You know that beautiful, somewhat cliché quote that states…
“If you shoot for the moon and miss at least you’ll land amongst the stars?”
Well, when you shoot for the moon with self-sabotage tendencies you’ll crash land right back on the ground.
Needless to say…it’s not a fun experience.
Being single-handedly responsible for messing up one’s goals is utterly infuriating.
When it comes to setting goals, we are usually our own worst enemy.
The most frustrating part of it all is we oftentimes have no idea why we do it!
For me personally, I know there was a time where I could heavily relate to this.
I would carefully plan a goal down to the details, then when it was GO time, I would be notorious for throwing in the towel.
This would happen over and over.
Over the course of years.
This resulted in me constantly being disappointed in myself.
Which then would result in low self-esteem and even depression.
This chain of events ultimately led to me to believe I was incapable of practically anything.
…can you relate?
So why would I — and many others — constantly put ourselves through this vicious circle?
Let’s talk about it…
There are many different definitions out there for self-sabotage.
I like to define it as simply as…
“Actions based on negative feelings that prevent you from sticking to a previous plan you set for yourself.”
For example, many of us struggle with getting out the door to workout.
I know I have.
You’ll plan your workouts down to the hour every week, you’ll buy new workout gear, and you’ll genuinely get yourself excited about the prospect of finally following through and becoming healthy.
Then, when it gets time to walk out that door to get to the gym…something stops you.
Likely, you’ll even go so far as to get your workout clothes on and have keys in hand, ready to go.
But something overpowers your actions and prevents you from following through right at the last moment.
These are the actions you’re taking based on negative feelings occurring inside your brain.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of why our brains are acting this way…
As we covered previously, self-sabotage is a series of actions that prevent us from reaching our goals.
These actions directly stem from our thoughts.
Let me explain why…
There is a self-coaching model that states:
Thoughts –> Feelings –> Actions –> Results
Meaning that any action is a direct result of the feeling you had about that action.
This feeling is stemmed directly from a thought that occurred inside your brain.
So, now that we know this, we can examine what thoughts and feelings are causing us to act in a certain way that causes us to self-sabotage.
These are the most common thoughts that produce self-sabotaging actions:
When you have a low opinion of yourself and your abilities, you feel that you don’t deserve happiness or success.
You’ll often walk through life feeling inadequate and can even have imposter syndrome when it comes to being successful.
These feelings of inadequacy can be built up over years of self-sabotaging behavior.
So not only does it cause the action of self-sabotage, but it is caused by self-sabotaging as well.
It’s a never-ending cycle.
I know this one all too well.
You’ll be afraid to push past your comfort zone and try anything new because of the fear you have of failing.
…”What’s the point of doing this if it’s only going to make me feel worse about myself?”
Your brain is trying to convince you that you’re better off not even starting than failing.
This type of thinking puts you in a fixed mindset that failure indicates you’re not capable (or even worthy) of achieving your goals.
For these people, the idea of doing anything new or goal-oriented is so terrifying, that it makes them feel completely out of control.
They feel that every result in life happens TO them, and they have no input whatsoever.
Because of this fear, they’ll feel that it’s better to beat themselves to the punch and cause themselves to fail first.
To some people, this might sound absolutely insane.
But oftentimes if a person feels they have control over the decision to fail, it prevents them from feeling the sense of failure altogether.
This is obviously super debilitating to one’s mindset in the long term.
It can cause eventual feelings of anxiety and even depression.
I wouldn’t only classify this as self-sabotaging but as being self-destructive.
Much of the time, self-sabotage is due to a person not having trust in themselves to follow through with the goals they set for themselves.
You’ll be thinking…
…”There’s no way I won’t mess this up”.
Which, who can blame you?
When you’ve constantly been neglecting the relationship with yourself it causes a severe lack of trust.
This has to do with a concept known as the Compound Effect.
The compound effect, in simple terms, is when a bunch of little actions leads to one massive result.
One of my favorite quotes by Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School states…
…”Big wins are made up of little wins. Big quits are made up of little quits”.
Meaning that through a compilation of little quits, you’ve been causing yourself to quit your goals altogether.
Much of the time we feel a strong sense of resistance when we try to take the steps to accomplish a goal.
The resistance we feel is fear.
This fear is primitive, overwhelming, and it’s caused by our brains.
When we try and do anything different, or something that requires change, our brains immediately tell us it’s a bad idea.
Our brains are trying to protect us.
This is due to our cerebellum — the habit part of our brains — causing us to feel uncomfortable whenever we do something different than we’ve done in the past.
This is your brain freaking out in attempts to keep you alive.
On the other hand, we have our prefrontal cortex — the planning part of our brains — which is where we set goals.
These two parts of your brain can work against each other.
The habit part of your brain will try and fight the planning part.
Which is where the self-sabotage occurs.
Now that we know what thoughts and feelings triggers our self-sabotaging actions, let’s cover the self-sabotaging behaviors we want to extinguish.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to self-sabotage.
Every person will react to the thoughts presented above differently and produce different actions as a result.
