist disguise because it is one of his best. It is effective because the pursuit of perfection and the commitment to making sure that things are done right are noble pursuits. Being a perfectionist doesn’t sound like a bad thing and it may not be. Often times, however, a perfectionist is the perfect cover for a self-defeatist.
If your pursuit of perfection leads to an excellent result or finished product, your self-defeatist may very well be in check. If you label yourself a perfectionist and that is your excuse for why you frequently do not finish projects or meet deadlines, you may actually be enabling your self-defeatist to get the upper hand.
Your ability to commit yourself to a cause or an important project is a key component of a happy and productive life. Make it count. Let the importance of the cause or task at hand help guide you to your desired result. The worth of the cause and achieving the relevant objective should always outweigh your individual concerns about what does or does not turn out to be one hundred percent of what you thought it should be.
Similarly, if you hold yourself to a high standard and you use your own ability to critique your efforts as an effective checkpoint, keep doing it and you will be successful. If constructive criticism of yourself is really an excuse to destroy the value you assigned to the exercise and explain away why you did not take action or engage in the process, your self-defeatist has once again outflanked you with a successful disguise.
Reflecting back on what you did or didn’t do in pursuit of an objective is both healthy and worthwhile. Like everybody, you have things that you are really good at and you have many more things that you have room to improve upon. If you take the time to honestly assess your own real life experiences and give yourself credit for what you did well and make note of what you could do better next time, you are not second guessing yourself, you are merely extracting the most value possible from what has occurred.
Second guessing occurs when you obsess or spend an otherwise disproportionate amount of time thinking about trivial matters that neither impacted the outcome nor represented your effort or contribution to that outcome. Second guessing is not productive and it is not healthy. It erodes your confidence and detracts from your effectiveness every single time. Reflect, yes. Second guess, never.
Guilt and its place in your mental and emotional state is a topic all to itself and I will address it as such at a later time. For the purposes of identifying it as yet another clever disguise for your self-defeatist, it is essentially a variation of second guessing, except that it is far more destructive. Second guessing can and does become habitual, but it tends to be slightly more rational and less inclusive than guilt.
Guilt, when left unchecked, can weigh a 1,000,000 tons and permeate every facet of your life. The most powerful defense you have against it is your own consistent and disciplined decision making. Strong and reliable decision making will defeat your self-defeatist disguised as guilt every time because it eliminates its place in your rational mind.
If you make it a point to follow your own personalized decision making process, you will have already built in all of the care, balance, and consideration you will need to make good decisions on a regular basis. When you do that, there is no room for guilt because there is nothing to feel guilty about. You do what you think is best every single time.
When the self-defeatist is winning, whether he is using one of these disguises or an as yet undiagnosed tactic, you know it because you cease to be a full and active participant in your life. You avoid certain situations and circumstances. You take fewer definitive steps. You make fewer and fewer decisions.
These are unacceptable results. You must set out to defeat the self-defeatist at every turn and every chance you get. Allowing him to win, even once, gives him a place in your life that he simple doesn’t deserve.
Once you successfully defeat the self-defeatist, you will free the full extent of your personal resources to assist you in handling all of life’s other challenges, difficulties, and complications. You will also be more confident and self-assured.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.