How Not To Sabotage Yourself

do not sabotage yourself

A few weekends ago my daughter had an “atypical migraine episode” and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. The following weekend my computer was stolen and we had the police round to view the scene of crime and take statements.

“Do you realise we’ve had a different emergency service out two Saturdays running,” said my daughter after the CSI team had left. “That must mean we’re going to have a fire next Saturday, as it’s the only one left.”

Even writing this makes me feel I might be tempting fate, although I know rationally that the two events were entirely unconnected and that “bad luck” doesn’t come in threes, as the old saying claims – it’s simply that the human brain has developed an amazing ability to find patterns in not only landscapes and images, mathematics and geological events, but also in our own experiences and expectations.

Some of us are better at finding patterns in different things than others, and the different patterns we each see are indicative of our ways of perceiving and thinking about our experience.

The Rorschach inkblot test (also called the “Rorschach” test), in which participants are asked to describe pictures or patterns they see in random inkblots, is a method of psychological evaluation. Psychologists use this test in an attempt to examine the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of their patients. This test is often employed in diagnosing underlying thought disorders and differentiating psychotic from non-psychotic thinking in cases where the patient is reluctant to openly admit to psychotic thinking.

You can take the Inkblot Test online here.


What do you see in the image above? The first thing I see is a woman wearing earrings and a full skirt carrying a basket on her head. The blot at the top to the right reminds me of a clipped poodle. The one to the left could be a dog’s head in profile looking at the “woman”. If I try hard enough I see two empty nightshirts (like cartoon headless ghosts) on either side of her waist with their arms out. The bottom blobs say nothing to me, even though I’ve tried hard to make them into meaningful shapes. The fact is, none of the meaning is there. We have a strong ability – and an innate desire – to find meaning by seeing patterns in every element of our lives.

The ability to find patterns in landscapes and weather, for instance, was vital to our ancestors’ survival and still plays a crucial role in our lives now. We need to be able to work out genuine cause and effect: what makes us ill or unhappy on a regular basis; what has positive effects and brings us pleasure.

But sometimes our pattern-finding abilities go into overdrive and tell us that patterns exist where none do. This is the cause of much superstition of the “I wore my stripy shirt to both the interviews I did well in, so it’s a lucky shirt and I’ll always wear it so I’ll do well” type. People who score highly on pattern-finding tests also tend to have more “paranormal” or weird experiences than average – such as seeing mysterious faces in a pool of water, or religious symbols in a vegetable. It has also been shown from research by Adam Galinsky and Jennifer Whitson of the University of Austin, Texas, that the more insecure or out of control we feel, the more likely we are to see patterns or make connections that don’t exist. In times of economic hardship, for example, far more people read their horoscopes.

Sometimes the false patterns that we read into our experiences work for our benefit – for instance, wearing the stripy shirt that I believe to be lucky could give me confidence, stop me panicking and therefore I will do better in the interview because I’m wearing it. This, of course, will verify my false pattern-finding and give me even more belief in my lucky shirt – until I fail an interview while wearing it, perhaps more than once, and I have to re-evaluate the pattern I’ve perceived. Perhaps it will then become my unlucky shirt.

On the other hand, perceiving false patterns in our experience can work against our best interests and well-being. “Self-defeating assumptions”, as psychologists call them, build in our minds when we make an association between negative incidents and create a false pattern from them. For ancient survival reasons, our brain has a bias towards the negative and often pays more attention and gives more weight to negative than positive. So if in the past we have been made redundant, and this happens to us again – despite the fact that we may have had a number of successful jobs we have chosen to move on from, or that this current unemployment is more to do with the economic situation than our performance – we may be more ready to find a pattern of employment failure in our life – which will affect how we view our past and approach new work.

So, it’s important to recognise whether we might be creating or have created false negative patterns – and avoid self-defeating assumptions. If you lose a job or a partner leaves you, it is important not to internalise the rejection and assume you’ll never be employed or loved again. Don’t allow one rejection to derail your dreams, make you fearful of the future or lower your self esteem. The more in control and secure you feel, the less likely you are to find negative false patterns in the events of your life.

“Give a person a sense of security and control, and defensiveness and obsessiveness melt away.”  Jennifer Whitson.

Luckily my daughter’s pattern-finding in emergency service visits was false – we haven’t had to call the fire service, so far!

