Something sinister could be lurking behind the doors of American businesses. According to Dr. Edward Selby, Ph.D., a recognized expert at Psychology Today, small-business owners are as susceptible to self-sabotage as the rest of the population. But when business owners sabotage their goals by engaging in certain behaviors, it can be disastrous to the bottom line. What’s more, business owners may not even realize they are the reason their business isn’t thriving. Here are three ways you might be sabotaging your business without even knowing it, along with advice from Selby about how to reverse the behavior.
1. Anxiety avoidance. In business, there are two ways to meet a challenge. The first is to meet it head on and make the best decisions you can. But Selby says some people respond to challenges with avoidance rather than facing the difficulty of making a decision. In other words, in an effort to avoid anxiety, they avoid the situation, which can put a small business at risk. “But once people understand that avoiding a problem is self-sabotage, they’ll often be motivated to make the best decision possible, even if it’s not perfect.”
Selby says, “One of the best ways to determine if you are making a decision for an emotional reason is to make a pros and cons list for both the results of making the decision and the results of not making the decision. If on such a list the primary benefits to making a decision are not directly related to the outcomes of the business, then you may want to reconsider that decision.” For example, if you feel that yelling at an employee for a mistake will vent some anger and make you feel better, then the decision is being driven by emotions and you should reconsider it. Similarly, if you’re avoiding giving an employee necessary constructive criticism because you’re feeling anxious about his or her reaction, then you may be letting anxiety interfere with your ability to successfully manage employees.”
2. Rumination. Another form of self-sabotage comes into play when a person’s thoughts consistently focus on the negative aspects of any given situation. For instance, if you find yourself going over and over a client interaction that went poorly instead of trying to solve the problem, you could end up harming your business. “Business grows on hope about the prospects the future holds, not on the commiseration over past mistakes,” Selby says.
His advice for addressing this self-defeating behavior is to avoid obsessing about past mistakes and anxiety, and instead learn from them and keep pushing forward. According to Selby, the best way to do this is to find some temporary distraction. People frequently obsess about these problems until they feel overwhelmed. Instead, when you notice that you’re beginning to fall into this pattern, take a short amount of time to do something enjoyable, which will force you to focus on something other than your business concerns. This could be any kind of activity, such as recreation or exercise, meeting with a friend to discuss anything other than business, a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, or playing a game on your smartphone. These activities will allow you to get away from repetitive thoughts and calm down, which will help clear your mind and allow you to be more effective when you return to addressing the problem.
3. Conflicting goals. Many small-business owners want their ventures to thrive so they can one day pass them on to their chosen successors. That’s a great plan, unless you have conflicting goals that can sabotage this overarching one. For instance, maybe the lure of quick cash from excessive discounting is tempting, even though it might stain the company’s name over the long haul. Selby says a major key to success in business is working to accomplish long-term goals. It’s easy to get side-tracked by small but important details, which can detract from a major goal.
To identify where you’ve gone wrong in the past and do better in the future, Selby recommends prioritizing your goals so you know which is the most important. Finding an experienced mentor who has already achieved success can help with this immensely. He says that’s because “it’s difficult to learn how to prioritize goals when getting a business started, and developing skill at this can take years. One way to accelerate the skill of goal prioritization is to find business mentorship so you can learn from the experience of others.” He recommends starting your search for a mentor at the Small Business Association.