How to Stop Getting In Your Own Way
This post was originally written for actors but anyone can use it!
A couple weeks ago I was waiting in a busy subway station during rush hour.
The 4/5 trains were taking forever to arrive and since I was at Fulton Center (a super busy stop), there were exactly 473 new people joining us on the platform every minute (but who's counting?).
Eventually, the 5 train arrived.
We all crammed in like sardines.
My knee had been hurting because of not doing squats at the gym properly, so I REALLY wanted to sit down.
You can probably guess how many seats were available.
I searched for a moment and noticed two angry-looking people sitting on either side of an empty seat. The only part of the seat left was a thin sliver in the middle.
Should I sit there?
I thought about it for a moment, and then my mind immediately went, "Yes."
I steeled myself for all the negative energy about to be sent my way, and to the astonished looks of everyone around me, I went for it.
I squeezed down into the seat... and pulled out my laptop to start working.
"When I was 20, I always worried what people were thinking of me. When I was 40, I completely stopped caring what people were thinking of me. When I was 60, I realized no one was EVER thinking about me... and if they were, they were just wondering what I was thinking of them!"
So Why Do We Keep Getting in Our Own Way?
Because we unconsciously want to stay in our comfort zones.
Well, we all have a natural thermostat, or comfort level, in our lives.
With a room thermostat, when the temperature starts getting too cold, the heat kicks in to bring the room back to a comfortable temperature.
Similarly, if we start failing too often or not making enough money for our comfort zone, we'll kick ourselves into high gear to fix the situation, getting things back to a comfortable level.
Unfortunately the opposite is also true.
If things start heating up too much, the thermostat turns on the air conditioner to cool the room back down.
Likewise, when an opportunity for a ton of success presents itself, we'll unconsciously self-sabotage in order to stay within our comfort zone.
Procrastinating, being lazy, and even getting super nervous before a big audition are all forms of self-sabotage.
The reason we get in our own way is because our brain NEEDS to stay in its comfort zone to keep us "safe."
Here's a crazy fact: Many actors feel extremely nervous in big auditions not because they think they'll mess up, but because unconsciously their brain is scared they might succeed! It thinks that if they book the role, they might not be ready for it because the success is too far out of their comfort zone.
So How Do We Make Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone Easier?
The only way to truly become better at what you do is to put yourself in a place where you can fail.
Instead, you need to accept those challenges to find out whether you'll overcome them or not.
It's easy to go to acting classes week after week and continue submitting for the same small, unpaid or low-pay indie film roles. It's easy to say, "I'm not ready for an agent yet," or "I don't want to follow up and bother that big executive producer I met on set."
But do you want to keep doing the easy things in life? Or are you willing to step up and test yourself to see if you can overcome the hard things?
Fearing Failure Means You're Holding Yourself to Low Standards
I used to be the type of person who would say, "Eventually I'll be ready to do that. But if I try it now I might fail." And so I'd never try.
But when I changed my thinking to, "I must constantly test my skills to see how good I really am and learn how to get better," my life changed.
Instead of it being me who determined whether I was good enough (which is inherently self-centered), I decided to let the world show me if was good enough.
It's that new perspective that made me want to challenge myself to see whether I could go sit down between those angry people on the subway.
And it's that new perspective that has allowed me to grow my sphere of influence in the world so I can keep giving more and more value to people.
As just one example, I clicked "Publish" on this blog post. Maybe you'll like it or maybe you'll hate it! But I'm OK with getting negative feedback if that's what comes because it's the only way I'll learn for sure if what I'm doing needs to change.
So I'd like you to make a commitment to yourself right now:
Write in the comments below one specific thing in your career or life you know you should do – but that makes you nervous or anxious.
Then make it your mission this week to go out and test yourself.
If you succeed, AMAZING! And if you fail the test, more power to you! All it means is you've held yourself to the highest standard and have grown as a person.
You've now got real data on something that needs to be changed, and you'll start improving way faster than if you never tested yourself and just continued theorizing like most people do.
Look at everything you want to do as a test and keep running those tests. And then analyze the data after each test to see what you can learn.
If you do this, I promise that within a few months, you'll stop getting in your own way and you'll start accomplishing WAY more than you ever have.
So before you do anything else, go ahead and write that comment to hold yourself accountable.
If you enjoyed this article, here are a few others I've written that I think you'll like:
Thank you, Martin! I've heard about "fear of success" for many years, but after reading your explanation about preserving our equilibrium it really clicked. I've been a habitual self-sabotager in so many areas of my life, which really does "protect" those deeply held negative beliefs about myself.
The trick is to catch myself when I'm doing that. Then I can make a real-time decision about what I really want for myself.
I forgot to state the thing I need to do for myself/my career this week. I need to write a thank you note or send an email to someone in my agency who met with me last week. I asked for 15 minutes but honestly needed more time, and she spent over an hour with me, until I ran out of questions. My impulse was to send her a grateful, enthusiastic text the next day. Wish I'd done that! Instead my brain held me back ("do more than a text"; "do an email greeting card plus your words of appreciation"; "mail a hard-copy thank you note"). It's been nearly a week and I haven't done any of it. And predictably I now feel badly about that. I guess it's not too late, I'm resolved to do an email today so it will be in her inbox in the morning.
...just one example of how a simple, sincere gesture can become a tool for self-sabotage, keeping me down instead of claiming a little step forward.
Hey Mary, thanks for the comments! Yes, if you change and look at this as a challenge - "Let's see if what I choose to do is right or wrong," then you can pick something instead of sitting on the fence. Doing that will ensure you progress much faster than if you keep worrying about which thing you should do, and instead letting time slip away.
Another more advanced step is to write the decision you made down so next time you're in a similar situation you'll know if what you did last time worked or didn't work, and whether to do the same thing again or try something different.
She definitely deserved more than a text! But you even bailed on that. It was all paralysis by analysis. Still not too late. I wrote an actual blank card, sent snail mail, after meeting an agent at pay to play. It ultimately made no difference because I'm here. I guess you must be trying to switch agencies. I'm here because I need one.
This is a GREAT blog post. Thanks so much for sharing the anchoring technique!
Thanks!! Glad you enjoyed it :)
It’s as if you read my mind! I find your emails and posts are always spot on with what I’m struggling with or what questions I’m asking myself..
Self sabotage is evident in everyone’s life and in any job. People try to “live” with it and not overcome it.
Your email could not have come at a better time for me. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone (something I’m always trying to do) is so scary and challenging but so rewarding. Trying to overcome the fear of failure is a major step for me and my career right now!
Keep your articles coming, please! I’m so grateful to know I’m not alone in my way of thinking!
Hey Hailey, glad you found today's email helpful!!
Happy Holidays :)
I really relate to this.
I'm not going to commit to anything this week, because my acting class is deep into rehearsals for our semester-final project, but over Thanksgiving break I took a major step.
Even though I've got a semester to go, two kids to care for whenever they're not in school, and I live about a hundred miles away from the nearest film hub, I paid to join Backstage casting, not only for myself but for both of my kids.
I have no idea how the logistics will work out if i actually get cast (my husband works evenings, so who's going to watch the kids is a real question) - but this morning i submitted my first self-tape audition.
My headshot's all wrong, I couldn't access my friend's self-tape studio so I did my monologue in my kitchen, with one light, in front of a wrinkled brown sheet I use as a zoom backdrop, filmed on my laptop which was piled on top of boxes on the stove.
But i did it. And I may well have a real chance. We'll see what happens...
AMAZING Tabitha!! Glad you're taking real steps now, that's awesome.
As the quote goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."