Overcome Self-Sabotage and Stop Destroying Success
Self-sabotage is one of the most efficient ways in which you can undermine any chance of success in whatever you’re trying to achieve. It is real, it is brutal, and many of us are guilty of it. It often goes unseen, though, a silent, destructive partner in our lives. However, we have to learn to see it. Then we can learn to overcome it.
Do you ever find your own behaviour getting in the way of what you need to do? I don’t mean recklessly or overtly. It is far more subtle than this. Perhaps you want to lose a little weight but keep forgetting to pack lunch, so you have to eat out. This results in you buying less healthy, more fattening food than you would have prepared yourself.
Or perhaps you think that a friend doesn’t ever listen to you. Instead of addressing the problem calmly, you raise your voice, talk more, speak faster, get more aggressive. Your friend then tunes out or avoids you altogether.
This is self-sabotage, though they are only isolated examples.
We are looking for what links these two scenarios.
Basically, you are creating unnecessary stress and pain, pushing yourself into a situation in which you foil your own goals, either consciously or, more often, unconsciously. You are sabotaging yourself – taking control, in a way, so that you control your own failure.
Luckily, there are some simple, practical, if not easy tricks and techniques you can put in place to minimise or even stop your self-sabotaging tendencies.
Ending the self-sabotage
We are all too often blind to our own behaviours. This is where unconscious foils like self-sabotage come into play. The main thing you need to do to stop self-sabotaging is to recognise it when it occurs. This isn’t always the case, of course – sometimes it can be excruciating to watch ourselves self-sabotage. However, the worst cases are often unconscious.
You therefore need to get to know yourself a little better. This is good advice for anyone. It’s vital for anyone looking to stop self-sabotaging. You need to take note of your own behaviour patterns, your thoughts and feelings throughout the day, your own fears and pitfalls. Then you can find productive ways to overcome them, to counteract them, to diminish them.
Try these techniques to both diagnose and overcome your own instances of and tendencies towards self-sabotage.
As above, this is always going to be important, so we’re going to start with it: temet nosce -“know thyself”.
Do you ever look at friends and family struggling and know the answer? You know what they need to do, where their efforts should go, yet they seem oblivious to it. We are all better at giving others advice than we are at knowing what to do ourselves.
This is what I mean by know thyself. Get to know how you think and behave. Be as objective as possible. Learn your biases, your fears, your joys, and factor them all into your thinking and planning.
This means developing a psychologically sophisticated, overtly aware understanding of your own thinking. It isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort. It needs a lot of reflection and more energy going into your own self-awareness.
Try mood journaling or journaling more generally. Try stepping back from strained situations and asking yourself what you are feeling and why. Look back at past instances where you suspect yourself of self-sabotage and ask yourself what you were thinking at the time.
If you struggle to do this by yourself, that’s perfectly normal. Therapy or counselling will be able to guide you and help you to explore and come to terms with yourself.
Get to know how you decide things
We often don’t think about how we make decisions – or, at least, many of us don’t. After overcoming self-sabotage myself (to an extent, at least), I think about my decision making process a lot. As you’ll see in the next section, I relegate a lot of my decision making process to a make do philosophy, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little.
First you need to know how you make decisions.
Addiction treatment gives us one of our most useful phrases, here: ‘seemingly irrelevant decisions’. If you’ve been through addiction recovery, you’ll know all about it – minor decisions that can snowball into large ones, often lead into relapse.
You go for a coffee with a friend. There are no spaces in the coffee shop so you pop into a pub, telling yourself you’ll have a soft drink… the rest is history. Okay, so there is much more to it than just that. The point is, an irrelevant decision can have a massive impact on your recovery.
This applies to all walks of life, however. We can use the idea of seemingly irrelevant decisions to understand self-sabotage and our own role in the process. Instances of this kind of decision making are rife in modern life.
You’re due to workout at five, but somebody messages you on Instagram. You decide to read and reply, get hooked in, and run out of time to train. Or you are going for a job interview, know that you’re prone to being late, yet answer the phone on your way out the door anyway. You’re late to the interview and miss it.
We can use this information to our advantage.
