Pet Biz Creatives

The 4 Methods to Overcome Self-Sabotage in Business

Erin Michie Creative Director at Creative Growth Agency


Creative Director

It came as a surprise, feeling this way.

Feeling this huge amount of guilt weighing heavy and solid in my stomach.

This chest-tightening worry which left me hunched and tense in my desk chair.

This skin-tingling anxiety as I logged onto my laptop.

Feeling all these feelings around something that… really… I’d never expected to feel this way about.

My own business.

But let me pause for a second.

Because, actually, it wasn’t my business per se which made me feel this way.

Rather, it was the dilemma I faced with either working ‘on’ The Growth Genies or working ‘in’ The Growth Genies.

… Of committing my focus and energy to developing myself and Tarryn’s own business… or of committing that time and effort to working on tasks or projects for our clients.

As soon as I took that mental step towards working ‘on’ The Growth Genies’ – for example, writing a blog like this, creating resources for brand storytelling strategies or developing our brand archetype brief – I noticed that my whole posture changed.

Cue hunched shoulders, a tense jaw and a tightening sensation coiling in my stomach.

And then I noticed a certain train of thoughts, circling around and around in my mind, kind of like that old game of Snake I used to play on my ancient Nokia phone.

You shouldn’t be working on this. You should be putting the clients first.

You’re being selfish. You’re wasting your time. You’re not being productive. You’re not benefitting the business with this.

But between these thoughts, a smaller voice argued back, pointing out that if I didn’t plug away at these projects for The Growth Genies, we wouldn’t have the resources to put in place to support existing or future clients.

We wouldn’t be able to grow as a business or offer any new value to our community.

I was left in an emotional and mental quagmire. A kind of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ paralysis, where it felt like I couldn’t win no matter what I did.

Eventually, I reached my breaking point.

Sick of being stuck struggling with this dilemma, I logged onto my weekly Skype call with Tarryn and before she could blink blurted it out…

Why am I feeling guilty about this? Why can’t I move past this?

And that’s when we began to unpack what ‘this’ was really all about.

Why did I feel shame about working ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ The Growth Genies?

Why did I feel more ‘worthy’ in myself when working on our client’s projects, whilst mentally self-flagellating whenever I so much as dipped into developing our internal systems or offerings?

You may have even felt something similar to this, personally. That guilt of prioritising anything other than work for your clients or jobs that will help you to fulfil more orders or services.

Talking to Tarryn about my own struggles, and wondering what could possibly cause these same feelings for other entrepreneurs, we realised that a combination of factors could be in play here:

The impulse to put others before yourself

Many of us are conditioned to prioritise other people, to be ‘unselfish’ and sacrifice our own wants and desires at the expense of pleasing others. Research even indicates that unfortunately women, in particular, are conditioned in this way.

And when it comes to our business, our mentality is often no different. It’s easy to feel like working ‘on’ your business equates to being selfish, because in this instance you are indeed putting yourself – your business, which is an extension or representation of yourself – before other people.

So it’s no surprise then that we may shy away from that prospect. It can feel daunting to rock the boat, to flout the status quo and be perceived negatively in this way. We want people to like us. We want people to like our businesses. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

But how can they dislike either us or our business if we put them above everything else?

Not only is this potentially the more comfortable or ‘safe’ of the two options – the two options being to work ‘on’ or ‘in your business – but it can also be a protective measure, ensuring we don’t open ourselves up to criticism or condemnation for others, or invite opportunities to feel guilty or anxious for doing something we consider ‘selfish’.

Being perceived as ‘productive’

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love to-do lists. In fact, what I love even more than to-do lists is ticking tasks off my to-do lists. And the more tasks I tick off my to-do list, the better I feel about my working day.

So when my to-do list is full of ticks, and I scan the page to identify exactly how many of those tasks were for clients, I feel a little burst of happiness when I recognise how productive I’ve been that day.

And I’m sure as a business owner, you’ve felt something similar. Especially after smashing through a number of responsibilities which will mean you can either fulfil more orders or increase the efficiency of your services.

Yet working ‘on’ The Growth Genies, these larger and more overarching projects aren’t something I can necessarily tackle in a single day. They are long-term, involved processes that may take days, weeks, months and may not produce immediately tangible results.

So where’s the proof I’ve been productive that day? Where’s the evidence that my effort and energy have produced something worthwhile? Suddenly, my ‘productivity’ is a lot harder to pin down.

It seems obvious, then, that I would want to tackle the client tasks first right? Because then I will be able to feel that little endorphin kick when I scratch another responsibility off my to-do list. It’s a sure win.

Believing that it’s only worthwhile if it’s producing $$$

Similar to the point above, there’s likewise the implicit belief in business that something is really only worthwhile doing if it’s going to produce revenue.

In our minds, the equation goes something like…

Completing tasks or jobs = more products sold or services fulfilled = we’re making more money.

It’s logical right? You can’t generate revenue from thin air, after all.

At least by completing tasks which mean more products sold or services rendered, we are then able to discern concrete results – if not instantly, then soon after.

