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3 Ways Entrepreneurs Sabotage Their Own Success In Business

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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You’ve probably heard that about 45% of new businesses don’t make it past their first five years. Often, the blame is pinned on not researching the market or failing to draft a solid business plan. But those aren’t the only culprits.

Sometimes, the biggest obstacles you will face as a business owner come from within. It’s easy to unknowingly adopt habits that undermine your efforts and affect your business’s success. Whether it’s clinging to comfort zones, fearing the unknown, or failing to delegate, these self-sabotaging behaviors can stealthily derail your dreams.

Self-sabotage can be as damaging as any external hurdle, quietly undermining even the most promising ventures.

So, how do you know if you’re your own worst enemy in business?

1. Self-handicapping

Self-handicapping is a strategy where entrepreneurs intentionally create obstacles that make success harder to achieve. It’s a way to have an excuse ready if things don’t pan out.

If you fail, you can blame it on these self-imposed challenges rather than your own capabilities. “It’s not me; it’s these other things getting in the way,” which can lead to a negative outcome.

On the flip side, if you succeed despite the hurdles, you not only feel a surge of accomplishment but might also receive extra praise for overcoming adversity. Common examples of self-handicapping include procrastination, turning to substances that impede performance, or over-committing oneself to unmanageable extents.

Why do we do it?

Self-handicapping is all about protecting our ego. Because let's be honest, it’s much easier to blame failure on external factors than to admit our own shortcomings. The thought of falling short because we just weren’t good enough or prepared enough can be a tough pill to swallow.

What are the impacts?

This defense mechanism may keep our self-esteem intact, but at a cost to genuine progress and growth in the long run.

Research shows that self-handicapping often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. When you’re always on the lookout for potential excuses, you’re more likely to turn these imagined setbacks into your reality, wasting valuable time and energy and undermining your own success before you even start.

Over time, this strategy chips away at self-esteem. If you constantly create barriers to avoid the pain of 'real' failure, you’ll start to believe you can’t achieve great things. This loss of self-belief lowers your motivation and drive to overcome challenges, stifling both personal and business growth.

Not only that, but blame-shifting and responsibility-dodging can put serious strain on workplace relationships. If a leader constantly uses external factors as scapegoats or excuses to not put effort in, it damages their credibility, undermines trust, and fosters a toxic environment where no one takes accountability.

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How can we overcome it?

Here’s how you can start shifting away from self-imposed barriers and toward a more proactive, successful business approach:

Notice the warning signs

Keep an eye out for the telltale signs that you might be getting in your own way, or setting yourself up for failure. These may vary from person to person, but if you find yourself making excuses, dialing back your efforts, or knowingly piling your workload sky-high, these behaviors can be red flags that you’re not fully committing to your success.

Turn excuses into goals

Instead of dwelling on the "what-ifs" and "if-onlys" as excuses, transform them into actionable goals. When you catch yourself thinking about how things could have been better, use those thoughts as insights into what you can still improve. Focus on elements within your control and commit to actions that address these challenges.

Be kind to yourself

It’s normal to experience disappointment and even self-directed anger when things don’t go as planned. However, it’s important to channel these emotions constructively. Research suggests that using setbacks as motivation rather than reasons for self-reproach can lead to better outcomes.

If you find yourself bogged down by negative emotions, practice self-compassion. Address these feelings head-on and steer them towards actions that propel you forward rather than hold you back.

2. Not asking for help

Many business owners pride themselves on their ability to tackle challenges alone. However, this go-it-alone approach can sometimes backfire, turning otherwise manageable situations into overwhelming hurdles.

Why do we do it?

As entrepreneurs, there are a few reasons why we might hesitate to ask for help:

  • Fear of being vulnerable: Asking for help can make us feel weak or like we're not good enough. We might worry that others will see us as impostors and question our capabilities. This fear can make us want to keep others at arm's length to maintain an image of unwavering strength and competence.
  • Need for independence: Some of us really value being self-reliant. It might feel uncomfortable or unnatural to reach out to others if we're so used to handling things on our own.
  • Fear of losing control: Asking for help can sometimes feel like we’re handing over the reins of a task or project. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we're the only ones who have the knowledge and experience to meet our high standards or achieve the results we want, so inviting others into the mix can make us feel uneasy.
  • Overempathizing with others: We might be so tuned in to the needs and workload of others that we would rather suffer in silence than risk bothering or burdening them.

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What are the impacts?

Not asking for help when you need it can have a ripple effect on both your well-being and your business’s success.

Initially, it might seem like you’re holding all the cards, keeping every decision and action under your control. However, trying to handle every aspect of your business single-handedly can make you become more and more entrenched in day-to-day operations, leaving little time or energy for big-picture strategic thinking and long-term planning. This tunnel vision can stunt a company's development, preventing it from adapting to market changes, embracing new technologies, or exploring fresh opportunities.

