How to stop self-sabotage (part 1)
Knowing how to stop self-sabotage is one of the most frequently searched for self-help questions on Google.
But most people, often at their wits end by the time they grab their smartphone or keyboard and start typing, never stop to think why it is they’ve been self-sabotaging themselves.
Or, more interestingly, why is it only some people appear to be affected by self-sabotage, even if they’re both in similar jobs or careers.
That’s why in this post we’ll be exploring what self-sabotage is and how it can begin, along with some easy to implement suggestions for you to stop being affected by it – right now.
And more importantly, what can we do to stop it appearing in your life again.
I had originally intended to write this as a single blog post but as it’s grown I’ve split it into two – I’ll add a link when the second part goes live later this month.
So without further ado, let’s talk self-sabotage.
Self-Sabotage is not a ‘thing’ but a spectrum
There are various possible reasons as to why we find it hard to stop self-sabotage and so it’s important to appreciate that your own ‘reasons’ for doing this may be totally different to someone else’s – even if they’re doing exactly what you do and for apparently similar reasons.
Also, because it’s a spectrum issue this means there’s a wide variation in what we do that could be classified as self-sabotage.
Lower order examples would include, being late for a bus or train, forgetting to return phone calls, losing key documents, miswriting contact details and wasting time on social media rather than completing work.
Higher order examples could include general procrastination, frequently switching jobs, spending time going to events that we don’t really wish to attend, mismanaging health and addictions and the ultimate big-ticket one, suicide.
SIDENOTE: If you are having suicidal feelings then pause reading this and GO AND GET SOME HELP, pronto. Speak to someone, reach out for a chat, either on-line or face to face.
I know, first-hand, how dark it can feel in your mind when the “it’s best if I wasn’t around” feelings begin to take over control of your mind. If you can re-boot a computer you can certainly re-boot your mind – get help today.
For some people, suicide could be seen as the ultimate method of self-sabotage, since AFAIK there’s no way even the best coach or therapist can help you overcome that success beater.
And rather like how oak trees start off as tiny acorns, those small but niggling thoughts resulting in various minor acts of self-sabotage may, for some people, escalate into feeling they’re sooo bad that suicide is the only ‘sensible and logical’ option.
This is why it’s important that you bring your self-sabotaging patterns to the surface – so you can be helped to stop them and secure whatever help you may require to ensure it doesn’t return.
Let’s look at a brief list of some examples of self-sabotage before we dig down deeper into why it’s happening in your life.
- Comparing yourself to others, either in school, university or at work and then falling into a ‘why bother’ thought pattern
- Looking at ‘perfect lifestyles on social media, deciding you can’t compete and then ‘why-bothering’ yourself through the rest of the day
- Misplacing items such as keys, clothes and the like such that you’re late for various events
- Forgetting the time, date or location of appointments or events so that you either miss them or turn up late and have to apologise
- Procrastinating over what to do next, until you run out of time and have to rush to complete work, often to a less good standard that you are capable of doing.
- Spending long periods ruminating over what you’ve done or not done, rather than actually getting on with what’s to be actioned.
From these examples you should be able to begin to appreciate that self-sabotage isn’t always the ‘end-point’ in your thoughts – it may well be linked to something else.
Something deeper that’s driving you, compelling you to act as you do.
And that’s something that may require looking at in further detail further down the line, once you’ve begun to switch off some of your self-sabotage patterns.
We’re all born with a clean slate – a mind that’s ready to accept instruction and guidance, both from the world around us and our caregivers specifically.
This is a good, useful and a natural way for us as babies and children to learn how to cope with our environment, but not every caregiver interprets their world the same way, nor do we all grow up in the same environments.
When growing up we become indoctrinated to acting, thinking, and behaving in certain ways. Through subtle, and not so subtle means, the caregivers around us teach, suggest or cajole us into thinking and behaving in particular ways.
Once these patterns of thoughts or beliefs are installed, mostly without our conscious awareness, we’re prone to carrying out whatever we need to do so as to continue to receive approval.
Keeping things very simple for now, here are just a few examples –
- For some, the caregivers may see everything as a battle, and may then teach their children they have to battle for what they want.
- Someone else may believe we should simply be thankful for what we’ve got, but in teaching this their children learn to never stand up for what they want and to achieve more.
- And another caregiver might show their children how their circumstances are purely the starting place in the game, and that if they ‘play their cards right’ they can win and achieve much more than they might otherwise have believed.
So this inter-generational learning is being handed down all the time to you when you’re growing up, but in a way that bypasses your conscious awareness so that it’s installed deep in your mind as unconscious patterns – the ‘this is how life is’ file, as such.
It’s important, therefore, that in order to stop self sabotage we bring back into conscious awareness any self-sabotaging behaviours we still hold onto so we can decide whether we still choose to keep them as ours – or whether we’d prefer to ditch them forever.
