Self-Sabotage: 6 Steps to Save Yourself From Ruin

CoachHub · 22 November 2022 · 6 min read

Being your own worst enemy can be so hard that sometimes you don’t even notice it. You can get in your own way without even knowing it. You’re no help by yourself, and every time you get in your own way, it makes achieving your goals harder. When your goals become harder to achieve, it becomes easier to give up. You hear the voice of doubt in your head saying you’ll never make it and why even bother with all this work anyway? But listen to me now: you need to protect yourself from yourself. Self-sabotage is real and if you let it continue long enough, eventually it will stop you from achieving any of your goals at all.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage refers to any behaviors that prevent us from reaching our full potential. We may find ourselves engaging in behaviors that have mental, emotional or physical consequences and hold us back from achieving our goals.

We engage in self-sabotaging behaviors both consciously or unconsciously and they can often feel like they are beyond our control. Destructive behaviors are a very natural part of being human. We crave comfort and stability and we fear pain and uncertainty. It is normal that we come up against resistance when we attempt to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

You have more power than you think to create positive change and overcome destructive behavioral patterns. Any negative habit can be replaced with a little awareness and the right efforts.


Causes of self-sabotage:

  • Fear of failure: We set goals but when it comes to doing the work to achieve them we subconsciously avoid the necessary tasks because we are afraid of facing potential failure. 
  • Values and behaviors are out of alignment: We may be chasing something that does not fully represent our true values and ambitions. We could be motivated by societal or familial pressures and do not actually want what are aiming for.
  • Poor relationship with yourself: We may be lacking self-worth and believe on a subconscious level that we do not deserve to achieve what we want or to be treated well, even by ourselves.
  • Bad habitual behavior: We may know what is important to us and where we want to be but are stuck in behavioral loops that do not help us get there. Our choices are still serving immediate pleasures instead of long-term needs.

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How to recognize self-sabotage

With every pattern of self-sabotage, there is a trigger in your environment that brings on the destructive behavior, the specific act of self-sabotage, a cost, both short-term and long-term and a root cause. In order to overcome these patterns we need to become familiar with each of these points:

  • Identify the pattern of self-destructive behavior.

What exact behaviors are holding me back from achieving my goals?

  • Look at the specific environments or triggers that cause this behavior.

What conditions lead me to engage in this behavior?

  • List the consequences of your destructive behavior.

What is the price of this behavior?

  • Look into the future and imagine what it will look like if you continue to self-sabotage.

Where will I be in one year and five years if I do not stop this behavior?

  • Address the root cause of this behavior.

What am I telling myself in the moment that causes me to behave this way?

How to stop self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors

Once you can recognize the exact patterns, their triggers and the consequences you can begin to put practices in place that help you to overcome them and move beyond self-sabotaging behaviors:

1. Self-awareness

Practice self-awareness in your daily life. This means having a practice of observing your thoughts, feelings, words and actions, without judgment or resistance. You simply want to shine a light on your behavior instead of being lost in it. When we watch ourselves from a place of detachment, we remove ourselves from automated behavioral patterns and give ourselves a chance to choose how we want to respond.

2. Journalling

When trying to overcome a destructive behavioral pattern it is helpful to document the journey. Use a journal to note the times you have self-sabotaged, what conditions lead to the behavior and how you felt. Eventually, you may be able to identify patterns and have a clear view of what needs to change. It is also important to note your successes, what contributed to your better choices and what reward came from not engaging in destructive behaviors.

3. Mindfulness practice

Mindfulness is a technique that improves your ability to watch your thoughts and choose which thoughts to engage in. It is likely that your self-sabotaging behaviors are brought on by spiraling negative thoughts. With a mindfulness practice, you can train yourself to recognize these thoughts and stop them before they cause you to make choices that do not serve you.

4. Make a plan

Put in place a simple plan to overcome your sabotaging behaviors. Set a small and achievable goal that will replace these patterns and establish better habits. Understand the blocks you need to put in place, the steps you need to take and the time you need to overcome the patterns. Give yourself a clear path out of these habits and work towards replacing them with empowering behaviors.

5. Accountability partners

Do not be afraid to ask for help from others. It is likely someone you know is also trying to overcome a destructive habit and you can work together as accountability partners. You may also consider working with a professional coach who can provide techniques to overcome poor behavior and be a source of motivation to keep you on track.

6. Self-compassion

Remember to be compassionate towards yourself and do not waste your energy with self-criticism. You are likely to fall back to your old ways from time to time. This is a natural part of the process of overcoming bad behavior patterns. With self-compassion, you can quickly accept your choices and move forward. The more self-criticism you engage in the longer it will take you to get back on track.

How to repair the damage of self-sabotage

There are likely to be four areas of your life that have been affected by your self-sabotaging behaviors: Your internal state, your physical health, your relationships and your work. You do not have to repair them all at once. Focus on establishing new habits that help you to overcome self-sabotaging patterns and these areas will improve in time. Simply keep in mind what needs to be repaired and what you can do to improve the situation.

  1. Internal state: Self-forgiveness, improve self-esteem, meditation, self-awareness.
  2. Physical health: Adequate sleep, nutritious diet, regular exercise, hydration. 
  3. Relationships: Honest communication, apologies, acknowledgment of behaviors, expressing gratitude. 
  4. Professional life: Goal setting, taking some time off, aiming for a promotion, considering a career change. 

In Conclusion

Overcoming self-sabotage requires self-compassion and patience. You will need to dig into the what, how and why you are allowing yourself to engage in destructive patterns. Once you have awareness and insight into your behaviors you can begin to work on saving yourself from ruin. One of the most effective ways of improving your behavior and achieving your goals is to work with a coach. A professional coach can help you identify self-sabotaging behaviors, provide personalized recommendations and help keep you accountable to yourself. No matter how powerful the behavior may seem, you can always work your way out of it.

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Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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