How to Stop Self-Sabotaging

“Why do I do this to myself?” If this self-talk is familiar, you’re likely a victim of your own self-defeating behaviours, better known as self-sabotage.

We all get in our own way occasionally and many people do it over and over again. Self-sabotage can be described as a combination of negative thoughts, feelings and self-defeating behaviours, caused by low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence that create barriers to achieving our goals. We are sabotaging ourselves when we consciously want something but subconsciously make sure we don’t get it. The behaviours are so subtle that sometimes we don’t even realise we are doing it.

Self-sabotage is also used as a way of coping with difficult situations or high expectations of ourselves that we unconsciously feel we are not capable of reaching. We tend to react to events, circumstances and people in ways that inhibit our progress and prevent us from reaching our goals and objectives.

Why do we self-sabotage?

There are a million ways we self-sabotage, but some of the most common are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, stress or comfort eating, and conflict with others. No matter what our reasons for self-sabotage are, if we don’t learn to recognise and eliminate these negative behaviours, we are destined to live a life of regret. These are some of the most common causes behind why we self-sabotage:

  • Fear of failure: The easiest way to avoid failure is to not try, right? Fear of possible failure can stand in the way of even trying to take positive steps to change your life, hindering your ability to progress and fulfill your full potential.
  • Fear of change: Why is change so scary? It’s the unknown factor that leads you to worry about all the potential worst-case scenarios that might happen. The fear of unfamiliarity can sometimes be too overwhelming to our subconscious mind. As a result, the fear makes you work against your goals so that you do not change anything.
  • Feeling unworthy: Whether it is getting that promotion, taking the next step in a relationship or achieving a goal, – the reason you feel unworthy may be because of how you see yourself. If you’re telling yourself a narrative that you’ll never be good enough, or smart enough, or capable enough, eventually, you’ll start to believe it, regardless of the fact that it’s far from the truth. You essentially become what you believe you are. If you tell yourself that you don’t deserve something then you will act in a way that stops you from getting it.
  • Lack of self-esteem and confidence: This makes you likely to be very negative about yourself and easily defeated. Low self-esteem brings with it very negative self-talk.
  • Control: It feels better to control your own failure than to let it surprise you. When the possibility of failure is too much, you need to take matters into your own hands. Self-sabotage is essentially a safer alternative to the feeling of losing control.
  • Perfectionism: Waiting for the perfect time? Perfectionism can cause self-sabotaging because it reduces your ability to be productive.

How to stop self-sabotage

Good news: You CAN end the cycle. Here are some tips on how to stop holding yourself back through self-sabotage.

1. Recognise self-sabotaging behaviours

The first step is identifying the behaviour that is preventing you from moving forward. To do this, you must become consciously aware of your daily decisions and actions and the consequences that result. Once identified, you can start to identify specific triggers that may be causing this behaviour to emerge. These triggers could include people, objects, feelings, specific times, events, locations and so on.

Now that you know what you are doing and why, you can come up with a replacement behaviour that is in line with your goals. Here are some examples: 

  • If you have a fear of failure (trigger) that makes you want to keep your goals to yourself (self-sabotage behaviour) then do the exact opposite (replacement behaviour). Put it out there! Tell your family and friends and put the pressure on yourself so you stay accountable to your goals and actually do what needs to be done to guarantee success.
  • If you’re stressed or emotional (trigger), instead of reaching for comfort food (self-sabotage behaviour), call a friend (replacement behaviour). They can help you talk through your feelings and offer support.
  • If you’ve had a bad day at work (trigger) instead of reaching for the wine bottle (self-sabotage behaviour), go for a walk (replacement behaviour) to clear your head, release some negative energy and allow yourself to refocus and take charge of the situation.

2. Create a network

This could be your family, friends and colleagues at work – people who would support you every step of the way and help you stay accountable to your goals. When self-sabotage behaviour is about to kick in, don’t be afraid to call on them for support. Sometimes a quick, reassuring chat is all you need to help you get back on track.

3. Adjust your expectations

Our expectations can sometimes lift us up to new heights, or they can set us up for disappointment. This is why it’s so important to always keep our expectations realistic. There is nothing wrong with setting your expectations high, however, at the same time make sure that they are flexible and take into account the conditions and resources you have available to achieve them.

4. Stop trying to be perfect

People often self-sabotage because of perfectionism – if it isn’t perfect, then what’s the point? But there is no such thing as perfection. There is never an ideal time and things will never go perfectly. You don’t need to be perfect in order to reach your goals, you just need to be consistent. So next time you have a little setback or roadblock, make a conscious effort to stop yourself from immediately thinking you have failed and seeing the ‘whole thing as ruined’ or a ‘waste of time’, because this is when you will really ruin it.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

Unworthiness is the self-perceived belief or feeling that you don’t deserve success, approval from others and ultimately, happiness. It comes from poor self-image and low self-esteem. By working on your self-esteem, you will be comfortable enough with yourself to just be you – not the person you think others want you to be. Comparing yourself to others and the subsequent jealousy and insecurity this creates will only hold you back.

6. Take time to self-reflect

The people who really get ahead in life are the ones who actually take the time to think and reflect upon their thoughts, feelings, decisions, behaviours and actions. These people learn from what has worked or failed for them in the past and they adjust their course of action by taking a different approach. Only through self-reflection can we gain the necessary insight, perspective and understanding to incite change.

7. Be consistent

Self-sabotage is a learned pattern; so you have to take corrective action, again and again, to create a new habit if you want the changes to take hold.  Progress in life is the sum of what you do consistently, not what you do occasionally. Consistently means months and years… not days!

sabotage is a normal and common practice – but this doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. We can easily underestimate the power we have over our thoughts and perceptions and how much this impacts our health, happiness and life overall. But once we recognise this and take positive action, we unlock so much more potential to fulfill our goals and lead the life we are destined to.