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What is Self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is a set of behaviours and habits that we engage in unconsciously and that prevent us from achieving something we have set out to do.

For example:

  • Not preparing properly for an interview or an important presentation,
  • Not following up on your ideas for a project,
  • Wanting to start a project/activity but putting it off because it’s never the right time,
  • Wanting to lose weight but having another slice of cake,
  • Forgetting the sign-up deadline for a course or training event that secretly interested you.

Self-sabotage often happens in situations where:

  • There are high stakes for us on a personal level,
  • We have to take responsibility or a decision,
  • We need to make an important commitment or change of direction,
  • Our plans are about to succeed, but we still need to take the final steps or decisions.

Why do we sabotage ourselves?

Hitting the brakes (consciously or unconsciously) when we think we ought to maintain speed or accelerate has some hidden benefits...

  • It relieves the discomfort of going through difficult emotions or challenges that lie ahead, for example, fear of the reaction to our presentation or our performance in an interview).
  • It maintains our identity – we are able to stay ‘who we are’, with the same thoughts and behaviours we have always known.
  • It maintains the comfortable illusion that we have a certain talent or potential, without the danger of putting ourselves to the test.
  • It enables us to keep living in a world of infinite possibilities.
  • It stops us from scraping up against reality and protects us from the possibility of failure.
  • It keeps our feeling of being in control of the situation.

How do we sabotage ourselves?

We can be very creative in doing so, using more or less subtle strategies… Here are 14 ingenious ways we commonly hold ourselves back:

        1. Not taking action (our idea stays as a dream),
        2. Not finishing things,
        3. Procrastinating,
        4. Perfectionism: having unreasonable expectations and an excuse for not trying,
        5. Finding complicated arguments for why there’s no need to get involved,
        6. Not giving ourselves permission to succeed,
        7. Not recognising how far we have come and our successes,
        8. Finding excuses, blaming others and the circumstances,
        9. Allowing our fears to overwhelm us,
        10. Making other problems or finding other tasks to engage on so as not to move ahead in other ways,
        11. Never quite finding the time, or finding ways to make sure we never quite find the time,
        12. Acting on impulse,
        13. Not taking the time to work out what we really want, so as not to have to take steps to get it,
        14. Not challenging ourselves, so we can be sure we won’t fail.

How can we undo These behaviours?

1. Identify your behaviour and name it.

Notice the situations where you self-sabotage and make a note of the (ingenious) methods you use. For example:

  • You have been meaning to work towards a certain goal, dream or decision for a long time, but have never really engaged with it fully.
  • You have observed the same failures happening over and again in a specific area.

2. Identify the hidden benefits.

Get to the bottom of what you gain from these behaviours:

  • Which needs are they satisfying?
  • What are they protecting?
  • What do you get from them?
  • What are they trying to achieve?

3. Identify the emotions and the thoughts or beliefs behind these behaviours.

  • Do you feel any fears or worries when you imagine taking steps towards your goal, dream or decision?
  • Is there something you’re afraid of losing?
  • What thoughts go through your mind in the moment right before the self-sabotage behaviour happens?
  • Are you convincing yourself that “you can’t do it” or “you don’t deserve it” as a way of reinforcing or justifying negative feelings about yourself?

4. Find alternative thoughts.

  • What thoughts and beliefs do you have when you are not self-sabotaging?
  • What encouraging or positive thoughts could replace those that hold you back?

5. Take action.

What practical and creative steps could you take to make this change happen?

    • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
    • What would you do if you took complete responsibility for your life?
    • What would you do if you really listened to what you want and who you really are?
    • What are the behaviours that would allow you to achieve your goals and make decisions?
    • How could you manage the fears that naturally come with change and the unknown?
    • Who and what might help you to take the first steps? Or the next ones?