You can learn what small decisions make it more likely you’ll do the things you want to do. If you know, for instance, that you’re much more likely to train after work before getting home, schedule your workout at five thirty at a gym en route. If you know you’ll finish a document after having a coffee break if you leave your screensaver off, but won’t if you leave it on or shut the program down, leave everything on the screen.
Know thyself. Learn what makes you tick. Learn what makes you behave yourself. Then fill your life with all these little hacks.
Try heuristic decision making
Self-sabotage can often masquerade as perfectionism. I hate perfectionism. Find a quick, simple solution to a problem and move on. This is a heuristic approach. Heuristics are simply rules of thumb – they can be broad stroke, widely applicable, and can invite a healthy level of ambivalence. They are not optimal, but they get the job done.
This ambivalence is important. It’s not a lack of caring at all. Rather, it’s an ability to make a snap judgement without agonising over the consequences. It is this agonising that we are looking to avoid as it’s incredibly cognitively draining.
Many of us are perfectionists. Many of us could easily disappear down the rabbit hole of perfection. However, if you can reduce the fatigue given by agonising over most of your decision making, you’ll be freeing your emotional energy up for other, more positive things.
Here’s a good example I practice. I follow the five minutes or less rule. Rather than agonising over deciding whether or not to do a task, or letting tasks build up, if I see something that needs doing, I simply ask myself how long it would take. If it’s more than five minutes, I’ll plan when to do it. If it’s less than five minutes, I’ll do it on the spot, no matter what. There is no decision making, no forcing myself to do anything. I don’t even really register it, nowadays. I just do it.
Barack Obama famously always wore the same colour and cut of suit as president. With all the important decisions he needed to make in any given day, he didn’t want to be messing around deciding what to wear. So he had a closet full of blue, well-tailored suits and white shirts.
Love a bit of messy improvement
We’re still talking about perfectionists, here. Self-sabotage can often revolve around inflexible, high standards. You want all or nothing. If it’s nothing, then you quit.
Try to avoid this way of thinking. It’s really not how life works. Nobody becomes a master at anything overnight. In the same way, you cannot dismiss improvements that make a situation just a little better just because they don’t fix them. Any improvement going in the right direction is to be celebrated.
Try to improve a couple of things about your life by just a little bit. Rather than jumping straight into a strict, harsh diet, try adding a few veggies to your plate and cutting down the number of takeaways you have in a week. Take time to form the good habits, then improve them, then reform them… and so on.
Avoid self-sabotage through procrastination
Procrastination is a big deal in self-sabotage. It is the one that I’ve personally been most guilty of over the years.
If you can (and I bet you can), try to avoid procrastination. There are strategies you can put in place to help keep you on the ball and focussed, to stop you losing concentration, and to remove the excuse of down time when you know you want to be working.
We’ve written on how to overcome procrastination, especially in addiction recovery. It’s worth taking the time to check it out.
You cannot just learn a bit more about yourself, do more things more productively, and expect to live a healthier existence. You have to practice self-love and acceptance.
It isn’t just about outcome, either. Though you undoubtedly want to end up living a life of self-love and acceptance, these are both necessary tools in overcoming self-sabotage. You cannot put the above techniques into place on an empty tank. You need a psychological top up – you need kindness.
Forget iron wills and discipline. If you are psychologically run down then allow yourself the opposite. Give yourself the luxury of downtime. This will stop you wanting to procrastinate so much. Allow yourself to feel valued no matter what. This will make it less likely you will want to drag yourself down. Give yourself flexibility and you needn’t break any rules.
Practice self-acceptance. Accept everything about yourself, warts and all. Let go of anger, anxiety, frustration. Don’t let them into your life. Human errors will seem smaller. Your errors will seem smaller. You will be able to be happily ambivalent and energetic rather than driven. You’ll turn up on time not because you make yourself but because you’re delighted to be there.
Self-sabotage is, after all, a form of self-harm. Love yourself, don’t be keen to do yourself harm, and self-sabotage may well disappear.
- Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviour: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_95.htm
- 4 Ways to Overcome Self-Defeating Thoughts - https://www.mindful.org/four-ways-overcome-self-defeating-thoughts/