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How to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Some simple ways to stop being your own worst enemy.

Key points

  • People self-sabotage for a number of reasons, such as fear of success and low self-efficacy.
  • The first step of changing self-sabotaging behaviors is to recognize why they happen and what triggers them.
  • Reflecting on the cost of self-sabotaging behaviors and clarifying personal values can help people overcome this pattern.
Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock
Source: Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

In Part 1 of this series, we explored self-sabotaging behavior, including the reasons why people self-sabotage. In this post, I will provide some simple ways to reduce these behaviors.

There are many simple ways to break out of the pattern of self-sabotage, although it often requires consistent practice and effort.

1. Identify and understand the pattern.

The first step of combating self-sabotage is to understand where this pattern appears and what lies behind it. It is unlikely that you are sabotaging all the areas of your life all of the time. For instance, you might find that you struggle to go to therapy regularly and never do therapy homework but are well able to keep up with university assignments.

Which areas do you most often notice this pattern bubble up within? What sets these areas apart from areas of greater competence? What lies behind your self-sabotage?

2. Consider the cost.

What will you lose, or fail to gain, if you continue acting in the current manner? Choices have far-reaching consequences and the choice to not attend the gym today might mean that you make the same choice over and over out of habit and ease, eventually developing bad health behaviors or physical illnesses. We often focus on short-term gains and pleasures and forget about long-term impacts.

3. Clarify your values and goals.

If you routinely struggle with committing to actions or fulfilling goals, it might be helpful to clarify your values and ensure that your goals are aligned with your values. We are more likely to be able to commit to value-driven action (e.g., attending choir because we value community) than goals based on avoidance or comparison.

It is helpful to stop and consider all the benefits that a goal or behavioral pattern will bring to your life, and how it fits in with the bigger picture you hold for your life.

4. Do the opposite.

If you notice that you often sabotage yourself, list how. For example, do you forget to answer texts from friends and alienate them? Ignore assignments and then fail a subject for a degree you want? Break the difficulty down in as much detail as possible (e.g., "I do not schedule ample time for assignments and try and do them the night before, then panic and give up") and formulate a plan to act the opposite. If leaving things until the last moment is a problem, then it is helpful to get a diary or planner and start planning four weeks ahead, or at the start of the semester.

The best way to break behavioral patterns is behaviorally. Cognition, insight, and emotion are important components of this, but fundamentally, we have to eventually start changing behaviors to start seeing progress against self-sabotaging patterns.

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