Oh no! Is it me? Am I the problem? (Recognizing Self-Sabotage)

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hello again, my friend. Welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re talking about self-sabotage.

Being creative is such a deeply personal experience – so much of who we are and what we care about finds its way into our art. But lending ourselves to the creative work we love can sometimes come with a little baggage – sometimes the thing standing between us and living our best creative life is… us. Was this episode partially inspired by Taylor Swift’s song, Anti-Hero? A little bit less. In the song she says, Hey, it’s me – I’m the problem, it’s me. And when it comes to creativity and self-sabotage, our biggest obstacle really might be – us.

Today I want to talk about 10 ways we get in our own way as creatives – and how we can stop sabotaging ourselves.

  1. Self-talk
  2. Expecting perfection or being unrealistic in your expectations
  3. Not listening to your own voice (paying more attention to what others say or think)
  4. Being closed-off to learning more or expanding
  5. Being unwilling to get out of your comfort zone
  6. Not setting healthy boundaries
  7. Comparing yourself to others
  8. Being too rigid about the rules (Remember: rules vs. traditions)
  9. Taking your art too seriously – or not seriously enough
  10. Not keeping your commitments to yourself
  1. Self-talk – how we talk about ourselves and the things we create matters. It influences how we feel about what we do, and about ourselves, and can influence our mood throughout the day. What we say when we speak can help manage how we feel, so if you’re criticizing yourself or your work, you’re not going to feel great about making time to do it. Self-talk is a great way to manage what you’re feeling, but it’s important to make sure that you’re talking to yourself the way you’d talk to someone you care about. (Often we’re our own worst critics.)
  2. Having unrealistic expectations. Expectations are tricky. As an optimist, I try to always expect the best, but sometimes what I think will happen and what actually happens are not one and the same. Managing your expectations requires flexibility – we have to accept that our best effort is good enough, even if the outcome isn’t what we’d hoped. Having unrealistic expectations is one of the surest ways to sabotage ourselves. But we can escape disappointment by learning to be more flexible in our thinking, and by recognizing the lessons rather than focusing on what we wished would have happened. Any time we believe that we need a situation to turn out a certain a way in order for us to be happy, we’re setting ourselves up to be disappointed. It doesn’t mean we can’t go into our next project with optimism, but if something goes sideways, we can lean into our own resilience and recognize the opportunity for learning. Sometimes I see knitters who jump into a project, expecting it to be easy, and then feel frustrated when they hit a few speed bumps, or when something doesn’t turn out the way they expect. What if instead of expecting it to be easy, we expected it to be fun? Even hurdles can be fun when it comes to creativity, because it means we get the opportunity to problem-solve. You get to be your own hero as you find your way through the unexpected. We won’t always get what we expect, but we can turn any experience into a positive if we try.
  3. The third way we sabotage ourselves creatively is that we listen to someone else’s voice (specifically a negative voice) instead our own. Maybe someone in your life said that what you’re making isn’t good enough, or that giving yourself time to pursue art is frivolous, or if someone said you’re wasting your time – there are countless ways that other people, without even meaning to, can become the negative voice in our heads. But so much of what other people say to us is their own projection. When someone feels inadequate, they’ll project that onto those around them. Inadequate people want other people to feel inadequate, too. Misery loves company, remember? When it comes to creativity, the loudest voice you hear should be your own. Do you believe that your art matters? Do you believe that it’s important to make time for art in every day? Do you see the value in the time you’ve spent creatively? Strengthen your own voice and practice positive self-talk so you can drown out the negative voices that might otherwise discourage you.
  4. Being closed-off to learning. We will never arrive at the finish line of learning. We’ll be learning until the day we die. Every single day something new will cross your radar and it’ll be brand new information. But what happens to us sometimes is that – especially as we get older – we can start to feel pretty set in our own knowledge, and be a little bit resistant to finding out that there might be new ways of doing things. Believing that we already know everything we need to know crowds out any opportunity for new information and learning to expand our experience. Being creative and living a whole creative life requires us to be open to growing. We have to believe that there’s more to learn, because THERE IS, and also, because that’s how we continue to evolve as makers. It’s how we become better, more interesting and more inspired versions of ourselves. As soon as we believe there’s nothing left to learn, we will stand squarely in our own way and keep ourselves from moving forward.
  5. Being unwilling to get out of your comfort zone. Oof, comfort zones are tricky, right? We love them, because we’re comfortable, but they can be a sort of cozy little prison. Being comfortable feels good because it’s a space where we don’t have much (if any) resistance. It’s easy. It’s familiar. But one of the quickest ways to sabotage ourselves as artist, makers and creatives is to stay too comfortable for too long. If it’s been a while since you stretched, since you did something new and unfamiliar, then ask yourself if it’s time? I love to do the things I’m good at, but I don’t know that I grow very much when I just keep doing what I already know how to do. It’s when I expect myself to stretch, and when I try something I’ve never tried before, when I decide I’m going to learn how to do this challenging new thing, I have to confront new and uncomfortable feelings. But getting out of your comfort zone will boost your confidence. It will light your fire of inspiration. And if you’ve been feeling stuck or uninspired, getting out of your comfort zone is the quickest way to get yourself back in the flow.
  6. Not setting healthy boundaries. I’m currently re-reading a book called The Book of Boundaries by Melissa Urban. I’ve read this book once before and it was full of powerful AHA moments, but it’s also one of the most challenging books I’ve ever come across. Because if there’s one thing I struggle with the most, it’s boundaries. Setting a boundary feels like I’m being mean or selfish. I will always come through for someone else, but coming through for myself, and for the boundaries I set around my own time and energy – that’s where I falter. I included this one on the list because this is how I personally sabotage myself, and I’m hopeful that someone else listening is going to recognize this struggle in themselves, too. I really admire other people who set clear boundaries and feel comfortable enforcing them. I was raised to be a people pleaser and to always make sure everyone else is happy, even if it means putting my own goals, my own energy and my own sanity at risk. This might look like working from home, but other people think just because you’re home, you’re available. So you might be spreading your time thin or having to work a longer day because it was hard to say no to those who wanted your time while you were trying to work.  

