Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior, Finally

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Identify your self-sabotaging behavior and replace it with something healthier.
Begin by identifying limiting behaviors. Photo via Pixabay.

Self-sabotage is something that many of us do, to a degree. And most of the time we don’t even realize it. It can be because of things we learned as children, or coping mechanisms that we picked up over the years to make us feel better about ourselves. Most of the time we use self-sabotaging behavior to stay in our comfort zone. The good news is, combating self-sabotage is totally possible.

If you can identify your self-sabotaging behavior and combat it (clue: you can), you are well on your way to living your best life. This comprehensive guide discusses combating self-sabotage, once and for all.

Why Do We Self-Sabotage?

The true reason we self-sabotage boils down to a lack of self-esteem, confidence, and self-belief. In fact, the patterns we develop are there because we are not able to manage our emotions effectively. Thus, we tend to react to certain situations that stress us out or provoke a negative emotion by hindering our own progress in some way.

For example, we might feel that we’re not capable of reaching or achieving what we want, so we unconsciously keep up these negative limiting patterns to stay in our comfort zones. By doing so, we protect ourselves from disappointment.

But we fail to take risks that could lead to amazing accomplishments! To put it another way, if we fail to recognize our patterns and do something about them, then we will live lives full of unreached expectations.

What are Some Self-Sabotage Examples?

Common examples of self-sabotaging behavior include:

  • Starting arguments and pushing people away in otherwise happy relationships
  • Drinking too much alcohol to escape problems
  • Binge eating when you want to be healthy and happy

We also tend to make excuses and think things that stop us from doing what we really want to do, such as thinking we’re not good enough, not ready, too busy, or that it won’t work. But this way of thinking keeps us stuck.

Guide Overview: The Steps to Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior

  1. Identify your limiting behaviours and beliefs
  2. Dissect these beliefs and figure out why they aren’t logical
  3. Identify your triggers
  4. Come up with a replacement behaviour and do the work to get into the habit of using it
  5. Identify mistakes and learn from them
  6. Look at the bigger picture – have you ruined your efforts with one setback? No.  
  7. Get back working at making the new behavior a habit or replace it with a different healthy action to see if that one sticks instead
  8. Consider challenges and obstacles in advance and how you will overcome them if they crop up
  9. Consider working with somebody else who was once in your shoes; get a mentor or a coach

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior

It’s only when you can pinpoint the things you think and do that leads you to self-sabotage behavior that you’ll be on your way to breaking your old patterns. And that’s when you can start to improve your life!

In some cases, though, you may not be able to break your old patterns yourself. That’s why some people choose to have addiction and abuse treatment at Serenity at Summit and similar centers designed to deal with their problems.

Furthermore, there’s absolutely no shame in finding help, a coach, or a mentor if you’re serious about stopping your self-sabotaging behavior. Even the most successful people in the world have mentors and coaches.

Below is Stacy Blake Beard, Professor at Simmons College, speaking about the power of mentoring:

The First Step: Identify the Behavior

Identifying your self-sabotaging behavior is the first step to stopping it. You probably already know what this activity is as you’re reading this post. But just in case, here are some ways we can self-sabotage:

  • Inability to plan ahead.
  • Inability to say no to others
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Inability to admit mistakes
  • Worrying too much
  • Binge eating
  • Binge drinking
  • Smoking
  • Taking drugs
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Unhelpful thoughts

What do you tend to do that makes you feel worse and stops you from achieving what you really want to achieve?

Identify the Beliefs Behind the Self-Sabotaging Behavior

Next, examine your limiting beliefs for each pattern. Question the belief; it’s what you believe about yourself and your own abilities. And then ask yourself how the belief is ridiculous or untrue.

For example, if you’re trying to reach a healthy weight but your limiting belief is that you’ll never be slim, examine that belief closely. Why do you think that? Maybe because you have a family of bigger people or because that’s ‘the way you “are.”

To poke holes in this belief, ask yourself: What would other people say about your belief? They’d probably say that you’re making excuses and that you can get healthy. Then, come up with a more helpful perspective so you can think like that.

What Triggers the Behavior?

Figure out what your triggers are too. They might be:

  • People
  • Objects
  • Times
  • Events
  • Locations

Or, the trigger could be something else entirely. What the triggers share is that they make you feel a certain way, usually uncomfortable, and lead you to perform those old habits within your comfort zone. Those habits that stop you from reaching greatness.

After all, if you don’t take risks then how will you know what you could achieve?

If you don’t take risks, you might find you have more regrets later on down the line. So, take a chance on yourself and those little niggles you have that could be pointing you in the right direction. What better time to start taking more risks than right now? If you don’t start sooner, you will likely wish you had changed that self-sabotaging behavior later. Remember, not making a decision or taking a risk is still making the decision not to do anything. It can be a harmful action in itself!

