The simplest definition of self-sabotage is enacting thoughts or behaviors that hold you back from what you want and therefore hinder your ability to progress forward.

An example of self-sabotage:

Here’s how self-sabotage shows up for a lot of people. I’ll use an example from my coaching practice. We’ll call her “Mary”.

Mary wants to lose 20 pounds, exercise, and feel confident in her body. She has a plan and she’s ready to get going. She commits to meal planning, tracking her food, eating healthily, and hitting the gym 3 times a week. Seems simple enough.

Monday comes and she’s off to a great start. She’s sticking to the plan and feeling proud of herself. Fast forward, however, to the end of the week and she’s begun to lose steam. She skipped the gym a couple of times, got off track with her eating, and now her confidence is beginning to wane. 

The weekend comes, her diet’s out the window, and she says she’ll start fresh on Monday. But Monday comes and the cycle repeats. She keeps finding herself right back at square one with no motivation.

By this point, Mary is feeling like a failure, disappointed in herself, and worse yet, feeling unworthy of attaining her goals. She’s frustrated that she keeps sabotaging herself and ending up in the same spot over and over again.

“Something must be wrong with me because I should be able to do this. It shouldn’t be this hard,” she thinks to herself.

But the bully-brain doesn’t stop there. It keeps ongoing.

“What’s the point in trying? Who am I to even want this anyway? I don’t deserve to be happy and look good. I haven’t worked hard enough for it.” Before you know it, Mary’s gone down a deep, dark rabbit hole of feeling unworthy, undeserving, and full of shame.

Can you relate to this?

The #1 Self-Sabotaging Behavior

In this type of self-sabotaging cycle, one behavioral slip-back led to another, which led to another, until ultimately landing in an all-consuming negative mindset filled with self-doubt.

Wanting to reach a goal, not getting there, feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with you, and then believing that you actually don’t deserve it is an incredibly deceptive and damaging internal script that leads to the recurring pattern of self-sabotage.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not so much about the actual behavior that sabotages your success, as it is the thoughts about that behavior and what you make it mean about you.

Thinking you’re inherently flawed because you can’t overcome the barriers standing between you and your goals is the #1 reason why you get stuck in self-sabotage.

The root of all self-sabotaging behaviors is a mindset, particularly when something called “collapsing” happens.

A collapse is when you unconsciously and automatically assign meaning to something that is unrelated or incorrect, but that you believe to be true based on past conditioning and limiting beliefs.

Here are some examples of self-sabotaging “collapses”:
  • You ate sweets despite being on a diet. Collapse: “I don’t deserve to be happy until I lose weight.” (associated emotion- undeserving)
  • You skipped the gym despite your commitment to go. Collapse: “I’m lazy, unmotivated, and I’m not good enough.” (associated emotion- dissatisfaction with self, not enough)
  • You can’t find a meaningful relationship. Collapse: “I’m not worthy of it.” (associated emotion- unworthiness)

Over time, this continual collapse results in a diminished self-belief, with the limiting belief of “I don’t deserve it” at the core. Once that’s gone, it becomes 100x harder to make any lifestyle changes. It’s like trying to build a house on sand, it won’t be stable no matter how many bricks you lay.

When you believe that you’re inherently flawed, no amount of action will be enough to counteract that. In other words, no amount of eating right, exercising, or any other behavior will “correct” or reverse that feeling of being undeserving.

These are limiting beliefs, and if left unchecked, will remain prominent, resulting in a continuous cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors.

The good news is you can change it.

Three Steps to Stop Self-Sabotage in its Tracks:

  1. Don’t let the “collapses” occur. Strip away the labels, assumptions, and incorrect correlations so you can have a more neutral perspective. This will make you more objective, curious, and open-minded. When consciously or unconsciously engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, don’t make it mean something about you that it doesn’t. For example, skipping your workout doesn’t mean you’re wrong, bad, lazy, unworthy, or undeserving. It simply means you skipped your workout. In other words, if your attempt at something isn’t successful, don’t chalk it up to mean that you’re not successful.
  2. Get curious. Using the above example, don’t let your slip back (in this case, skipping your workout) be a reason to beat yourself up. Use it as an opportunity to get curious. Reflect on why it happened, what changes need to be made in your approach, and how to best support yourself moving forward. In other words, see where you got off track, and how to get right back on with as least resistance as possible. You might even need to reevaluate your goal and make sure it’s still aligned with what you truly desire.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Harsh inner criticism does nothing helpful and only gives you another barrier to overcome. Acknowledge that at least you have the courage to try, set goals, and work towards them. (You’re among the 3% of the population who has goals!) Cut yourself some slack. You’re doing the best you can with what you have and where you’re at. Cultivate a healthy mindset with a strong internal belief system so you can create a solid foundation upon which to build. Kindness, self-compassion, and forgiveness go a long way and are essential ingredients to overcome any form of self-sabotage in order to progress forward on the path of your goals with efficiency, enjoyment, and ease.

In Summary:

In summary, self-sabotage is a completely normal and manageable human experience. It occurs for everybody in varying degrees. Aiming for perfection in the pursuit of your goals is not recommended nor realistic. Expect that there are always going to be slip-ups, setbacks, and at times, self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors.

This is known as the messy middle, and it’s where the most potent learning happens.

When we can be present with ourselves about where we’re getting it wrong and have enough self-love, courage, and patience to stay the course and not give up – that’s how real change occurs.

You more than anyone else in the world deserve your love and affection. Don’t strip yourself of that sacred gift. You’re not flawed or broken, and there’s nothing that needs to be “fixed”. You’re already whole and complete just as you are. Work toward achieving your goals from that place and nothing can stop you.

Now, it’s your turn! Share in the comments below:

  1. How does self-sabotage show up for you & how do you overcome it?
  2. What’s one thing you learned from this article & how will you apply it to your life?

If you’d like more support on overcoming self-sabotage, reaching your goals with ease, and creating a healthy relationship with yourself, send me a message! I can’t wait to hear from you!

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