Self-sabotage means you’re doing things to undermine your own goals. Self-sabotage can take many forms including:
- Indecision and avoidance
- Self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, etc.
- Other unhealthy habits such as staying up too late
- Denying your feelings
- People-pleasing and comparison
- Relationships that don’t support your goals because they tear you down emotionally or physically, don’t meet your needs, or distract you from your goals
People self-sabotage either by 1) not knowing what they want or 2) not taking the steps that will help them achieve their goals and/or 3) behaving in ways that actually undermine their goals.
George is always on a diet. He says his goal is to lose 20 pounds. He goes for a run every morning, eats a healthy breakfast, and chooses wisely when he takes clients out for lunch. But George sabotages his weight loss by keeping a cabinet full of junk food and “rewarding” himself with chips and cookies when he comes home hungry and tired.
Sometimes the problem is not being honest with yourself about what you really want. You subconsciously don’t even allow yourself to imagine yourself succeeding.
Cindy is unhappy with her salary and lack of career advancement. She’s been in the same position for four years. She feels stuck, but doesn’t do anything to move ahead. During her performance review, her boss suggests she apply to an open management position. Cindy can’t imagine herself working at such a high level within the company. Although she’s very capable and hardworking she lacks confidence and vision for herself. Her settling is a form of self-sabotage.
Why do we self-sabotage?
If you’ve set a specific goal, but sabotage your own progress, fear and self-worth may be the problem. In my psychotherapy practice, I often see people who struggle to accept they are “good enough” and worthy of achieving their goals.
You may not apply for a promotion because you’ve already concluded that your co-worker is better qualified, or you give up on online dating because deep down you don’t think you’re pretty enough or young enough. You worry that you’ll fail, so it’s easier to not even acknowledge that you want a promotion or committed partner.
I also see many people who get stuck in bad habits like George and his junk food or behavior patterns that don’t support their goals like repeatedly dating people who treat them poorly. It’s true that these patterns take a lot of work to reverse, but it’s possible once you’re clear on your goals, aware of your own self-sabotaging behavior, and willing to push through the fear and try to do things differently.
- Allow yourself to dream big. Don’t be afraid to imagine a bright future for yourself. Expecting failure or catastrophizing won’t protect you from disappointment. It only keeps you stuck in a negative mindset.
- Set specific goals. When you don’t acknowledge what you want, you can’t go after it.
- Make a vision board. A vision board is a visual representation of your goals, dreams, and inspiration (kind of like the collages you used to make in grade school). Get creative by pulling out the paint and markers or try an app like Wishboard.
- Be honest with yourself. Most of us are really good at self-deception. You simply can’t move ahead if you aren’t completely true to yourself about what you want, why you want it, and what you’re doing that’s moving you toward or away from your goals. It’s often easier to make excuses and cast blame than it is to be honest.
- Use an accountability partner. Most of us need external accountability. Understanding this and setting up your goals to include accountability from a friend, coach, support group, or mentor can dramatically improve your results. Just be sure to find someone who will really call you on your B.S.
- Pay attention to your “self-talk.” Most people have a tendency to focus on the negatives and discount the positives. You can also give your negative thoughts a reality check. Look for evidence to challenge the negative beliefs. Chances are that you’ve actually minimized your good qualities and accomplishments. Purposefully acknowledging your positives can help combat negative self-talk and keep things in perspective.
- Self-compassion is the antidote for feelings of inadequacy that drive self-sabotage. We are often more critical of ourselves than we are of others. Notice that little voice in your head that’s telling you’re not good enough and say something kind to yourself instead. Accountability and striving for your goals doesn’t mean being hard on yourself. Self-criticism isn’t motivating. There’s nothing wrong with an afternoon nap or beer out with your friends, just be aware of whether it’s truly self-care or self-sabotage in disguise.
As I always say, changing your thinking and behavior takes work, but it’s worth it. Move slowly through the process. Seek support. Remain hopeful. You are capable and worthy.
Photo: Alexandre Normand