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Overcoming Self-Sabotage

*Originally published on January 10, 2020*

We can be our own worst critics, and we can also be our own worst enemies when it comes to any type of progression.

Self-Sabotage comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s procrastinating on a very important project, or self-medicating with drugs, or eating copious amounts of junk food.

Most of us have committed some sort of act of self-sabotage. In fact, we usually aren’t aware that we are sabotaging ourselves or setting ourselves up for failure. But what exactly is self-sabotage? More importantly, why do we do it?

What is Self-Sabotage?

Self-Sabotaging behavior is basically anything that creates problems in daily life or interferes with long-standing goals.

You may have heard people refer to self-sabotage as “getting in your own way”, which is a pretty accurate description. Self-sabotage is any action that we take that gets in the way of our original intent. It is a destructive behavior in which you allow negative habits to undermine your efforts. To put it bluntly: this is psychological self-harm.

I’ll use weight loss as an example. It’s the new year and one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is oriented toward “eating healthy, getting more exercise, and losing weight”. Naturally, you put yourself on a new eating regimen. You do well for the next two weeks, maybe even for the next month!

But then you face obstacles. You might go to work in your office and realize that you have to go through a week-long training…with lunch provided. You think to yourself: well it’s free and it’s not like I won’t work this off later. I’ll just do it for today!

And then the next day the provided lunch is from your favorite restaurant. So maybe you’ll just cheat on this day too. But then it happens the next day, and then the next! You went the whole week cheating on your new eating habits, fully knowing that this would set you back on your goals.

Self-sabotage can also take place in relationships. Perhaps you and your significant other have finally put an end to an unhealthy relationship. You had good reasons for this too. They weren’t accountable, they didn’t know how to argue in a healthy manner, they undermined you, and flat-out disrespected you repeatedly. And yet somehow you end up still having late-night conversations with them after the breakup. You check up on their social media pages constantly. By not making it a point to correct your behavior, you’re sabotaging your ability to move on.

Why Do We Do This to Ourselves?

It’s a funny thing to think about. When we procrastinate, when we eat that piece of chocolate cake, when we text our ex, immediately we are flooded with feelings of regret or self-loathing.

I knew better! I should have started this project earlier this week, I should have ate something else, I should have just talked to one of my friends instead of texting them. Why am I doing this to myself?

The majority of the time, self-sabotage is driven by low self-esteem. Lacking self-esteem, in itself, can easily make us feel shame. Rarely are people who lack self-esteem on a matter willing to admit it. There are different causes, including being under the belief that you don’t deserve success, or that you are worthless.

Deeper thoughts and feelings cause negative self-talk, fueling the idea of being inadequate and unworthy. A person who constantly feels the need to prove themselves to their loved ones may fear failure because they don’t want to let anyone down. A person who is afraid of attracting jealousy from their peers or doubting their own abilities may shy away from great career opportunities. A person who wants to feel as if they are in control of a situation could self-sabotage to just feel more like a hero when they get themselves out of a bad situation.

How Can We Overcome Self-Sabotage?

  1. Practice Self Awareness

Changing a habit doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it’s something that comes to us on a subconscious level. But it starts with being self-aware enough to acknowledge our self-sabotaging behavior. We have to stop and think about what specific patterns we fall into and what behaviors we have when this happens. Honestly, being able to recognize those behaviors within ourselves calls for us to be real with ourselves and to get uncomfortable. I have to think about some long-standing goals I’ve had that I haven’t accomplished yet. Why haven’t I gotten there yet? What are some decisions that I know I need to make but haven’t gotten to? Where does my motivation come from and how often do I find myself losing motivation to do something, whether it is trivial or very important?

Asking ourselves these questions will force us to really evaluate our intentions, and seeing if our actions measure up to said intentions. In other words, we’ll likely face some hard truths.

2. Manage Your Emotions

Another thing we have to do is learn to recognize and manage the emotions that elicit a self-sabotaging response. We’re much more likely to fall into self-defeating words or actions when we feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, or upset with ourselves. These emotions are a breeding ground for negative self-talk:

Figures. It completely figures. This type of thing always happens to me. What is wrong with me? Why did I do that? Why am I always messing up?

Before we know it, we’ve become caught in a downward spiral of negativity and the cycle simply continues.

3. Practice Positive Self-Talk

Lastly, we have to replace negative thoughts with positive words. You can’t defeat thoughts with thoughts, but you can defeat thoughts with words. Affirmations and self-talk are more than just a trendy buzzword. When practiced consistently, positive self-talk can change the way we view ourselves and our efforts for the better. Negativity is the natural default. It takes absolutely no effort to be negative, but it takes a great deal of self-awareness and control to practice being positive.

Positive self-talk paired with the consistent habits can control different aspects of our lives. This includes our careers, our health, our relationships, and our future. One thing that helped me when I started implementing self-talk is that I started speaking about what I wanted, and not what I had. In other words, if I was thinking about a characteristic of mine that I didn’t particularly like, I’d speak the opposite. For example:

“I really suck at editing” turns into “I’m great at editing and I’m always working to strengthen my skillset”.

“Ugh. I don’t know anybody here, there’s no one I can talk to” which turns into “I talk freely and connect well with many people of various backgrounds”.

“No one wants to talk to me” turns into “I have unique qualities and interests that make people gravitate towards me”.

I’ll be completely honest. If you’ve never done it before, self-talk feels absolutely ridiculous when you first start. I was sitting alone in my room and somehow I still felt silly and embarrassed. However, once you get used to it and come up with affirmations specifically geared towards what you need, it gets better.

The brain simply believes what you tell it most. And what you tell it about you, it will create.It has not choice. Shad Helmstetter, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself

Be Kind to Yourself

A close friend of mine always emphasizes the idea of giving yourself grace. A lot of times we get into the habit of pushing ourselves that we don’t stop to appreciate where we are and lose sight of our good qualities. No journey works out if we can’t give ourselves grace. We have to give ourselves room to make mistakes, but we also can’t dwell on those mistakes so much that we get stuck and can’t move forward.

Ultimately, so long as we declare it, we are all worthy of achieving more than we could ever imagine. While it does take time and effort, we can overcome these struggles. Even the ones we create in our heads.

- Raven

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