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How to Stop Self-Sabotaging: 11 Tips to Get Out of the Habit

Noam Lightstone Self-Improvement Leave a Comment

Have you ever had times in your life where you felt like you were getting your own way, wondering how to stop self-sabotaging all of your goals, hopes, and dreams?

You talked yourself out of doing something you knew you needed to, stepped down from asserting yourself and putting your needs forward, or engaged in negative behaviors you know you shouldn’t do but just seemed to do automatically…again.

We’ve all been there, this is part of being human.

But, you can learn how you self-sabotage and get better at choosing actions that are more aligned with your ideal self and where you want to be.

In this article, you’ll learn about self-sabotage: what it is, where it comes from, and get tips on how to stop it.

Contents hide

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is engaging in any mindset, belief, or action that doesn’t align with what you believe you envision your ideal self to be. Think about a person you imagine in a movie you’re watching and say, “Yeah, he’s so cool, awesome, and confident.” That’s your ideal self.

If there are things you do that couldn’t imagine this action hero doing, then it’s time to look at changing them.

It’s only human to make mistakes from time to time.

It’s only human to make mistakes from time to time.

But, if you repeatedly engage in doing something you know is bad for you, this prevents you from moving forward and makes you feel horrible about yourself. Repeatedly engaging in self-sabotage is a recipe for low self-esteem and confidence.

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Examples and types of self-sabotaging behaviors

Not sure how you might engage in self-sabotage? Here are some examples.

1. Procrastination

Regularly putting off things you need to do that you know you should is a form of self-sabotage. If these are things you need to do, nobody is going to come and magically do them for you! Putting them off is just going to lead to more anxiety and stress.

2. Perfectionism

Needing things to be just right before making a decision or putting yourself out there stops you from growing into the action hero. It’s an avoidance tactic to manage anxiety and the fear of potential failure.

3. Self-criticism

We all criticize ourselves sometimes to be better. There is nothing wrong with a bit of constructive criticism.

That said,

Most of us engage in unrelenting, negative self-talk, beating ourselves up constantly for no good reason.

4. Resisting change

Life is a series of constant changes: every second of every day, in your body, mind, and the external world. Most of us fear change because we like to be comfortable and don’t want bad things to happen…but this is unrealistic as the only constant is change in life.

5. Poor self-care

Not taking care of yourself is a form of self-sabotage. This can include:

  • Engaging in regular over-work and overtime
  • Not going to scheduled medical appointments
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Eating a poor diet
  • Not scheduling time to recharge or do the things you love

6. Blaming others

“It takes two to tango” is a common saying. When something happens there is usually fault on both sides. However, many times we don’t want to accept any responsibility. We blame others for making us act, feel, or behave in a certain way.

Refusing to accept responsibility gives away our power to take action and change things. It’s engaging in a victim mentality and another tricky form of self-sabotage.

7. Choosing to walk away at the first sign of difficulties

No one should put up with toxic environments, situations, or people.

That said,

Life will be full of challenges. Challenges lead to growth.

Life will be full of challenges. Challenges lead to growth.

If you walk away at the first sign of difficulty this can be a pattern that spreads throughout your life where you attempt or conquer anything difficult, which will lead to a lot of frustration because the best things in life involve getting past difficulties.

Facing resistance is inevitable in life and only those that learn to push past will be successful. In fact, it’s what helps to separate a lot of people because most don’t want to push through that resistance.

Again: resistance is OK and to be accepted, toxicity is not OK and boundaries need to be set.

child looking upstairs facing resistance

8. Creating fights from nothing

Many times we’ll create fights and arguments over small items with people we have underlying emotional issues with. It’s why you start screaming at your partner for closing the door too loud when really you feel like they don’t value you in your relationship, or it’s triggering some pattern of not feeling respected throughout your life.

Instead of dealing with the root cause and issue, you’re examining things at the surface level. If you don’t take care of things at the root level, you’ll always keep finding issues and engaging in this self-sabotaging behavior.

