“Your thinking affects your beliefs, your beliefs affect your capability, your capability affects your actions, your actions affect your results.”- Andy Gilbert
At times, when we feel overwhelmed and under-resourced with the problems we face, we fall back in to negative behaviours that can make us feel comfortable but prevent us from focusing on solutions with a clear and stable mind. We also tend to develop negative patterns in our behaviour, habits and thinking that control us thereby sabotaging our important goals. For instance, when we are stressed, we self sabotage by overindulging in unhealthy habits that get in our own way of accomplishing things that are important to us. These behaviours are so subtle that most of the times we don’t realise we are doing it and continuously regret the things we didn’t do and then wonder why we keep getting stuck indulging in these limiting patterns of behavior.
We also use our self sabotage behaviour as a way to cope with difficult situations or high expectations of ourselves and tend to react to events, circumstances and others in ways that limit our progress and prevent us from reaching our goals and objectives. It is not generally a conscious decision to sabotage ourselves, but we do it unconsciously by stressing out, through comfort eating, making excuses or by procrastinating.
Most of the times, our emotional drivers remain unconscious which is why we often tend to use conscious justification to explain why we act in way that proves damaging to our own well-being. For instance, we end up developing dysfunctional and distorted beliefs that lead us to justify and underestimate our capabilities, suppress our emotions or blame others.
What self sabotage mean?
“Self sabotage is when we we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.”— Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
Self-sabotage happens when we choose to work against positive progress in our lives. In other words, self sabotage is any behaviour, thought, emotion or action that holds you back from getting what you consciously want. It is a conflict between our conscious desires and unconscious wants that manifest in sabotaging patterns of behaviour where you find yourself repeating behaviours, thought patterns and habits over and over again that takes you away from your goal. Indulging in behaviours being unaware of its consequences leads to sabotaging personal or professional relationships, or it can be a fitness goal or work-related or any other important task or can be any goal that you have set .
Why do we self sabotage?
There are countless reasons why we get stuck in repetitive sabotaging cycles and behaviours. Often times these are learned behaviours and coping strategies that we develop to deal with difficult situations somewhere along the way in life, whether during childhood or to help us relieve distress. Some of the common triggers include,
•Fear of failure, fear of making mistakes or fear of rejection hinders us from taking proactive action and we hold ourselves back from taking risks and making most of new opportunities. It’s easy to trip ourselves up in fear and resort to faulty thinking while developing healthy habits, managing money and time or while building healthy relationships. Faulty thinking triggers the tendency to avoid things that are difficult and uncomfortable. Sometimes, we may even halt our own progress because we don’t know how to navigate towards a healthier and positive life.
•Critical inner voice that makes you think like – ‘this won’t work’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I am too busy right now’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not ready yet’. We all have the side that has been internalised by the undermining and negative voices we have encountered in our lives that functions to keep us from risking being hurt, shamed or traumatised in the ways they had been in the past. Critical inner voice creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes you believe in sabotaging narratives.
•Procrastination. Postponing and making excuses won’t let you get started on accomplishing your goals. To put off till tomorrow, defer, delay or avoiding certain tasks because either they are unpleasant, stressful, or difficult leads to sabotaging important tasks. We tend to replace them with less strenuous or with tasks that are either easy, less stressful or because we find them interesting.
•Perfectionism and control. One of the main reason for self-sabotage is the need for perfection and control. This is because we think if only we had put in more effort or had better circumstances, everything would have worked out as it should. The counter-intuitive strategy of regulating self-esteem is what engages you into an unconscious need to be in control.
•Blaming others. Sometimes our suffering or pain manifests where we live up with a victim mentality and the wrongs of the past make us blame everyone else for the negative things happening in our life right now. We hold on to grudges and start blaming others for our problems and difficulties. Playing the blame-game confines us to resentment and self-pity leads to self-sabotage. This happens mostly when we are not self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
•Feelings of unworthiness. Low self esteem may drive people to feel they don’t deserve success or good things. We judge our worthiness according to this illusory image and if we do not fit the mould, we believe we are not worthy of good things in life. The subconscious feeling of unworthiness causes us to sabotage all the good things.
•Self-doubt. When you doubt yourself consistently, you end up not believing in yourself and lose your self-worth. Your self-doubt makes you afraid of putting effort and hard work into something that’s not guaranteed you an outcome.
•Feeling of familiarity: We have a tendency to cling to the familiar and avoid trying new approaches. This leads us to overvalue the things that we know and undervalue things that are unfamiliar. Because of the comfort factor we are drawn to go with the familiar, even when a different option offers a clear advantage. The familiar things are predictable and follow the same pattern then we know how to deal with it than the unfamiliar ones. Because of this we develop a need to stay in our comfort zones
How can we change our self-sabotage patterns
We literally sabotage ourselves into failure by thoughts we have, the words we speak and even create feelings associated with self-sabotage as though it is a normal healthy condition. You end up building mental and emotional chain locked into sabotage type habits. Each of these sabotaging patterns has its own set of consequences that manifest in a variety of ways. Some are very obvious, while others might be a little more difficult to identify.
