Q40: Why Do I Keep Self-Sabotaging and Slowing Down My Own Progress?

“What do you do when you have a major #1 project which is very important to you, paramount even, but LIFE STUFF keeps on getting in the way?”

This is something I see my clients do. And, for sure, we all have varied and interesting and busy, even full, lives. And what I try to get them to do, not always successfully, is to see two things.

  1. How to prioritise and say no to stuff that gets in the way
  2. See that what they let in must be at least as important as their #1 project, if not more so, or they have self-sabotaged. They have given away time they can’t get back.

This can take quite a long time to retrain. If you’ve always been a Nice Girl or Guy and you have – let’s say – a significant other with a family, you have a family too, and/or you have a child or three between you, or maybe you have to do some paying work on the side while you are getting up and running so that you can pay your bills. Or maybe all of the above plus you are quite sociable and so you get out and about, occasionally coming home with a hangover which disables your precious working time tomorrow. Add into the mix that just like everyone else, you are sometimes poorly or burned out or both. You can’t say no to any invitation, be it for work or fun. We know that your getting out and about is good but you occasionally do too much of it and all of this busyness and confusion just eats into your project time. Phew! It’s all rather breathless, isn’t it?

Either you must say no to more, or you have to realise that the fruition of your dream scenario is going to be a long time coming. It will take as long to come as the number of other people’s priorities and even self-ish fun you allow to go to the front of your queue, and we all do that occasionally for the healthy work-life balance. God, I HATE that expression but you know what I mean. Having a life. Enjoying that life. Being a human being not just a human doing.

Ask yourself before saying yes to ANYTHING else – is this more important to me that my #1 project? If not, it HAS to be a no. For now, not forever.

My friend Daphne-Who-Writes-Books taught me almost everything I know about this. At certain stages of the book-writing process, she simply said no to all invitations to go out to lunch or for coffee or to the cinema. Her writing career was more important to her, and she took it seriously. She did (and still does) have a significant other and I imagine she did make time for that relationship because it was at least as important to her as her books and her writing. I was less important and, although that stung, she trained me to know that between books she would be available for all sorts of hijinks and happy to have the fun distractions in her downtime. But that they would have to wait. For now, not forever.

Only you can decide what’s more important than your lovely thing. But if you keep turning up in my diary and inbox, citing an endless list of distractions which you have allowed to get in the way of your project AGAIN, then it is clearly time to do some sorting, some prioritising, some saying no and explaining why, and some defining of boundaries.

Once you understand that this is you slowing yourself down and limiting your successful results from the very thing you told me that you live to do, then you’ll realise that the problem begins and ends with you. And yes, you will worry about how to get all the needs of the different parts of you met, and about upsetting other people. But it isn’t forever, it’s just for now. So you can move faster to launch and to results and achievement, to feel-good.

So here’s my tip. When people ask (or your alter ego wants) you to go and do stuff BEFORE your Top Priority, then buy yourself a little space first. You are changing your behaviour, perhaps the habits of a lifetime, so start by inserting an extra stage as Step One. Say to self and others “Let me get back to you on that once I’ve worked out how it fits in with my work schedule and my other diary commitments”. Buy yourself a couple of hours or a couple of days. Sit with the invitation for as long as it takes you to work out if it is really more important than your Top Thing, then say yes. If it is less important or of equal importance, say no to the former and yes to only a very few of the latter.

This goes beyond just this question by the way. If in doubt, buy time. Sit with it. Allow the answer to bubble up. Don’t rush to over-respond. Wait. Breathe.

I will keep pointing this out to you week after week and month after month, that your project will be forever in the making, and you will only be able to do fewer of your own beautiful personal projects in your lifetime and that may be just how you like it. But, if it isn’t, then only you can say no to the things that are slowing you down.

This probably isn’t a Stop It Immediately opportunity unless you want overnight change. It’s probably more of a suck-it-and-see thing, an experiment one-day-at-a-time thing until you are proficient at evaluating and prioritising and putting yourself and your projects first or first equal.

For some parents (or children of parents) there will be times in your life when you are unable to put yourself first or even first equal, and this is just as it should be because the health and well-being of others are at stake, sometimes even a matter of life and death. But once that stage of your life is over, and it will be all too soon, then you go back to putting yourself first. And attaining a balance in that too so you are not All Work and No Play. That just makes you dull, and that won’t benefit your creative project either.

As with everything, it’s finding the balance. The emotional squidginess here comes from either not knowing what’s important and how to carve out that time for it and not taking yourself seriously yet, or being more concerned about the feelings of others who make requests of your time than you are of your own project. Yep, it’s true. Your actions are speaking louder than your words. Only you can decide. I keep saying that because it really is the point of this one, but I’ll bet the contents of my piggy bank you know when you are doing it and that it’s getting rather painful too. So your opportunity is just to exercise more choice and willpower about all the temptations which come into your life. That power is yours, always was and always will be.


  • What’s really important to you, your #1 priority project?
  • How can you make time and space for it in your busy life?
  • What’s gotta give, for now?

Your Biz Your Way

If you have enjoyed reading my words here, you might also enjoy my book - Your Biz Your Way: Learning to Trust Yourself. Relax! You've Got This. Find out how to buy the book here Read My Book