9. Choosing poor treatment (with jobs, partners, etc.)

If we don’t feel good about ourselves, we’re more likely to accept poor treatment in terms of respect, the partners and friends we choose, compensation at work, and more.

Someone who does not engage in self-sabotage, who is confident and values themselves, does not put up with poor treatment or people because they know they deserve better.

10. Not expressing your needs or setting things up to get them met

Not making your needs known or pushing them aside is another form of self-sabotage.

By not asking for what you want, sure, you’re potentially avoiding conflict…but you’re also never living up to your full potential, and are subconsciously telling yourself that you don’t deserve what you want. This may also start to express itself in passive-aggressiveness towards others.

Along the same lines, if you don’t take steps to get your needs met properly, it’s also an indication that you don’t care about yourself.

Signs of self-sabotaging behavior

Here are some signs of self-sabotaging behavior:

  1. Avoiding people and situations that make you uncomfortable
  2. Refusing to grow, change, or go beyond what’s familiar (living within your comfort zone)
  3. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself
  4. Trying to control other people or external situations
  5. Obsessively seeking external validation and the approval of others
  6. Making excuses
  7. Taking actions that don’t align with your needs, beliefs, values, desires, and/or goals
  8. Comparing yourself to others
  9. Isolating yourself
  10. Engaging in self-destructive behaviors (drinking excessively, eating poor food choices, etc.)

Why do people self-sabotage and what causes it?

Now:

Most of us engage in self-sabotage unconsciously all the time. Here are a couple of reasons why this might happen.

1. Patterns learned in childhood

While growing up, we may have learned inaccurate but necessary ways to get our needs met. To feel safe and secure we may have created very messed up patterns, but somehow they worked to get us to where we are.

Most adults do not get taught how to manage their emotions, and so, they still latch on to and use these patterns from childhood, never fully growing up. They are still unconsciously held down by these “old records that play” and repeat them throughout their entire lives.

Most adults do not get taught how to manage their emotions, and so, they still latch on to and use these patterns from childhood, never fully growing up. They are still unconsciously held down by these “old records that play” and repeat them throughout their entire lives.

2. Past relationship dynamics

Our past relationships, especially with our parents, intimate partners, and closest friends, influence how we act and behave, including how we sabotage ourselves.

3. Fear of failure

Failure is a big reason why we can’t stop self-sabotaging.

To avoid the sting of not feeling good enough, rejection, or looking stupid, we try not to do things that make us feel vulnerable and involve some risk…the things that would probably help us the most to get what we want.

Failure is a word loaded with baggage though. If you think about it, how did you learn something? Sure, you probably did some research and talked to people…but then you had to go out and do it. It probably didn’t go well the first few times, but then you started figuring things out.

Many people discover (I still try to tell myself this a lot), that reading a bit and then just trying to figure it out as you go will net you a lot more experience and positive results than just being in analysis paralysis mode and never doing anything, or doing far less.

We don’t learn from overthinking and being stuck inside our heads, we learn from taking action, making mistakes, and re-calibrating to do better.

4. Fear of success

On the opposite side, you also might actually have a fear of success! Some might worry about the responsibility or what may come from the unknown, even from having something good, so they engage in self-sabotage to not get the thing they want.

You don’t push for more at your job because you fear the duties that might come with a promotion.

You don’t go to the gym even though it would make you feel better because you say you’re tired.

You don’t go out and date people because you fear getting close to someone and losing some of your free time (even though much of it is spent thinking about having a partner), so you find reasons to not date people.

The fear of success can stop you from becoming your best self.