The most common self-sabotaging behaviors include:
If you’re engaging in one or more of the behaviors above then it’s possible self-sabotage is holding you back from your true potential.
Likely, in many areas of your life.
To stop ourselves from self-sabotaging one would normally focus on stopping the behaviors or actions that cause us to fail.
While this can be a short term solution, the real long term fix comes from reworking the thoughts that CAUSE the actions.
Remember, if we can rework our thoughts, we can change our feelings, and therefore have control over our actions, leading us to the results we want in life.
Here are the changes to your mindset you’ll want to practice:
If you’ve been struggling with feelings of low self-worth, you’ll need to learn to embrace all aspects of what makes you, YOU.
In order to truly love yourself, and stay out of your own way when it comes to achieving your goals, you need to learn to accept the good with the bad.
Your flaws and mistakes are what make you different.
I don’t even necessarily mean this in the self-helpy “We are all wonderful, beautiful entities of this Earth!” sense.
Although we are…
But, it’s also a straight up fact.
The little imperfections we have as individuals allow us to contribute something different and unique into this world.
Without those imperfections, nothing of great value would ever be produced.
You’ll need to understand that anyone you’ve ever viewed as being perfect or successful, had a TON of these little flaws.
They’ve simply leveraged these flaws and used them to bring something new to the table.
It’s what has gotten them to where they are now.
So don’t be afraid to embrace them and acknowledge your flaws as a crucial (wonderful!) part of your identity.
Failure should never be seen as a drawback, but as an opportunity for growth.
You should have the abundant mindset that there is enough success and happiness in this world for everyone — including you.
Every failure should be seen as a stepping stone to reaching the best version of yourself.
A helpful way to accomplish this is by becoming fascinated with yourself, your habits, and your failures.
When you fail at something, instead of dwelling on the negative outcome, analyze what you could have done differently, and plan for the future accordingly.
It’s amazing how much we can accomplish if instead of wallowing in self-pity after something goes wrong, we become fascinated with how we can do it better next time.
The results you’ll see from doing this are amazing!
When you dwell on past failures you’re not able to see the potential ahead.
It robs you of your time to be in the present moment and to work towards your future goals.
The worst part is we often will determine our future actions based on our past mistakes.
This is self-sabotaging in the sense that we have already made up our minds that we will fail.
We’re forming a picture in our minds of who we are, based on who we were.
Thinking like this is what keeps us stuck in one place and incapable of future growth.
You need to think of it like this…
Picture the type of person you want to become.
Down to the details.
The type of relationship you’ll have, the food you’ll eat, the hobbies you’ll have, how successful you’ll be, etc.
Now, make the decision that this is who you ARE BECOMING.
Your past self has nothing to do with who you will become in the future.
It only does if you let it.
So take past mistakes, learn from them, embrace them as learning experiences, and move on.
Practice being crazy obsessed and laser-focused on your future-self goals.
As mentioned, you’re going to have to establish trust in the relationship you have with yourself.
We talked about the Compound Effect and how it is necessary to achieve desirable results.
Little daily actions lead to big life-changing results.
These little actions are what builds trust with yourself over time.
You can even think of it more tangibly as a Trust Bank.
Every time you make a small decision that leads to a larger goal, you’re investing money into your Trust Bank.
In order to pay for the end result, you’ll need to invest a certain amount every day.
Those investments are in the form of daily actions and following through.
[If you want, you can even do this literally by adding a little money to a jar every time you follow through with a commitment. Once you reach a certain goal, you can use that money to pay for a reward!]
Once you have established that trust, you will be capable of following through with any goal you set for yourself.
Just like any other relationship, it’ll never work out if trust isn’t established.
And the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one there is.
We discussed before how our primitive brains cause us to self-sabotage out of fear.
Now, this was useful during caveman times when we needed to protect ourselves from predators and anything else that would cause us actual harm.
Nowadays, it doesn’t come in handy when attempting to accomplish anything of value.
It prevents growth.
This brain mechanism is the number one cause of self-sabotaging behavior.
We have all experienced it.
And will continue to experience it, no matter how much self-coaching we do.
That’s because it’s primitive.
It’s in our nature.
However, just because it will always occur primitively, doesn’t mean we can’t overpower it to reach our goals.
Whenever we feel a sense of fear or paralysis when doing something unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong.
This is normal.
This is your brain panicking about something it hasn’t yet done.
To move past this, you only need to know one thing…
You need to accept that fear and doubt will always happen…and you’ll need to ACT ANYWAYS.
Yup, that’s the reality.
You’ll have to feel that discomfort and still, despite everything your brain’s telling you, GET MOVING.
The good news is…now that you’re familiar with what’s happening in your brain, you can have the power to make it mean nothing about you.
Before we finish here I want to leave you with this quote…
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein
He really said it best.
Every result you want in life starts with your brain.
You can create the life you want by changing your thoughts and the feelings that go along with it.
This is how you stop self-sabotaging and start achieving your goals.
How are you working to combat your self-sabotage tendencies?
Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified life and health coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right place. You can read my full story here.