Is there an actual solution for avoiding these repetitive and limiting patterns of behavior? Since you have created the chain yourself, you can also create the key to unlock yourself from the chain of self-sabotage. Here is how to take conscious control of the self-sabotaging patterns that are currently influencing your choices, decisions and actions.
Identify your inner critical voice and repetitive thoughts
Everyone has an inner critic who says in a hundred different ways, “you’re not good enough”. We tend to feed this critic by negative messages society sends you about who you ‘need’ to be in order to be worthy, smart, successful, rich, attractive, popular. The critic can be especially loud in people experiencing anxiety or depression. Having an inner critic is not the issue. The issue is believing what your inner critic says to you and acting on its advice. Is your inner voice enabling you or hindering you? If you have an overly critical voice and you tend to believe whatever it conveys to you, then you are self-sabotaging. Identify what are your self-critical thoughts concerning your goals. Does your inner voice encourages you or discourages You?
Be aware of your daily choices, decisions, actions and the resulting consequences. Identify the specific triggers that may be causing sabotaging behaviours to manifest in your life. These triggers could include people, objects, specific times, events and locations. Take conscious control of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Work on getting some distance from your critic. If you’re constantly looking for information that confirms you’re not good enough, you’ll find it. Focus your attention on your strengths, accomplishments and on the things you’re doing well.
Pay attention and acknowledge any negative self-narratives, defeating attitudes or repetitive behavioural patterns. Challenge your negative self-talk without identifying it or becoming it. Remember that your thoughts are not facts and can always be changed. The same holds true for attitudes and behaviours. You have the power to change your actions at any time. Committing to change sets free new resources and helps you overcome self sabotaging patterns. Identify some of your self-sabotaging beliefs and replace them with positive empowering ones.
Ask yourself: What do I believe about my abilities? Which beliefs trigger my self-sabotage pattern? How is this belief self-sabotaging?
Replace your sabotaging thought patterns
Replace your negative self-talk, attitudes and behavioural patterns with empowering positive and learning-focused narratives instead. Ask yourself: How exactly does this behaviour tends to manifest in my life? What triggers my self-sabotaging habits? What patterns do I see that are self-sabotaging my goal?
Sometimes it is difficult to avoid certain triggers such as people, objects or circumstances that cause us to react in un resourceful ways. Develop a more resourceful and practical way that would help you work towards your long-term goals. For people with perfectionist traits which leads to procrastination, the way to overcome procrastination is to set your targets deliberately low, and focus on what you have already achieved rather than striving towards something unattainable. The best way to overcome procrastination is to examine the root of the problem. Ask yourself: is it because the task at hand is daunting, is it because you’re worried you won’t get it perfect, or do you just not feel good enough?
Invite new thought narratives
Most of our self-sabotaging thought patterns stem from limited perception of self, a perception that holds the self as separate from the rest of the world. Break through your self-cantered thinking and view things as a whole without personal attachment to a single view point. Imagine yourself giving feedback and offering helpful solutions and problem-solving from a caring and unbiased perspective. Make your inner voice as one that provides helpful insights and solutions. What would you advise your friend who is in similar situation, what perspectives or solutions would you offer or propose?
Maintain focus on your goals
Focus on your important goals to get a new perspective to alter sabotaging patterns. Achievement goals strongly influence positive versus negative self-talk. Goals keep you focused on your improvements over perfection. Ask yourself how important are your goals to you and whether you are willing to put the work and effort required to attain them. Learn to accept and deal with failure, perceiving it as temporary and within your control. Self-sabotaging thoughts need to be challenged with evidence, logic and a big helping of compassion.
Take time to self-reflect
Mindfulness and other self-reflection practices provide an opportunity to recognise sabotaging thought patterns, attitudes and behaviours that creep up during our personal and professional endeavours. If you find yourself aiming for perfection, reflect on being consistent. You don’t need to be perfect in order to reach your goals, you just need to be consistent. Instead of aiming for perfection, utilise your strengths in planning, organising and executing.
If you Identify that you are procrastinating, reflect on what your excuses are. Are these excuses for real and something you can overcome? What resources you need to overcome? What specific actions do you need to take so not to make excuses?
If it’s because of fear of failure, uncertainty, or rejection, work on becoming self-aware of your fears. Once you are aware of them, you can begin to see that they are misconceived beliefs and can immediately address them. For instance, sometimes the issue may simply be that the task at hand feels unsurmountable, In this instance breaking it down into bite-size chunks and rewarding each mini-achievement can help you manage the task.
So, Are you caught up in a repeating cycle of sabotaging thought narratives?
What triggers your self-sabotaging behaviour and how does this affect your goals?
What are your recurring thought patterns?
What behaviours do you tend to fall back on when faced with adversity, pressure or uncomfortable situations?
Do you blame, criticise, or judge the actions or inaction’s of others instead of taking personal responsibility for outcomes?
Reflecting on the above questions and strategies can make you aware of your sabotaging patterns.
Self- sabotage is a learned pattern, so you have to take corrective action again and again to create a new habit. Once you have identified your new behaviour, take time to practice it as often as possible. The next time you feel yourself getting bogged down by your negative thought narratives or self-defeating habits, follow these simple tips to replace them with more positive thought patterns. And remember that you always possess the capacity to change your sabotaging patterns and don’t have to be your thoughts, attitudes, habits or behaviour.