Still struggling to apply what you’ve learned from others and to reap the same rewards?
It’s frustrating when you know what you need to do, but you either put off doing it or you sabotage your best efforts — almost as if you don’t really want to succeed?
But you do! You know you do. So, why aren’t you making much progress?
Why is it taking you so long to change your life for the better?
First of all, you’re not alone in this. And it is possible to get out of your own way.
But before you can stop self-sabotaging behavior, you have to know what it is and know exactly how you’re sabotaging yourself.
So, we’ll start with a working self-sabotage definition and move on to its causes and signs.
What causes self-sabotaging behavior?
Self-sabotage consists of anything — words or behavior — that undermines your efforts at making some kind of improvement.
At the root of self-sabotaging behavior are self-sabotaging thoughts. And not all those thoughts are conscious.
Some of them keep playing over and over, just outside the reach of your conscious mind — especially when your mind isn’t quiet enough to pay attention.
You might also have self-sabotaging relationships that are undermining your efforts to improve your life and to become the person you want to be.
So, when you ask yourself, “Why am I self-sabotaging?” ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I tell myself when I see myself in the mirror?
- What do I tell myself when I’m doing something new?
- What do I tell myself when I’ve decided to make a change?
- What do I tell myself when I wake up in the morning?
- What do I tell myself before I go to sleep?
- What do I hear other people saying about me?
Much of the self-sabotaging comes from destructive self-talk, but some of it could also come from a toxic relationship where someone close to you is eroding your confidence day after day, making you feel like the lesser half of the couple.
The company you keep makes a big difference in how you see yourself and how you spend your time — the habits your break, the habits you pick up, and the words you use.
5 Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behavior
If you’re still wondering, “What is self-sabotaging?” or “How do I know I’m sabotaging myself?” read on.
The following examples illustrate the five signs of self-sabotaging behavior:
- Negative self-talk — It’s too easy to get into the habit of trash-talking ourselves or downplaying our gifts, thinking we’re being “humble,” when we’re just tearing ourselves down before anyone else gets the chance.
- Procrastination — We often put things off because our subconscious is trying to protect us from the potentially disruptive consequences of changing something or getting something done.
- Perfectionism — If we feel a need for things to be done perfectly, we’re more likely to put off doing them or to focus exclusively on that one thing, to the exclusion of everything else (including more important things).
- Unhealthy coping strategies — The world offers us a variety of ways to deal with stress — many of them less than helpful. Change is stressful, and if your first recourse is a habit that encourages you to prioritize comfort over progress, you’ll remain stuck.
- Rushing without reflection — This is often the result of prioritizing urgent matters over important ones and then rushing to address one “emergency” after another, without taking the time to reflect on what might be a better use of our time and energy.
The power of each of these self-sabotaging examples is in their habitual repetition.
All of them can easily become your way of life, consistently sabotaging even your most valiant efforts at changing yourself and your situation.
9 Ways To Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Now that you know how you’re sabotaging yourself, how do you stop?
1. Identify your self-sabotaging thoughts.
We’ve already identified the major self-sabotaging habits (procrastination, etc.) to help you determine whether and how you’re sabotaging your own personal growth and progress toward your own goals.
What’s not always easy to catch are your self-sabotaging thoughts, since you’ve gotten so used to them.
You accept those thoughts and act on them without pausing to think whether they’re actually true.
Practice questioning the following thoughts when they pop up:
- I have the worst luck.
- This is just more proof that I’m cursed.
- Really good things don’t happen for someone like me.
- God is punishing me.
- No matter what I do, I’m doomed.
- Just when I think things are getting better, wham! Reality check.
Once you recognize your own self-sabotaging thought patterns, you can replace them with the thoughts and underlying beliefs of the person you want to be.
2. Pause and reflect.
The following habits will help you take time out of your day to pause and reflect on your words and actions — witnessing them as a compassionate observer and noting the thoughts behind them:
Incorporating all three of these will make you more conscious of your thinking and better able to replace self-sabotaging thoughts with liberating ones.
Most people either rush through life, jumping from one emergency to the next, or sleepwalk through it.
Choose to be more conscious of how your thoughts, words, and actions affect you and the world around you.
Choose to make time every day for silence and reflection — even if only for a few minutes at a time.
3. Change your inner dialogue.
Change the things you tell yourself when you look in the mirror, begin a new task, start a new habit, face one of your fears, or take your first step on a path that diverges from the familiar one.
Remind yourself that you have what it takes to start becoming the person you want to be.
You’re not stuck being the person you’ve been up ‘til now.
You’re not limited to what you’ve accomplished up to this point — or to accomplishments on the same level.
You’re not doomed to repeat the same mistakes or to always see yourself (or be seen) as the weak link or the one no one can trust.
So, stop being a jerk to yourself and repeating the same old scripts, limiting yourself to the role others have put you into or one you chose before you realized what you could be.
To reinforce the new self-talk, write it down — articulate it every day in a journal, even if you only spend five minutes doing so.