4 responses to “How Not To Sabotage Yourself”

  1. Joe Gregory says:

    Wow Lucy – this has brought a couple of serious truths home for me about how my thinking was creating artifical barriers to my ability to serve clients and make money. After starting my first business at 19 and then losing my way in the desert at 23 (with 10 employees now depending on me), I made two (in hindsight, self defeating) decisions about how the world worked for me.

    First, I decided never to “sell time” ever again; second (and slightly later on) I compounded mistake one by strongly believing and advocating that paying to get published was a stupid idea.

    Turns out reality has proven me wrong on both counts.

    “Selling Time” – I shifted from a well paid 20-something with no more than a (UK) college education, charging £90/hour to deliver Lean Marketing advice and implementation, to a much less well paid publisher making £2-3 per book I sold. With these numbers you have to sell tons of books to make the same money from one short term client project. The logic was I’d have lots more free time. The reality was I had to hustle much harder to make the same income AND I gave away my best advice (the real value) for free when I could have charged for it because I absolutely would not “sell time”.

    “Paying to Publish” – because I’d fully bought into my new reality that “passive income only” was all I’d do, I became dependent on selling books to make a living. And, the fact *I* needed sales volume to pay the bills meant I cajoled my many entrepreneurial authors into selling lots of books too.

    If you ever wondered why all those “Amazon Launches” were happening in the early noughties you can blame me. After selling over £30,000 of one of my author’s books on the day of launch, I wrote a book called The Amazon Bestseller Plan and shared it with my peers (people you will have heard of, know and maybe have been published by). I never thought they’d actually do it for *every* book they published (it’s a very hard slog for a realitvely short-term gain) but turns out I was wrong.

    I then wrote a book in 2008, The Wealthy Author, which was 99% right, but wrong on one key point. In that book, I made the case that Wealthy Authors don’t get wealthy by selling books (front end). They get wealthy by having a high value business and products behind the book (back end). All good so far. Except because I was blinkered by what *publishers* needed (authors selling more books) I completely missed the point that selling lots of books is rarely the lever for business owners to make serious money from their authority and their book.

    In fact, if they diverted their promotional activity away from what they should be doing (following the KPI model is a good clue) in order to chase book sales they’d actually be working harder for smaller gains. In contrast, authors who had been giving their book away, using it strategically to attract leads (Product for Prospects), raise credibility (Product for Profile) and convert high value sales (Product for Profit) were buying a few hundred copies here and there. From a publisher’s perspective many of these books actually made me a loss, but my authors were delighted with the results they were getting.

    So what was my error? Well the one thing the Wealthy Author also made a strong case for was either DIY publishing or finding a traditional publishing contract (no middle ground).

    This missed two important points. First, most entrepreneurs (especially KPIs) are too busy serving clients and making money to do all the stuff involved in genuinely self-publishing a book. Second, entrepreneurs who know how to use their book strategically will want to minimise the cost of author copies (big publishers hit authors hard here), maximise control over the final product and not find themselves with a new full time job of “Book Sales Rep” for a tiny return on a considerable investment.

    When I began working with you, Lucy, it took you a while of gentle nudging to get me to see this error (it had become such a firm belief) but through the formation of Rethink Press (something I admit to resisting) it became crystal clear that an ethical, professional and supportive hybrid publisher is exactly what many entrepreneurs have been waiting for. In fact, I’ve seen the impact first hand with so many KPIs we’ve since published having a book published in this way can have. The publisher’s risk is mitigated, so they can fully support and endorse what authors really need to do with their book, which frees the author up to make their book work for their business rather than have their business work for their book.

    Thanks Lucy – I’m proud to be working with you and so many KPIs to get their message out. X

    • Joe, I never thought this blog post would cause such revelations! You under-sell your achievements in publishing: Bookshaker created a great business model for the start of print-on-demand publishing; and your books The Wealthy Author and Amazon Bestseller Plan were ground-breaking – as evidenced by the fact that so many other people now sell their message and process as their own. Your reasons for resisting the hybrid publishing model were nothing but ethical, and I’m very happy that we’ve kept your values of service and transparency in Rethink Press. We all create mental patterns that can sabotage our development, and we have a great working partnership that usually enables us to prod each other out of any self-limiting beliefs! One of the benefits of KPI is that the community supports each other in the same way, providing examples of out of the box thinking for everyone – including the mentors.

  2. Debbie Young says:

    Excellent article, Lucy, and I love your 999 example! Off to do the inkblot test online now!

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