Battling the Four Horsemen of Performance Sabotage

Battling the Four Horsemen of Performance Sabotage

There are so many things we sacrifice to train for triathlon; sleep, nights out with friends, beer, cookies. Those sacrifices are made willingly, offered up to the end goal. But how much fun, how many adventures, how many steps along the way are missed, avoided, or just plain wasted because of the roadblocks we put up ourselves? There are four roadblocks that stand out when I hear them, and, more importantly, that stand in the way towards your stated goals. I have started referring to them in my head as the Four Horsemen of Performance Sabotage: Should, Can’t, Until, and Never.


I “should” be doing intervals, instead of this long, slow run my coach scheduled. I “should” be eating a salad. I “should” do that race, because I’ve done it every year.

“Should” is powerful. “Should” takes focus away from what you are doing. Using the intervals vs. long run statement, why “should” you be doing intervals? The long endurance run is building your capacity to eventually do faster intervals, and was strategically included for just that purpose. By going with a “should”, you are not gaining the maximum benefit of “am”. Trust the plan. If you have a question as to why this, not that, ask it. Understand why you are training in the way you are, so that you can commit without reservation to that path. Commitment and trust are powerful, build consistency, and direct you towards your goal.

“Should” be eating a salad? You made a different choice, embrace it, enjoy it, and choose a different fuel next time, if more veggies will fuel more needs.

“Should” be doing a race? Why? Do you love it? Then maybe you should be, but “should” is not good enough. Guilt doesn’t drive performance, intentional focus does. “Should” subtracts, never adds.

Replace “should” with “am” and be present in your action and responsible for your choice, whatever it is, right now.


I “can’t” because I don’t have time. I “can’t” because I don’t know how. I “can’t” because I’m not able to do that.

Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. “Can’t” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is something called a process-oriented mindset, in which you approach a task with only an expectation of improvement- not perfection, not a specific time or place outcome, just improvement. Adopting a process-oriented mindset frees you from “can’t”, and puts you in a place of learning and improvement. When you are learning, you are moving from wherever you are now, towards unlimited potential gain.

Replace “can’t” with “learn”, and move forwards towards your target.


I’m not joining a master’s swim team “until” I can swim faster. I’m not going to the track “until” I lose a few more pounds. I’m not doing a half iron-distance race “until” I place in my age-group at a sprint.

Oh, good gravy, get out there! Each one of us judges ourselves much more harshly than anyone else could, and, by waiting “until”, we keep ourselves from engaging right now. Time will pass, no matter what. Make the most of every opportunity to become more competent, more in control, more engaged in the act. Every time we wait “until”, we miss out and hold ourselves back- which, in and of itself, limits our forward progress.

Replace “until” with “today”. Today I will step up and go do that thing that I have been waiting on and I will get better at it…today.


I will “never”, I could “never”, I “never” have. Like “can’t”, if you think “never”, you are probably right.

Let it go. Are there some “nevers” in your life? Yes, but you don’t need to add to them with things that are possible, just because something is not possible at this very second.

Replace “never” with “try”, for those potentially possible goals, and suddenly the door to possible opens a little wider, opening up the opportunity to step forward.

You may have only encountered one of the Four Horsemen of Performance Sabotage, or you may be plagued by all of them. Changing your language is one of the first steps to changing your behaviors. Get rid of the four harbingers of underperformance and choose your new champions: am, learn, today, and try.

I am fueling my body with my meal choice.

I am learning to swim faster.

I am going to bike class today.

I am trying new running drills to develop my speed.


What can you change today to make an impact on your goal performance?


Susan Sotir, Ph.D.

Breakthrough Performance Coaching



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