Note: Erica is a fictional character. Clients’ personal stories are always kept strictly confidential.
When Erica reached out to me, she was beating herself up for her lack of self-discipline. She said she really enjoyed my articles on time management and improving productivity but when it was time to implement the strategies, she would let herself down. She continued to procrastinate on boring reports, spent too much time talking with coworkers, and answered emails or read social media posts when she had more pressing things to do. Months had passed, and instead of making improvements, she hadn’t changed her behavior and felt like a failure.
While many people tend to choose instant gratification over effort, I had a feeling it wasn’t true for Erica. Her role as leader in higher education required her to work hard and face uncomfortable situations. As I dug deeper, it became very clear that when Erica had responsibilities that impacted others, she was highly reliable. Her work was excellent and done in a timely manner. The only person she neglected was herself.
How could someone with such a strong sense of responsibility let herself down? Erica was raised by wonderful parents who strongly valued humility and service to others. They made sure to discourage (and sometimes punish) any behavior that seemed selfish. Erica’s mother rarely took any time for herself because she was busy working full time, raising children, taking care of the house, cooking, and doing everything that can be expected of a wife and mother.
Erica loved her mother very much and wanted to grow up to be like her. The type of self-sacrifice she learned from her mom was considered honorable. Dedication and selflessness were strong values in this household. Unfortunately, no attention was given to the negative side effects.
Personally, I believe that excessive self-sacrifice is unnecessary and unfair. In my value system, nobody should have to silence their needs and dismiss parts of who they are. A happy medium can be found between selfishness and selflessness. But I knew that Erica was not open to talking about self-expression, self-care, and self-compassion. She wanted to be like her mom. Changing her beliefs would imply invalidating her mother and making her sacrifices misguided. I knew I had to find another angle.
I asked Erica to tell me about some of her strongest values and what kind of leader she wanted to be. Not surprisingly, she brought up integrity. She had a very strong sense of right and wrong. I had a better chance of motivating her to take better care of herself if I framed it as “keeping her word”. Erica took pride in always keeping her word with other people because she couldn’t bare the idea of letting people down, but she was very comfortable letting herself down.
Erica used to decide what she was going to do (e.g. work on a report from 1 pm to 3 pm) and then, not do it. She would find excuses why she could procrastinate and since she was the only one suffering the consequences, she would not keep her word. She didn’t realize that lack of follow-through also meant lack of integrity.
I asked her “When someone says they are going to do something but they don’t follow-through, what do you think?” She replied “I think their word means nothing. It’s hard to trust them because they make excuses.” I asked “And now, what do you think when you observe yourself not doing what you promised yourself?” She said “I used to think it was ok because I “renegotiated” with myself and had a new agreement but now I see that it goes against my values and I am not going to do that anymore. I am going to raise the bar.”
Self-reliance and self-confidence
Erica also told me that she lacked self-confidence and didn’t see how it was related to her self-sacrificing habits. In her old belief system, letting herself down and being willing to face consequences was honorable. From her new perspective, keeping the promises she had made to herself was the honorable thing to do.
Looking at self-confidence, it makes sense that she would doubt her ability to succeed when she couldn’t trust herself to keep her own promises. How could she have confidence in herself when she couldn’t predict her own behavior, or worse, expect she would let herself down?
Once she stopped seeing honor in acting like a martyr, and found honor in being courageous and reliable, she finally made herself a priority. Most of the time, she followed through on her plans and intentions. Note that the goal was improvement, not perfection. I didn’t want her to become rigid and self-critical but to be more aware of her choices and behaviors so that she could be more intentional.
Reports got done early. Erica no longer had to bring work home every weekend. Her life changed. She made better use of her time at the office and was able to leave early enough to make time for the things that make her happy. As she learned to create healthy boundaries and protect her time, she became more productive, more effective, and a better role model.
What’s stopping you?
Erica was able to have a profound shift in perspective because the concept of integrity fit well with her values and did not require her to invalidate what her parents taught her. Since she didn’t really see how her mother was letting herself down, her new approach was not threatening. From her perspective, she chose to raise the bar, become more accountable, and more honorable. She had read many of my articles on self-compassion and understood the value of it, but only for other people. She wanted her staff to have self-compassion, but not herself. She didn’t want to stray from the family’s belief system.
What about you? Have you read some of my articles and agreed with certain concepts but you didn’t allow yourself to change? What stopped you? You may not know consciously what is holding you back. Let me help you uncover and remove obstacles to follow-through on the promises you made to yourself.
Letting yourself down leads to self-criticism, regret, guilt, and even shame. Please don’t let time pass and aggravate the hurt. Let’s work together to empower you to stop letting yourself down. Click here to schedule a time to speak with me. Talk to you soon.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.