Plus, as an article by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce points out, this approach is a slippery slope that often leads to increased stress and burnout since you’re shouldering more than you need to.

Burnout is not only a disaster for your productivity, but it can also have serious repercussions on your mental and physical health, leading to decreased motivation and creativity, and even long-term illness.

Let's face it, it can be tough enough to be able to explore new ideas and plan for the future on any given day when you're stretched thin, let alone when you're sick.

How can we overcome it?

Richard Branson said it best: "If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you've got to learn to delegate." Breaking the habit of not asking for help starts with changing your perspective. For example, instead of thinking of it as a sign of weakness, remind yourself that it's a smart move that allows you to achieve more than you ever could on your own.

If you see asking for help as a burden to others, view it as opening up opportunities for your team members to contribute to the success of your business. And when you entrust others to handle your tasks, they're more likely to feel valued. It's a win-win situation that can foster more positive and productive working relationships.

It's also important to think about what could happen if you keep going it alone without the support you need. Eventually, something’s got to give. And when it does, it's not just you who'll be affected by it.

3. Distractions

It's no secret that the number of distractions we face daily has reached unprecedented levels. From our phones buzzing non-stop, to the irresistible pull of social media, and the never-ending stream of emails flooding our inboxes, it can feel impossible to focus and get anything done.

Why do we do it?

Whether we like it or not, humans enjoy distractions. They offer a convenient escape from the more demanding tasks and complex problems that require our full mental effort.

For example, you might look at your to-do list and see pressing items like overhauling a company policy, preparing a presentation, or reviewing your monthly outgoings. Yet, despite the importance of these tasks, you pick something else on your list.

When faced with the pressure and fatigue that comes with intense focus, low-effort, low-impact activities become an incredibly tempting alternative.

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What are the impacts?

When you're running your own business, every minute counts. So it goes without saying that the more time you spend on low-level distractions, the less time you have in the day for what really matters.

In fact, workforce distraction has been estimated to cost organizations 14 to 15 times more than health-related absenteeism. For large companies, this can add up to over $1 million per year in lost productivity costs. For small businesses, the losses are still significant, often exceeding $100,000 each year.

And it's not just the quantity of work that can take a hit—quality can suffer, too. If our attention is constantly pulled away from the task at hand, our focus becomes fragmented. We're more likely to make mistakes or overlook errors, and it's harder to enter the "flow state" where creativity flourishes.

How can we overcome it?

Cutting down on distractions isn't just about saving time; it's about staying focused, making smart choices, and keeping those creative juices flowing—all crucial for long-term success in your business.

Block out time for ‘deep work’

Set specific blocks of time in your schedule dedicated to deep work, where you concentrate fully on your most important tasks without any interruptions.

During these sessions, turn off notifications, close unnecessary tabs, and let your team know you're in the zone and not to be disturbed. This focused approach helps you fully immerse yourself in your work and harness the full extent of your creativity and problem-solving skills.

Optimize your workspace

It's amazing how much of a difference having the right tools, workspace, and surroundings can make. If there's anything that's bugging you, your mind is likely to fixate on it! Little distractions can easily derail our concentration, like a messy workspace that begs to be cleaned, a noisy or eerily quiet space, and an uncomfortable chair or desk that you can't ignore. These things can quickly become the elephant in the room of your concentration.

“Dump” distracting thoughts

Our minds are always buzzing with thoughts and ideas, making it easy for business owners to get off track. Instead of trying to ignore these distractions, which is often easier said than done, designate a specific place to note them down and revisit them later.

Some find it helpful to do a "brain dump" in the morning to clear distracting thoughts before starting the day, while others prefer to jot them down as they arise. This way, you're less likely to be sidetracked or lose any sudden bursts of inspiration.

Delegate your distractions to a virtual assistant

One of the most effective ways to manage distractions is to outsource them to a virtual assistant. A virtual PA can handle distracting administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings, responding to emails, handling customer inquiries, and managing social media accounts.

Delegating these distractions helps make sure that your team members are busy working on their tasks, allowing you to focus on high-priority tasks that drive your business forward.

What’s the bottom line?

As busy entrepreneurs, it can be easy to fall into self-sabotaging habits that undermine our own success. From not seeking out support when you need it, to getting sidetracked by distractions, these behaviors can seriously hinder your progress.

The good news is that with a little self-awareness and a proactive approach, you can stop getting in your own way and start achieving the success your business deserves.

If you’re ready to cut out the distracting busy work that stops you from doing more, achieving more, and earning more each day, Time etc is here for you.

Since 2007, our mission has been to help business owners feel less stressed and more in control by matching them with the best virtual assistants to tackle their time-consuming admin tasks.

Each step of the way, we carefully assess your unique needs to make sure you get the right support you need to succeed.

Ready to give it a shot?

Speak to our expert team to get started, and we'll handle the rest! We’ll set you up with a professional assistant based on the skills and experience you need.

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About the author

Barnaby
Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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