Writing it down tells your brain to pay attention, especially if you write it out by hand.
And doing this every day can only help make this new internal dialogue a permanent upgrade in your thinking.
4. Upgrade your habits.
When a thought or action becomes a habit, you no longer need willpower to keep doing it.
It doesn’t drain your energy the way it does when you first set out to make it a habit.
You’re more likely to form a new habit you can do easily than one that takes a real investment of willpower. So, when you’re choosing a new habit, start small and ask, “Can I just…?”
For example, if you haven’t done squats for months, don’t start by committing to 50 squats every day.
Ask yourself, “Can I just do five squats?” or “Can I just do one squat every day?”
Often enough, you’ll end up doing more than the minimum, but don’t change the minimum number until you’ve made those daily squats a habit.
Here are some habits you’ll want to consider adding:
- Daily journaling — Start with 5+ minutes.
- Drinking more water — Start with a full glass to rehydrate yourself every morning.
- Meditation — Start with 5+ minutes.
- Mindful breathing — Start with ten breaths or a few minutes.
- Reading — Start with one chapter or 15+ minutes.
- Exercise — Start small and build on it once it becomes a habit.
5. Upgrade your routines.
If you can build a new habit, you can also build a new routine — for starting your day, for ending it, for starting a new project, or for doing anything that you do on a regular basis.
Make a list of the things you do every morning after waking up and every night before going to sleep.
What do your current routines say about you and about your priorities?
You don’t have to be productive 24-7 to be successful — however you define success — but it makes sense to be more conscious of the things you do every day and why you do them.
Look at the morning and nighttime routines of people you admire — not because of how much money they make but because of their character and their impact on the world.
Decide for yourself what you’d like to borrow from their routines to add to your own.
Nothing says the change has to be permanent. Just try on a new routine, long enough to make it habitual, and see what a difference it makes.
You can always make changes as you go.
6. Make small but meaningful changes.
This is related to the habit and routine upgrades in that it makes both easier and more sustainable.
But here we’re talking about changes that you make that aren’t new habits but that help you create and maintain a healthier mindset and to make steady progress toward your goals.
Consider the following examples:
- Buy fresh flowers to put in a vase on your kitchen counter, dining table, or desk.
- Add motivational quotes to your home and workspace to inspire you and remind you of the person you want to be.
- Add organizing furniture and other helpers to keep everything you need in its own accessible place (visible or invisible).
- If you want certain things (temptations or painful reminders) out of your mind, get rid of them or keep them out of sight.
- Add visual reminders of your reasons for becoming the person you want to be: pictures, vision boards, scrapbooks, etc.
The key thing here is to make your environment more conducive to building the right habits and breaking those that are holding you back.
7. Detoxify and declutter your home.
The state of your living and working space has an effect on your mood and your ability to focus.
If you look around and see clutter, you’re more likely to feel cluttered on the inside, which makes it more difficult to think clearly.
Clutter can have a purpose, and some people honestly like some degree of clutter because it's comforting.
But when the clutter has no purpose and only makes you feel agitated and ashamed, it's time to do something about it.
Just taking some action every day to reduce the clutter and get rid of things that aren’t serving you can become a regular part of your daily routine.
And those small but purposeful actions can then provide visual proof of the progress you’re making.
8. Detoxify your social circle.
Detoxify your social circle as much as possible by doing one or more of the following:
- Spend less time with people who make you feel small or stuck.
- Spend more time with people who inspire you.
- Spend more time with people who build you up and encourage you.
- Work to rebuild important relationships that have deteriorated.
- Forgive those who have hurt you.
- Ask forgiveness of those whom you’ve hurt.
The company you keep has a tremendous influence on your mental health and well-being.
While you may not be able to eliminate all negative influences, do what you can to outweigh them with more supportive ones.
Those that disagree with you are not your enemy, but those who are actively working to undermine your confidence and tear you down have no place in your life or the lives of those you love.
9. Set goals and break them down.
Your goals should mainly be about personal growth and making a meaningful contribution with your gifts.
Describe the kind of person you want to be, taking note of your gifts and the qualities you like about yourself.
List the values most important to you, and jot down some ideas for how you could cultivate them.
Next, make a list of things you want to accomplish in your life and ask yourself why those accomplishments are important to you.
- What do they mean?
- How will they make your life or the lives of loved ones better?
- How will they make the world better than before?
And what could you do today or this week to get closer to one of them?
Finally, make a list of experiences you’d love to have and why.
Take one, and ask yourself, “How could I make this happen?” or “What could I do to prepare myself for this?”
Are you self-sabotaging?
Now that you’re armed with a better understanding of how to stop self-sabotaging, what will you do today to remove some of the obstacles in your life?
What new habit will you start building this week to bring your life closer to what you’d like it to be?
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The more you eliminate your self-sabotaging habits, the easier it will be to make progress and to see yourself as you truly are.
So, choose at least one small thing to do today to make it different from every day before it. And savor every second of it.
May your courage and creativity influence everything you do today.