Self-sabotage occurs when our behavior creates problems in daily life and interferes with long-term goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors include procrastination, perfectionism, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, financial and relationship self-sabotage, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.
Why do we self-sabotage?
There are many reasons why someone might act in a way that harms their self-interest. Often, we may not consciously realize we are engaging in a way that proves damaging to our own well-being. For example, a perfectionist who wants to complete a task flawlessly may dismiss incremental improvements.
One of the common reasons why we self-sabotage is our inner enemy, which manifests as our “critical inner voice,” that’s shaped by early life experiences and the perceptions formed by others feedback or behavior toward us. Self-sabotage might also be a comfort or soothing mechanism. Often fear will hold us back — fear of the unknown or unfamiliar, fear of failure, fear that our critical inner voice will be proven right or overpower us, fear that we will have too much to lose or that we will have to face pain or rejection.
How to stop self-sabotage:
The key to managing self-sabotage is to identify destructive patterns of thoughts and behaviors that don’t serve us well and adopt new ways of thinking and taking actions to accomplish our goals.
Here are six ways to manage self-sabotaging behaviors:
1. Recognize self-sabotaging triggers
The first step with any behavior change is to become self-aware. Learn what sets you off. Is it an angry tone in your partner’s voice that reminds you of being yelled at as a child? Other triggers might be boredom, fear, wanting to control, or self-doubt. Observe these without judgment. Gently ask yourself what was behind the outburst. Where did this come from?
2. Document your behavior
Start to document self-sabotaging behaviors and the impact they’re having on yourself and others. Keep a mood journal. For instance, make a note of when and how often instead of tackling an important project in a timely manner, do you wait until the last minute to get started Or if you have a hard time talking about your feelings, especially when upset, how often and with whom do you end up resorting to passive aggression?
3. Take the time to self-reflect
It takes time and effort to understand why self-destructive behaviors occur. Taking the time to peel back the layers to get to deeper awareness provides valuable insights into ourselves and the underlying motivations and desires. Only by learning from what worked and what didn’t work can we adjust our course of action by taking a different approach. A good way to self-reflect is by practicing mindfulness.
4. Make small behavioral changes
Consider how your beliefs and behaviors are affecting your happiness and sense of purpose. What behaviors are holding you back from achieving your potential? Are your actions leading you toward your goals or taking time and energy away from them? If it’s the latter, look for ways to replace old patterns with new ones that are more helpful in achieving your goals. For example, if perfectionism is keeping you from making a career change or trying something new, then talk to a friend or mentor to get a different perspective. If it’s helpful to avoid triggers such as drama, pettiness or negative people, then start there.
5. Evaluate your goals and actions regularly
A good way to check-in on whether your behaviors are serving you well or not is to evaluate your goals, actions and plans on an ongoing basis. Determine the progress you’re making toward your goal and the obstacles that seem to get in the way. Make any adjustments to get you back on track. You may not have to do this daily, but doing this weekly or monthly might be a good start. The key is to be consistent. Don’t be afraid to change the course if your current path isn’t working.
6. Have an accountability partner
An accountability partner is someone who holds you accountable to your goals and commitments. This can be a friend, a colleague, or a peer. When we’re left to our own devices, it’s easy to make excuses and drop the ball, but when we’re accountable to someone else, the chances of our success increase. Research shows you have 65 percent of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95 percent. It’s important you put a system in place to measure and record your progress and schedule regular appointments to check-in.
Remember, we have a say in how we manage our own self-sabotaging behaviors. The question is what choices are we willing to make to get out of our own way?
As the quote goes, “Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make different choices.”