February 21, 2012

Self-Sabotaging Behavior

Have you ever noticed that you repeatedly find a way to avoid doing the things you should be doing?  There are times when it’s intentional - like when you know that you should be studying, but you decide to watch a rerun of The Jersey Shore instead.  These tiny, day-to-day decisions (e.g. to procrastinate or to hit that snooze button) allow our wants to win over the shoulds.

And then there are also times when we unknowingly allow outside forces to take over so that we may still avoid the shoulds.  We “forget” where an instructor’s office hours are, we “accidentally” book an advising appointment on Busch during our PreCalc lecture on College Ave.  This is not a student problem – this is a human problem! Just this week, I completely forgot all about a lunch meeting that I didn’t really understand why I was attending in the first place. 

When I talk with students who just aren’t doing what they know they should be, I frequently ask them directly, “Why are you shooting yourself in the foot?”  In other words, why are you sabotaging your own life?  This colloquial expression usually grabs their attention and gets them to look at the situation from a new perspective.  I continue, “You and I know that you’re smart enough to make this happen. So, why aren’t you doing it?” This question can be difficult to answer but it forces us to look at ourselves and see what we are doing to avoid the things we should be doing.

When we know what we should do, why don’t we?  If we allow ourselves to reflect on this and to be honest with ourselves, there are usually reasons behind our self-sabotage.  For some students, missing class is the “easiest” way to avoid having a conversation about the paper that you forgot to write. For other students, failing a science courses may be the “easiest” way to convince their parents (and themselves) that they do not want to be a doctor. But “easy” by these definitions also include a lot of family drama and grades that could get the student dismissed from college or unable to pursue what they really want to do.  

So the first step to really succeeding in college and beyond is being able to ask ourselves the tough questions about why we’re creating impediments to our own success.  The first step is to identify our shoulds and our whys (e.g. “I should go to office hours because I need to succeed in Chemistry to build a solid candidacy for medical school”). Only then can we ask ourselves: what am I doing to sabotage myself and my ability to succeed?  Why?