Picture yourself in your senior years. What do you think you would say you wished you had done more of, or at least tried?

Decide on a Replacement Behavior – and Start Doing It

When you’ve done all of this, it’s time to work to recreate the pattern that has been stopping you. That process begins by thinking of a replacement behavior for your self-sabotaging behavior. So, ask yourself: How could you respond in a more appropriate way?

For example, maybe instead of binging on junk food when you get stressed out, you could go for a nice long walk outside instead. While you’re out, breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Just put your shoes on and go.

It doesn’t have to be exactly this activity, but you can already see why this behavior would be far more helpful than the previous one. It helps to de-stress you, and you’ll feel so much better afterwards, unlike after a binge eating session. The latter makes you feel worse; it’s a vicious cycle.

Ultimately, you need strong reasons to change a self-sabotaging behavior. The work comes in as you practice your new behavior, until it becomes a habit. While you’re creating a new pattern of behavior, you need to become conscious of your actions and work on doing something different.

Remember, if you do the same thing then you’ll only ever get more of the same. It doesn’t take long to form new habits, thankfully, so remember that point when you’re putting in the initial work.  

Test Yourself, and Learn from It

When you feel you’ve practiced new behavior enough, you can put yourself back in situations that would have triggered the old behavior, now armed with your new behavior.

If you fall back onto the old self-sabotaging behiavor, don’t give up. Please! You’ve put so much work in already. You don’t have to start all over again.

The reality is you’re already making big progress by identifying your behavior and wanting to change at all. Many people don’t do that and repeat the same negative patterns all through their lives, wondering why they have never achieved what they wanted. That’s not you!

If you didn’t succeed this time, you might next time. Or the time after that. Or the time after… You get the picture.

If your expectations are at an unrealistic level, they may demoralize you emotionally. It’s so important you keep this in check, and don’t aim too high too quickly. Aiming for the stars is great, but don’t try to run before you can walk. Be flexible. Master things over time. Be in it for the long haul! Trying to do everything at once will lead to overwhelm, and likely more negative thinking.

If you would like more help, you can speak to people who have been through the same thing as you. Also, check out YouTube for videos that can talk you through different processes and methods of changing behavior, such as EFT, or The Emotional Freedom Technique.

Final Words about Self-Reflection

The people who are most successful in life are those who learn to examine their thoughts, behaviour, feelings, decisions, and actions. They look at their successes and failures and figure out what works for them. They may get a little help in doing it, but they still do the work. Ultimately, their life and path changes because they decided to make a change.

Self sabotage can lie under the surface for a while, waiting until you finally almost feel content with the way things are going, and then, BAM. It hits you out of nowhere. It suddenly and unexpectedly explodes, pushing you away from your deepest desires. If you decide to tackle this head on, examine yourself and your self-sabotaging behavior. Then do the work to change your patterns, you will finally begin to see the results you want in your life. Ultimately, you’ll be your best self living your best life.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Christy,

    great and real post.In fact we must work on ourselves to be better then yesterday. We should to develop our whole life .That is the key of our success! Thank you

  2. Excellent post. Way before I was diagnosed with mental disorders, I was always sabotaging myself by drinking. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t have self-esteem at the very least. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking, and was seeing a therapist & psychiatrist did I actually gain my self-esteem. I work on it daily.
    This was a great post!!!!

  3. It’s really happen to most of us. We don’t want to come out from our comfort zone many times. But to achieve what we really want we need to introspect ourselves and work towards the needful. Once again a wonderful post Christy

  4. What a great post. It cemented some of the knowledge I had and helped answer some questions that were unanswered. Thank you Christy.

  5. Good post, Christy. Asking the right questions to get to the bottom of self-sabotage, often unconscious behavior that we don’t even realize we are doing, is the first step in making the change. Thanks!

  6. I have to admit, I’m at a place in my life when I’m having trouble making decisions. I look back on my life and see my decisions having gone no where. I’ve had more success accepting opportunities that came along than chasing the dreams that I actually wanted. It’s turning me into a philosophical Taoist, but it makes it hard for me to get excited about life.

  7. Very insightful, Christy. I know I’ve been guilty of some of these things myself. I hope that reading this article will make me think about what I’m doing before it happens again!

  8. Excellent post Christy.. When I was facing my own weight issues 22 years ago we did Life Mastery with Tony Robbins as a couple. It was only when meeting hundreds of people at the various segments of the course from around the world, did we realise that most of us self-sabotage to one degree or another. Some great stratagies to put into place.

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