Hitting a wall at work? Stuck in a relationship rut? This may be hard to hear, but the problem might be you. Here are some of the surprising, subconscious ways women undermine their own success—and how to stop for good.
I have always been a pretty quiet person. Growing up, I loved to spend summer afternoons reading instead of playing in the woods with the neighbors. In school, I was always a little shy and stuck with my group of close friends. When I hit college, I joined a sorority and tried to be less like my introverted self. I was happy sort of living on the periphery, in my quiet little world. Then I started going on internships around the country…and was forced to break out of my shell. I was completely oblivious that what I perceived as my shyness was coming across as being stuck-up or snobby, and hindering my career growth and ability to make friends!
I had no idea why people were pushing me away—until a roommate intervened. She told me that I came across as though I was too good for everyone and above it all, even if that wasn’t the case. At first, I was deeply hurt. But my roommate helped me understand that I was being perceived as snobby and rude like I didn’t need to get to know anyone.
Now before you write me off as socially clueless, consider this: To one degree or another, most of us have blind spots about our behavior. These blind spots make it easy to play the victim and find fault in others when things don’t go our way—say, to blame our flawed parents, our crummy bosses, the entire world!—and prevent us from seeing that often the person standing in our way of happiness and success is the person in the mirror.
Why are so many of us unaware of our behavior? Our fast-paced culture is partly to blame. It is deeply ingrained in this society to prefer action over contemplation. In today’s world, more of us are acting (and texting and tweeting) first, and asking questions later—or never.
But there’s another reason: We are programmed to see others more clearly than we see ourselves. We naturally read situations differently depending on whether we are the actor or the person watching. While others can see that you frequently interrupt conversations or appear stuck up, it’s easier for you to ignore or rationalize your behavior. You have access to so much information that others don’t, like your past experiences, your beliefs about your abilities, your fears and insecurities — so self-defeating behaviors seem reasonable to you.
Often, many individuals have problems identifying their negative behavior because it is rooted in a trait they’re proud of. Take this example: Jane Doyle, a fictional sales manager who represents the many people in today’s workplace who undermine their success with unconscious behaviors. Doyle considers herself a model employee—conscientious, diligent, with a strong record—yet is repeatedly passed over for promotions. She hadn’t realized that what she considered one of her best assets—her “take-charge attitude”—was considered abrasive by others. Our behavior is driven by a motivation to achieve a sense of self-worth, to feel good about ourselves, and to contribute. But when taken to the extreme, these strengths can turn into weaknesses.
So how do you know if you’re getting in your way? First, look for a pattern of setbacks—big or small—in your life. If at work you’re not promoted and you should have been; or you want a relationship and it’s been years since you’ve had a second date, something’s wrong. Once you’ve run out of the excuses that outside factors are to blame, look to your behaviors.
On a piece of paper, write down what has gone wrong in the past month or year that has blocked you from getting what you want. Remember what other people have said about your behavior and ask for feedback from someone you trust—look for trends.
The next step: reversing the negative behavior. Changing how you act is like practicing the piano or free throw shots. The more you do it, the better you become.
Clear Your Way
Think you might have a few self-defeating habits of your own? Figure out your unintentional behaviors and start breaking through with these easy steps:
1. Ask for an honest assessment.
Since it’s so hard to get out of your point of view, ask people you love and trust—your mom, husband, boyfriend, and best friend—to help you identify problem behaviors.
2. Don’t get defensive!
It’s hard to hear constructive criticism, but if you do, you’ll be one step closer to making a positive change.
3. Live your ideal life
For 10 minutes a day. In a perfect world, you don’t have annoying behaviors. If you picture yourself wanting to be in a loving relationship, practice being a loving person. Do something simple: Buy your friend a little gift, give a good hug, and love, and adore someone to establish the pattern of being who you want to be.
4. Be patient with yourself.
The brain takes a long time to change. Too often, we think, “I’ve been trying something new for a month and things are still the same, so I guess I can’t change.” Plan what you’re going to do differently to make a new behavior automatic.