How to stop self-sabotage

One of the common issues that people want to understand is why they continue to self-sabotage.  They describe being really frustrated by their behaviour which appears to be, at the very least, getting in the way of their progress.


Sometimes, it appears that they are deliberately harming their dreams and forcing backward steps. So, they gather themselves together, give themselves a good talking to, promise they’re not going to do it again... until next time.

Recognise this pattern? It might be in relationships, exercise, changing eating habits, working through addiction habits or somewhere else.

How do you recognise it?

One of the main things you’ll recognise if self-sabotage is a habit for you is your tendency to make excuses about doing things. For example, you can’t go to the gym because you’re short on time tonight. Or, you’re not going to eat healthily tonight because you forgot to get something out of the freezer.  Whilst on the surface these reasons might be plausible, if you find yourself doing this regularly, you might ask yourself why you haven’t made time for exercise, or didn’t get something out of the freezer earlier.

You might also hear yourself cite reasons seemingly outside of your control. The hours of the job weren’t what you wanted; your partner did that thing again which made you feel so upset that you started an argument; you’ve found the love of your life but you keep creating problems; you need alcohol to just relax after work.  

Have you ever made yourself a promise that you’ll definitely, absolutely never do that thing again, only to find yourself repeating the behaviour, thought pattern or action leading to frustration? You might even hear yourself say how useless you are or berating yourself in some other way.

Sometimes the consequences of the behaviour are not obvious immediately, so taking time to reflect is the only way to really understand.  If you recognise any of the above happening regularly or around a certain issue, then it’s likely that you’re indulging in self-sabotage.

Why do we do it?

There are many reasons for self-sabotage. Some of the most common can include:

1. Buy-in and excuses

If you’re not really bought into your goal, it’s easier to find excuses not to complete it, especially if what’s needed to achieve it is hard. Often giving up something like alcohol or drugs isn’t easy and sometimes it’s easier to tell yourself that we’ll stop tomorrow.        

2. How clear is your goal?

If your goal is not clear, the path towards it won’t be either. Having a vague idea of what you want to achieve is a sure-fire way to not have clear actions to achieve which makes it easy to duck out and make excuses.

3. Past experiences

If you’ve been in the situation before and you’ve experienced pain or fear, your unconscious will be doing its job to keep you safe.  It will recognise what might come next and will activate your sympathetic nervous system. This releases fight or flight hormones into your system; they might not make you actually run away, but take some sort of evasive action such as giving a reason why you can’t/don’t want to do something.  You might notice this happening with a feeling of panic, or you might do the avoiding behaviour automatically.

4. Habit

Sometimes self-sabotage becomes a habit caused by a lack of self-belief.  If you began telling yourself that you’d never be any good at singing because you weren’t chosen for that part in the school play, after a while you’ll start to believe it whether it’s true or not. Why would you then try singing if you completely believe that you’re going to be no good? This might be fine, but if it’s something you’d really like to try, or all your friends join the choir and you don’t feel you can, then this belief is sabotaging your enjoyment.

How can I fix it?

So, you recognise your behaviour or thought patterns, what do you do next?

The first thing is to make sure that you are really clear in your goal. What is it you really want to do? What do you really want to achieve? There are many ways to set goals, and a good coach can help you with this.  If you do this well, you can be sure that your goal will be clear and you can set steps to successfully get there.

The second thing is to identify your limiting beliefs.  Is it really true that you’d be no good or that you don’t deserve it?  Often, these limiting beliefs form for simple reasons and often a long time ago; someone laughing at your efforts, something not going to plan, a social belief that women/men don’t do that thing well.  The good news is that they can be busted with some focused work with a coach.

The third thing to consider is to look through a Happy Brain™ lens by identifying the trigger, then noticing the behaviour that follows.  Take time to really associate with what that behaviour feels like – what do you see, hear, feel, taste, smell?

From there, it’s easy to start changing some of those feelings.  For example, if you find movement, spin the feelings the other way.  If you notice particular colours of this feeling, try a different one!  In this way, you’ll be changing your behaviour on an unconscious level rather than trying to convince yourself using your thinking brain.  This is the most effective way to address your unconscious acting to stop pain or fear.

Moving forward

Often self-sabotage can’t be fixed in the ‘thinking brain’; the determination that you’ll do it differently next time; the promises that you’ll stop the behaviour. Whilst setting a clear goal to change your behaviour is essential, addressing how you feel about changing your behaviour and what you want to be different is key.

Without this, it’s likely that the self-sabotage will continue.  So, when you’re ready to understand more and see what difference you really can make, a coach with NLP skills will easily help you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Prudhoe, Northumberland, NE42
Written by Tracey Hutchinson, MSc, NLP MPrac, Happy Brain Coach/Trainer, Advanced Hypnosis
Prudhoe, Northumberland, NE42

Tracey is an experienced coach, trainer, and facilitator inspiring people like you to make a positive and permanent change across all areas of life. When you're ready to find out how easily and quickly Tracey can help you find your best self.

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