Always putting yourself last
Many people call themselves out for self-sabotaging behaviour at work but few stop to consider how they may be self-sabotaging their health too.
Not dealing with your health such that issues build up requiring emergency treatment can also be a way of self-sabotaging (although it can also indicate other issues too).
This can show up in delaying or repeatedly cancelling going to your dentist or doctor for a checkup, not taking up a regular exercise routine, not adjusting your diet or not quitting smoking (remember guys, smoking KILLS you!)
Each of these will have long term implications and are in their way seriously more self-sabotaging than forgetting to update an Excel spreadsheet or missing a Zoom meeting.
Stop listening to the BS
I’ll touch upon this in the list of suggestions, but for now I want you to realise that are three ‘rules’ that if you believe them to be true, you’ll discover how easy it is to stop self-sabotage.
- Life is a game – and you don’t have to follow the ‘rules’ that others have said are ‘the facts’.
- The odds were, until now, stacked against you, but you can change that.
- 99% of what you believe to be ‘true’ are only your beliefs. Change your beliefs (using some of the suggestions below) and you’ll change your life – and stop self sabotage much easier than you expected.
21 ways to squash self-sabotage (pt1)
1.Make a plan
Don’t think of commencing your day without having planned it the night before.
This might sound like organisation #101 but if you have self-sabotage it’s key that we discover in what areas it crops up and what’s causing it.
So plan your work and ensure you provide space to action the Important over the Urgent since it’s failing to deal with the Important that’s the trait of self-sabotagers.
This will also help you if you’re someone who’s prone to task-switching or multi-tasking or suchlike. If that’s you then at the very least ensure your internet connection is off, and even your phone physically switched off (you may need to google how to do that!) else you’ll be distracting yourself too much.
I’ll also provide more detailed suggestions about how to do this in another post but for now, by the end of each day, work out what tomorrow’s tasks will be and allot time for each. Make sure to allow for a few unexpected events, but remember their bad planning doesn’t automatically make it urgent for you.
And, yes, I’ll be writing about the issues around multi-tasking, and phone addictions in a later post since bad habits here can lead us to falsely believe we’re imposters or self-sabotagers.
2. Monitor your self-talk
Have you ever seen one of those Japanese bullet-trains filling up with commuters during the rush hour?
In case you haven’t – they’re very crowded! Unlike anything you’ll see in most cities, in Japan they employee people to literally ‘push’ people into every vacant space, so they begin their journeyto work.
Now I don’t know about you but I’d be hard-pressed (no pun intended) to count how many people are in that picture above.
And do you know what, your mind is rammed, chock-a-block full of thoughts in just the same fashion.
“Gotta do X”, “Have to remember to call Y”, “Will Z be there on time?” and so on.
And whilst all those, allegedly, useful thoughts are whisking you along to your stop… it’s nigh on impossible to notice whether a few interlopers have snuk on board too.
A few nare do well travellers whose only plan is to disrupt your plans for the day.
So, what you’ll need to do is to introduce a strict, “If your name’s not down you’re not coming in” policy with all of your thoughts.
And also, to imploy your brain’s equivalent to a ticket inspector – introspection.
Yes. During the day, take a moment to ask yourself, “What am I thinking about right now”. Note it down too, & give it a ‘+’ or a ‘-‘ to signify whether it’s helping or hindering you and over time you’ll be able to assess which of those ‘-‘ thoughts keep popping up.
Your next task will be to stop them from getting on the train tomorrow, and every day thereafter, so you can enjoy the journey better.
3. Diarise and follow-up
Make an appointment with yourself to take time each week to see how you’re getting on with changing your self-sabotage habit.
Select a couple of steps you’re going to take to bring your self-sabotage under control and each week reflect on what’s happened.
Don’t be like those people who on 1st Jan set a goal to get fit and quit in two weeks – start slow and continue to make steady progress.
And if you slip, treat it as feedback not failure – carry on where you left off and you’ll be amazed as to how different your life can become.
4. Have an accountability partner
That’s right – buddy-up.
If you’ve already confided in someone else about your self-sabotaging then send them a link to this post and let each of you decide upon one or two to begin with.
Then, continue to check in with each other regularly, perhaps daily to begin with, to see how you’re getting on.
Remember that it’s ok for some slippage, since you’re aiming to change patterns that have been running on autopilot for decades. We don’t want you to stop this process because you feel you’re self-sabotaging this, do we?
5. Take stock of your friendships and relationship
Remember how we spoke about self-sabotaging being a spectrum issue and that it’s really an indication of something else going on below the surface.
Well, on that basis it may be useful for you to carry out a quick audit of your friends and relationships, wherever they are located, and to decide whether everyone in that crowd will be helping or hindering your change.
6. Change your behaviour
Once you’ve begun to identify what you do that’s self-sabotaging pick one negative habit and replace it with a positive one.