5. Need for control and managing anxiety

Whatever we want that we aren’t getting because of self-sabotage may come from our desire to control anxiety, or not come up against it. By engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors, we can either not engage with our anxiety, push it down, or just not deal with the actual things causing it.

man sad and frustrated sitting on couch anxiety

How self-sabotage affects your life and background psychology

Self-sabotage can manifest itself in different areas of your life. Here are a few and some examples:

Romantic relationships

  • Accepting poor treatment or behavior by partners
  • Pushing your needs aside in favor of your partner’s
  • Not dating at all

Careers

  • Accepting toxic work environments
  • Not getting the compensation you want and/or deserve
  • Not working in the field or specialty you’re interested in

Education

  • Talking yourself out of pursuing higher or alternative education
  • Not investing in yourself by purchasing books and courses, or paying for schooling, seminars, etc.
  • Performing worse in testing environments

Friends and family

  • Isolating yourself
  • Treating others poorly
  • Not making new friends or being open to new relationships

Health

  • Overworking and burning yourself out consistently
  • Not going for appointments, to the gym, or getting health concerns of yours examined
  • Not eating well
  • Not getting lots of sleep
  • Not taking time to rest and also have fun

11 tips on how to stop self-sabotaging behaviors

Now that you know all about self-sabotage and where it comes from, you probably have a short list of some of the things you do and why you might be doing them.

Here’s a quick list to help you stop self-sabotage actions in their tracks:

  1. Know your typical thinking patterns and become aware of them
  2. Learn what triggers you
  3. Practice being comfortable with something not going perfectly (“failure”)
  4. Use strategies to combat avoidance and procrastination
  5. Take time for reflection
  6. Identify the root causes of self-sabotage in therapy sessions
  7. Set goals and make plans to create change
  8. Learn to love incremental improvements, make small changes
  9. Practice acceptance and self-compassion while finding a positive inner voice
  10. Know your strengths to build your self-esteem up
  11. Practice mindfulness

Here are more details on each point.

1. Know your typical thinking patterns and become aware of them

If you can become conscious of the typical ways you think and look back at the past knowing that 99.9% of your thoughts never came to pass, you can start to have them not hold you as much.

They carry far less weight.

You can then learn to identify when these thought patterns are happening and choose to do something different. After all, thoughts and feelings are just suggestions, they don’t actually exist. The only thing that exists in the material world is the next physical action that you take.

Thoughts and feelings are just suggestions.

2. Learn what triggers you

You can learn from your past and by being conscious about what things trigger you to engage in self-sabotage. You might see self-sabotage come up when:

  • You’re about to ask for something you want
  • You need to have a difficult conversation
  • You’re feeling tired or didn’t sleep well
  • You haven’t gotten any social interaction lately
  • You feel like someone is angry at you
  • You’re about to do something challenging

It will be different for each person so once you know your typical thinking patterns and the ways you self-sabotage, you can connect that to the situations causing the issues.

3. Practice being comfortable with something not going perfectly (“failure”)

As mentioned before, getting comfortable with “failure” is essential to move forward. You might start to actually like failure because you see that failure is actually what teaches you the most to make progress. Check out the video below where Mark Manson gives some tips for stopping negative thinking.

4. Use strategies to combat avoidance and procrastination

While a healthy dose of patience and kindness is good, sometimes the best way to stop yourself from succumbing to self-sabotage is to put things in place to push through the resistance you face.

You might not feel like doing something, but you know that it’s good for you, and that’s enough of a reason to just do it.

Usually, the best way to combat procrastination is a mix of some sort of accountability and a deadline. For example: if you don’t go to the gym before the end of the day you’ll pay your friend $100. Telling someone you trust about it, with a specific time, and an emotional reason that’s more painful than doing the thing (e.g. it will sting more to lose the $100 than go to the gym) combines into a powerful motivator to help you do the things that you need to do.

5. Take time for reflection

Just as taking massive action to help yourself is important, so is taking time to ensure that you’re doing the right things and to reflect on your wins.

So often in life today we get caught up in moving fast and being busy, but indiscriminate / non-defined action is a form of procrastination from doing the things that we really need to do.

Indiscriminate / non-defined action is a form of procrastination from doing the things that we really need to do.

Reflect on whatever cadence works for you: daily, weekly, monthly, etc., to make sure you’re doing the right things and making progress in the areas of life you want to be moving forward in.

