“Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” – Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
Self-sabotage involves engaging in behaviors that lead to undesirable results. You’ve probably heard the expression, “shooting yourself in the foot.” If so, then you understand the concept of self-defeating behaviors.
When you do something that ultimately hurts or thwarts you in some way, you engage in self-sabotage. By performing these destructive actions, you bring negative experiences and situations into your life.
However, self-sabotage is complicated because there’s usually some element of temporary relief, short-term payoff, or avoidance of something negative that motivates you to engage in the behavior.
Unfortunately, this temporary satisfaction only serves to reinforce the negative behavior. Its as if you cant see past that initial reward to keep from continuing down the destructive path.
Here are some ways you may be sabotaging your efforts.
1. Taking a passive stance to avoid a conflict. If you hold back on your opinion to avoid making waves or avoid someones disapproval, you perpetually live in a state of emotional dishonesty. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to go along with the crowd. Also, your mind knows youre not being real. When you stuff your feelings, they eventually emerge in a way that is usually unconstructive.
Need an example to get this point?
I am asked to work on a project for which I have no interest or passion. When asked if I’m “in?” I say “yes” because I don’t want to look uncooperative. I pride myself on following through on commitments. However because I hate this project, it takes me longer to complete the tasks and I fall behind on something I really want to do because I can’t get my act together to finish this project I never should have committed to in the first place.
When my teammates ask me about my progress or become inpatient with me that I haven’t delivered, I get angry at them. In fact, I even begin to resent them for pulling me into these unwanted projects.
The truth is, my participation in the project was not critical, they could have done it without me, but they thought I wanted to be involved. Now I resent them for making me do unpleasant things.
2. Insisting on your own way. Many of us do this out of a need to appear competent and capable. But this kind of rigidity is off-putting to others. It comes across as short-sighted or even self-serving. If your goal is to be respected and taken seriously, you’re self-sabotaging if you always insist on having your own way.
3. Reacting instead of responding. Sometimes, you need to take a step back and evaluate the situation before you take action. An example of this may be acting on your first emotion rather than pausing and thinking through a situation. You know that you have a tendency to lash out when you’re angry and need to clean up the damage later by apologizing. Nevertheless, you continue to let yourself lash out without waiting. You justify at the time that you needed to be “honest.” But the reality is that you can still give a less offensive “honest” remark even if you waited 10 minutes to think it through.
4. Needing to be right no matter what. Your level of confidence affects how much you allow yourself to be wrong. This may not make sense immediately, but lets dive deeper.
If you are confident of your abilities, you don’t need the approval of others. When your idea is challenged and you lose the challenge, you can accept being wrong and still feel good about yourself.
However if you lack self-confidence in your abilities, you always need to be right because if you are not, it affects your morale.
5. Avoiding things you don’t want to do. Whether the object of your avoidance makes you anxious or you think it requires too much work, refusing to participate in some things can sabotage your efforts to have a fulfilling and successful life.
6. Procrastinating. The short-term payoff to procrastination is that you get to avoid dealing with something unpleasant. However, as you get closer to a deadline or even miss a deadline you have to deal with the consequences of stress from working under pressure or missed opportunities if you missed a deadline.
WHAT TO DO
It’s not easy to let go of self-sabotaging behaviors. But the first step is awareness, then you can chip away your behaviors a little at a time. Don’t forget that you have spent years doing these things, so they will not disappear overnight.
1. Take an inventory of how you self-sabotage. This exercise will feel like you’re cleaning out the clutter of a closet, only it’s your mind and emotions you’re sorting through. Keep thinking and writing until you’ve listed all the ways you engage in self-defeating behaviors.
‣ Next, put down specific incidents where you recognize that your thoughts, choices, or behaviors were self-defeating. Go back for at least the last year or two.
2. Own your thoughts and actions. Now is the time to step up and do whatever is necessary to let go of the self-defeating thinking and behaving.
3. Plan your responses to challenging situations. Write them down! For each of your episodes of self-sabotage you wrote down in Step 1, record how you’ll respond in a similar situation from today forward. Be specific.
‣ For example: “I will not avoid going out with friends just because someone I’ve never met will be there. Instead, I’ll go with them and make an effort to talk to the new person. It’s okay if I feel some anxiety! I won’t allow my tense feelings to push me toward a decision that will ultimately prevent me from making new friends, which is important to me.”
4. Share what you’re up to with a close friend or family member. This person can help you be accountable. This part is important: ask them to confront you whenever they see you engaging in any self-sabotaging behavior. If you choose someone you trust, you’ll believe them when they tell you you’re self-sabotaging.
5. Allow yourself to fail or be wrong. You will repeat these behaviors despite being aware of the problem. It will be a gradual process of eliminating them. However, since some sabotaging behaviors stem from your own rigidity and self-judgment, you have to see your shortcomings as part of your growth process. You can do this by expecting to be wrong. Practice accepting being wrong. Get used to the feeling so that you don’t spend so much time avoiding it.
6. Use thought-stopping techniques to end unhelpful thinking. Negative thoughts can lead to self-sabotage. Whenever unproductive thinking begins, imagine a big red light in your mind, blocking out the negative ideas. Then, imagine a green light while choosing to replace the negative cognition with a positive one.
‣ For example, let’s say you’re trying to eat healthier. As soon as you begin thinking about eating doughnuts, visualize a big red light. Then, think about eating an apple instead. Visualize a green light as you get the apple and bite into its crunchy sweetness.
7. Give yourself positive reinforcement. Changes are hard. Using the example in Step 3, remind yourself during your evening with new friends that you made the right choice to get to know more people. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. You are making forward steps toward your goal.
8. Keep your eyes open. Vigilantly monitor your thoughts and emotions. Notice when those self-destructive ideas creep into your mind. Stay in touch with your feelings. This way, you’ll have greater awareness and can evaluate emotions and thoughts before they become behaviors.
9. Give yourself permission to think outside the box. Be willing to let new and foreign ideas into your head. Allow yourself to engage in new ways of thinking.
10. Consider professional help. If you don’t feel like you’re able to decrease your self-sabotaging behaviors, consider seeking professional assistance. Therapists, social workers, life coaches, and mental health counselors will help you confront your unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and develop effective ways of dealing with them.
Make a list of the steps that apply most to you and keep the list on your refrigerator as a reminder. You can start each day with a plan to do one thing to avoid repeating old patterns. If you fail today, tomorrow is another day.