If it helps, write down how you used to benefit from the old habit and how the new one will be more beneficial.
Research has shown that people who write their goals by hand have more ‘stickability’ than those who simply use an electric note, so try it for size and see whether that helps you.
Draw a line in the sand and decide that you’re going to stop self-sabotaging.
Whatever the reason, lack of confidence, belief you’re no good, worry that others will laugh at you if you fail, whatever the reason, let it go.
7. Play at being someone else
Research has shown that women are more prone than men to underestimate their abilities – which tends to reinforce any self-sabotage tendencies.
One way to compensate for this for female readers is to try out being more ‘male’.
You can play around with this a little, have some fun in fact and notice how you feel being a stronger more confident person – you might come to enjoy your new-found freedom and ditch your self-sabotage just by doing this!
Compared to most men, the majority of women will have had more negative thoughts thrown at them, comments uttered and observations made which will have resulted in you believing the self-talk you’ve learnt to be true, is how the world is.
Which means there’s a strong possibility that whatever you’ve set as your ability, your maximum score or self-imposed glass ceiling is totally false.
But you’ll still continue to self-sabotage yourself to keep that belief intact.
Ask the majority (if not every) successful woman and they’ll be able to recount 100’s of times they’ve had to put up with slights, put-down’s, name-calling or worse.
This is why many women may choose to self-select themselves out of applying for more senior positions in companies – it’s easier to let the ‘glass-ceiling’ protect them from further comments.
But once you know how to stop self-sabotage, it’s possible to shatter the glass above and take your place in the next level.
8. Set goals & monitor your progression
If you don’t have any goals of your own making then how can you honestly say you’re self-sabotaging?
More importantly, without specific goals you’re like a boat without a rudder, engine or sails simply responding to the wind and tide.
But the ‘trick’ with goals is – rather than focus upon your goals, focus upon the habits you need to carry out to make those goals a done-deal.
So rather than just say ‘I need to be more confident’ identify and write down 10 ways you can show this is happening.
Then track your progress.
9. Plan and rehearse your outcomes
Once you’ve chosen some alternative ways of thinking or behaving, practice them.
For you this might mean closing your eyes and mentally rehearsing what you’ll do or say when specific events occur.
Perhaps you’ll need to act or react in certain ways, so play those scenarios through in your mind and notice how you feel.
Feel good? Great.
Feel a little wobbly or unsure?
Wind that tape back and run it through again – this time noting those slips and how you’ll deal with them.
Remember perfect practice leads to perfect performance.
10. Identify how you benefit from self-sabotage
Once we recognise we’re not to blame for our self-sabotage it frees us up to be able to ask what we gain from it.
So, the next time you’re feeling all self-sabotagey (if that’s a word?) ask yourself what you’re gaining from doing it.
There’s a benefit – since we all act for our own benefit, however wacky that might be and beging to question those reasons.
If what you find is confusing to you then get in touch – chances are that I can offer you some reflection on those thoughts and help you to move forwards in your own successes.
11. Stop beating yourself up over it
Yes – simply accept that up until recently you had most probably not spent that much time looking into how your self-sabotaging habits were holding you back or what was causing them to stick.
It’s quite ok to give yourself time to let this information ‘bed in’ and to be learnt from.
You’ve probably already spent decades with those thoughts weaving through your mind, and rather like how weeds will take over a garden that’s not regularly tended, until now you’ve not been keeping an eye on the way your thoughts have become overgrown.
Well, that can stop now. You’ve got your gardening gloves on and a pair of secatuers in your hands ready to cut back those self-sabotage weeds, once and for all.
End of part one
Before you leave this page and go about the rest of your day, take a moment to decide which technique(s) you’re going to test out to stop your self-sabotage.
If you want to know how to stop self-sabotage – the answer’s here. Just one change could be all you require to create the momentum to alter the direction of your life.
Self-Sabotage is not one single thing or habit – it’s a spectrum of patterns, each with different reasons and backstories.
What’s important for you now, therefore, is to begin to unwind the ties that bind you to your past so that you can start to live your life free from having to self-sabotage your future.
Simple, regular and repeatable steps are all that may be required for you to make changes that will help you to become more successful, self-confidence, and dare I say, happier too.
Recommended further reading
If you’re interested in dealing with Imposter Syndrome then these additional articles will be helpful for you.
- 27 easy ways how to quickly stop feeling an imposter
- What is Underearning
- What is Imposter Syndrome
- Coaching programmes for change
I work with clients to help them break free from the three linked issues of Imposter Syndrome, Underearning and the Fear of Failure and if you’d like to discover more about this I invite you to take a few moments to book a time in my online diary so we could arrange a Zoom meeting, to grab a ‘virtual cuppa’ as such to speak about how you could overcome these issues. too.