6. Identify the root causes of self-sabotage in therapy sessions

Here’s the bad news:

If your desire to self-sabotage is deeply ingrained into your personality, working with a mental health professional in therapy is almost always required, especially if there’s some trauma involved.

If you find that you’re having difficulty and continue to engage in self-sabotage, consider reaching out to a professional. They can really help make your life 1000x better and easier giving you tools to work through the challenging you’re facing.

7. Set goals and make plans to create change

Setting goals that excite you and that you want is one of the best ways to make sure you can make the changes you need to in your life. You can check out my guide on how to set goals that motivate you to get started if you’d like to have a plan.

fist in air

8. Learn to love incremental improvements, make small changes

You’ll need to learn to enjoy the process of making small improvements every day. Rome wasn’t built overnight, and for you who may have been practicing the same habits for years, it’s completely unfair and unrealistic to expect change overnight.

It’s completely unfair and unrealistic to expect change overnight.

This is why reflection is so important, because whenever you feel like you haven’t done anything or aren’t good enough, you can see what you have done.

If you aren’t making progress, the reflection time again shows you that you probably should change course to start moving in the direction you want to move in.

9. Practice acceptance and self-compassion while finding a positive inner voice

While striving to make improvements in your life, it’s important to include a healthy dose of acceptance, learn to be patient, and start maintaining a positive inner voice.

Things will take longer than expected, you’ll fall into bad habits, and things won’t go your way.

Expect this.

But by maintaining a supportive and accepting attitude, you’ll be able to meet the challenges you face and eventually overcome them.

iceberg illusion of success

Source: Sylvia Duckworth.

10. Know your strengths to build your self-esteem up

Tim Ferriss said in the 4-Hour Work Week that you could be trying to fix your weaknesses until you die, and only make average progress overall in life. It’s better to focus on your strengths to make huge gains while fixing your weaknesses in the background.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get better at things. It just means you find out what you’re really good at and hone in on those things to propel yourself in life.

For example, I know I work best on a schedule, it just meshes well with me and my personality type. I have friends who have no schedule at all and can just feel OK and be super productive.

This doesn’t work for me. I like knowing how much time I’m putting in and when I can turn my brain off.

That said, I’ve gotten a lot better at being a bit more relaxed if things change and also not having a set schedule on the weekend. I focused on my strength but I’m also semi-improving my “weakness” too.

Be careful as well in terms of how much you focus on improving something. You can get pretty far by spending some time to get 80% better at something, but the last 20% might take your entire life to achieve mastery. For most things, it’s probably not worth it.

We have limited time and attention so we need to put our focus on the things that can make the biggest impact.

We have limited time and attention so we need to put our focus on the things that can make the biggest impact.

There are lots of other examples of this, but figure out your strengths and run with them, while being mindful to not try and fix every single little detail.

11. Practice mindfulness

In practicing mindfulness, you learn that thoughts and emotions just exist. It’s our choice whether we want to follow them or not, as following certain thinking patterns can lead us down some scary paths and those that are completely unnecessary that just sap us of life.

By learning how to observe these items but not necessarily buy into them, we defuse our rational and emotional brains. We still apply kindness when we continue to go down these paths, but we get better at not needing to.

Quick note: on how to stop self-sabotaging in relationships

Relationships are a very common place for lots of emotional issues to come up.

Hopefully, you continue to grow your self-awareness as you cultivate good relationships so you know the common ways you sabotage yourself.

By knowing your typical patterns, you can talk about them with whomever you’re in a relationship with (friend, romantic partner, or otherwise), and ask for their help pointing out when you’re engaging in it.

You take responsibility for the issue and that you are working on it (do not put the burden on them to “fix” you), but with outside help, you’ll have a better chance of seeing when you’re engaging in unhealthy self-sabotaging behaviors.

Living well

While we all engage in self-sabotage at times, you don’t have to let it run your life. You can learn better ways to think, what triggers you to act out, and how to stop self-sabotaging. Then, you’ll know how to get your needs met in a confident, healthy, and aligned way.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my proven 7-habit system that kills your anxiety, gets you out of your head, and melts your stress away.

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