Yet working ‘on’ a business? That’s a whole other story. Because more often than not, the revenue these efforts generate is not instantly perceivable. It’s not 100% clear or measurable what we’re actually going to gain from these more elaborate or overarching projects.

So, naturally, why would our first impulse – as business owners and entrepreneurs – be to prioritise tasks that don’t immediately make us money? It goes against what we’ve been shaped to believe about running successful businesses.

These are just a few factors which fed into my own feelings of guilt and shame about working ‘on’ The Growth Genies, at least. They’re also potentially beliefs you too may have struggled or are currently struggling with.

But here’s the thing…

Those beliefs and preconceptions are actually A) incredibly detrimental and B) seriously misleading.

Because working ‘on’ a business can be just as worthwhile, just as productive and just as lucrative as working on tasks that will benefit your clients. Just not in the way we’ve been conditioned to expect.

And here’s why.

As we touched upon before, your business is very much an extension of yourself. So it makes sense then that just like you, your business is a constant work in progress rather than a static or fixed thing. It’s not something that you can build and never expect to work on, ever again.

Working ‘on’ your business is what will help it continue to grow, evolve and improve; it’s going to be what ensures your ongoing success and ever-improving performance.

It is through taking the time to step out of your business that you are going to be better able to put the systems or structures in place to help it become more efficient or effective.

It is through working on things such as your brand archetype, your ideal customer avatar, implementing more robust and streamlined CRM systems and refining your brand storytelling strategy which will help you to carve out a stronger footing in your niche and attract a more extensive following.

In other words, just because working ‘on’ your business may not produce the same instant or palpable results that working ‘in’ your business might, it’s just as important in the long-run. In actual fact, you could say in some respects it’s more important, if you want your business to remain relevant and strengthened to flourish for years to come.

Which is why it should never be considered something ‘secondary’ or less important than working ‘in’ your business.

But, equally, I understand that flipping your perspective in this regard may be something easier said than done.

So here are some suggestions of what I’m doing to shift my mindset and what you could also try, whenever any feelings of guilt or shame or frustration come up when working ‘on’ your business:

1. Acknowledge What You’re Feeling

Don’t try and ignore those thoughts or feelings, as bottling it up will just mean it either bubbles to the surface at another point in time or it will begin to negatively impact some area of your life – whether professional or personal.

Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. If it’s not to do with any of the factors we’ve discussed above, is it perhaps a way of drawing attention to an overloaded work schedule? Do you need to check in with a colleague and potentially even delegate some tasks to a team member (if you can), in order to give you the mental headspace to work ‘on’ the business?

Interrogate where you believe these feelings may be stemming from, as it’s only by acknowledging your feelings and the possible causes that you can work towards managing or resolving your challenges.

2. Recognise that the perfect balance of working ‘on’ and ‘in’ your business doesn’t exist

Because it simply doesn’t. We’re always going to have competing demands in life and what we prioritise will change on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

During some periods, you may be spending more time working ‘on’ your business. Other times you may be completely focused on working ‘in’ your business. Sometimes you won’t be working either ‘on’ or ‘in’ your business, as you’ll be off enjoying personal time instead.

What matters is managing your expectations and not swinging to either extreme. Aim for a balance of both if you can, but don’t beat yourself up when you lean either way for a little while.

3. Block out your calendar

If you find it difficult to know what to prioritise (working on your own stuff, or working on clients’ stuff), you can try blocking out hours in your calendar and dedicating them to specific tasks or projects.

This may help you to feel less like you’re neglecting either working ‘on’ or ‘in’ your business, reassured by the knowledge that you’ve put aside some of your time, effort and energy to dedicate to both.

By blocking out your diary, this may also help you to prevent procrastination and progress any outstanding or large-scale projects. Even if you have to press pause part-way through a task, you can feel confident that you’ve at least kickstarted this assignment and that you can easily return to it at a future point.

4. Switch up your environment

Sometimes working in the same space – whether that’s in an office or at home – can contribute to a feeling of being ‘stuck’ or ‘confined’ to a certain thought or behaviour pattern, i.e. must work on client tasks, can’t deviate from these responsibilities.

Consider switching up your environment for a day, a weekend, or an entire week if you’re able. Whether that’s working at a cafe or a library or potentially even hiring out an Airbnb. Most importantly, make sure that whatever time you do spend in this new environment is solely focused on working ‘on’ your business and free of client-associated distractions.

By committing this time to concentrate on those high-level business brand development projects, in a space which is unfamiliar, you will essentially be able to push out of your comfort zone and activate parts of the brain which stimulate creativity.

We won’t go too deep into the science here, but studies do show that changing your environment has a proven impact on your cognition and behaviours.

I feel able to speak for both myself and Tarryn when I say that discussing our personal struggles and challenges is always an invaluable experience. It helps us to acknowledge what’s keeping us stuck and find ways to overcome these challenges to move forward and grow – both in ourselves, independently, and as a team.

We hope this blog has helped you in some form, or sparked some reflection on your own thought-processes or feelings about your business.

If you’d like to discuss the possibility of working ‘on’ your business with support from Pet Biz Creatives team, please feel free to reach out to us here.