Over the past few years, I’ve been honing my skills in self-sabotage. Graduate school has helped me refine techniques that I’ve been gradually acquiring my entire life. Now, I feel like I’ve reached a point where I need to give back and share some of my insights on the art of self-sabotage — which many wrongly assume to be an easy and simple process. I’ve developed these techniques over the course of my time in graduate school, but I think the general ideas will be useful for those in other fields and situations.
- Refuse to accept compliments. Others will think you’re merely being modest, and maybe even you will, for a while. Luckily, modesty is indistinguishable from deep self-doubt. One of the benefits of this technique is that done often enough, you can come to simultaneously believe that your achievements are nothing special and that performing well is simply your baseline state, making it unworthy of celebration. I know that these notions seem logically incompatible, but with enough practice, this state of cognitive dissonance can indeed be achieved.
- Follow a large number of people online and compare your achievements to theirs constantly. This might seem obvious, but there’s a trick to it. The goal isn’t just to compare yourself to any one person online — anyone can do that. Instead, you want to compare yourself to the collective intellectual and creative output of your entire Twitter timeline, treating it as if it were the work of a single superhuman being. This is really the only way to guarantee that any kind of comparisons you make between yourself and your online acquaintances will disfavour you.
- Persistently devalue your work. Again, seems simple, but you haven’t really mastered this one until you’re able to devalue anything simply because you’re doing it. Once you get to the point where you could treat the same work done by someone else as unbelievably amazing, you know you’ve really got it down.
- Let success in your pursuits define you as a person. So much of our success in our careers, academia, the arts, and so on is determined by random chance — being in the right place at the right time, for instance. So, letting your self-image rest on your success in any one of these is pretty much a surefire way to disappoint yourself if you’re not doing as well as you’d like at your job, in your degree program, as a performer, etc.
- Define “success” ambiguously, and redefine it often. This is perhaps the most crucial of all. What happens if you get lucky and do end up “successful?” You got into a prestigious graduate program, were hired for a great position, or got your work showcased at an important festival. Remember that none of these things counts as “success.” Success must always be somewhere far off in the distant future, not within reach. If you start to feel successful, just remind yourself of all the other people who are more successful than you. Tip #2 can be helpful here.