I hear this same kind of thing from friends who have retired – that other people assume that just because you’re retired means you’re available. If we fill every ounce of our time with the demands and expectations of others, there will never be anything left.

This might look like carving out a day off to work on your writing deadline, but then feeling pressure to say yes to a friend or someone in your family, which will eat up all of the time you set aside.

Setting boundaries around our time and our goals is important, and not doing so will lead to resentment. Author and social scientist Brene Brown says we should choose discomfort over resentment. It’s uncomfortable to say no, it’s uncomfortable to carve out time for yourself to be creative or meet your own goals – but if we don’t, the alternative is to feel frustrated, exhausted, and resentful.

I’m working on honoring the boundaries I set around my own time. I know what I need better than anyone else, and I know what it takes to bring my best self to the people I love and care about. Sometimes that means that I have to say no to things that might disappoint other people. But the people who will be most upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefit most by you not having any. Whether it’s a boundary around your time for art, around your time for journaling, around your time for a nature walk or practice or reading, or whatever it is that will fill you up and help you show up in your life in a bigger way, that time matters. And no one else will carve out that time for you.

  • Comparing yourself to others. When I was a younger maker – in the pre-internet days – it really never occurred to me to compare anything I made to anyone else. I never really thought about it. I thought I was making things for the joy of it and because I liked to keep my hands busy. It helped that I didn’t know anyone else who did those things, so … there was no one to compare myself to. Ha! If only that still worked. But then… Instagram and Pinterest and all the things. Do you ever look at all the amazing things that other people are making and doing and posting, and feel like yours doesn’t measure up? Here’s the truth about comparison culture: When we compare ourselves to other people, we’re comparing our backstage, messy, blooper reels with the front stage highlight reels of everyone else. Most people aren’t posting their failures or the ones that didn’t work; they’re posting the best angle from the best result. When I’m on camera, I’m set up to show the best part of my office and not the messy pile on the floor next to my desk. Comparing our behind the scenes to someone else’s best day is just not a fair fight. There’s no way to compare apples to apples – and so our best bet is not to do it. Someone else and their journey – is their business. There’s this darling influencer named Tabitha Brown and she has this saying that something IS her business or ISN’T her business, and I love to think of it like. When I see someone else winning at life, I’m thrilled for them and I am so glad that they’re in their moment. But their results have nothing to do with me, it’s not my business. My business is to keep growing and learning and being flexible so that I can live my own best creative life. Comparison really is the thief of joy.
  • Being rigid. Expecting the best is great, but not everything will turn out the way we hope. If creativity is anything, it’s unpredictable. Sometimes that means it’s messy, sometimes it involves surprises, and more often than not it means getting a different result than we expect. Being inflexible is a great way to sabotage yourself. It will set you up for disappointment and frustration and make it a lot less fun to experiment. It’s hard to let yourself be new at something if you expect perfection; we have to imagine ourselves in the kind of creative playground where it’s okay if we fall off the swing sometimes (just don’t break a hip). The more flexible you can be with yourself, the more flexible you’ll be with others, too.
  • Taking things too seriously or not seriously enough. These are two sides of the same coin, and both lead to self-sabotage. Taking things too seriously might look like expecting perfection and feeling like a failure when something doesn’t work out. Not taking things seriously enough might look like deciding to knit a sweater without knitting a gauge swatch (you might have heard me talk about this in a recent episode – if you’re not a knitter, a gauge swatch is the little test piece you knit first to make sure that your sweater will fit). I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’re just going to throw caution to the wind and start right into the sweater, but then they’re frustrated and disappointed when they get to the end and it actually doesn’t fit. The quickest way to sabotage yourself is to skip important steps that you know – even if they’re tedious and maybe you don’t want to do them – you know they’re a way to help yourself succeed. Skipping those is a surefire way to fail. Another great example is the woman who participated in my annual 4 Day Knitalong (it’s a whole thing – this coming year will be the 8th annual) and the pattern I designed had an unusual little stitch detail. So I created a tutorial video to show everyone how to do it. I also had written instructions, but the video walked you through the process step by step and made it pretty much foolproof. There was a woman who posted in the group that she had tried the technique 7 times, never had any success with it and was giving up. She flounced away in a huff. I was bewildered at how challenging she seemed to think it was, and I was honestly surprised. I asked her if the video hadn’t been helpful in understand the way the stitch is constructed and she replied that she never watched it. You guys, it’s linked in the pattern in multiple places and it’s there to help knitters succeed – to make it easy so you don’t have to struggle. I’ve never seen a more obvious form of self-sabotage in my life. Use the resources that are available to you to help you succeed, and find that healthy middle ground where you’re giving yourself the support to succeed, but also allowing for the unexpected and not requiring perfection.
  • Last but not least, not making your art a priority. This is also tied with boundaries, but I think it deserves its own spot. If you’re committed to living a more joyful creative life,  then you have to make time for it. How will you get better in your art if you don’t allow the time to practice? It’s no different than playing a sport and showing up to the big game without ever having practiced. But another way I see this show up for creatives is in putting off your own goals until the last minute and having to rush, or letting everyone else’s priorities consume your time. If something is important to you, carve out the time. Make it a priority.

We can be our own best cheerleader, or our own worst enemy. Self-sabotage really gets in the way of creativity. Do your best to recognize the areas where you’re getting in your own way and build some new pathways to support yourself, instead.

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Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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