Here’s a real head trip: You may be preventing yourself from achieving your goals – without even realizing it.
Psychologists call this “self-sabotage,” and it can occur in a variety of sneaky ways, such as preventing you from getting a promotion or hindering your efforts to take your business to the next level.
“Self-sabotage is when we get in the way of ourselves, despite our best intentions,” explains Dr. Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of Stop self-sabotage. “And often these processes are kind of subconscious for people.”
But here’s some comforting news. Now that you know self-sabotage is a thing, you’ll be better able to pinpoint where it’s ruining your life and how to stop it in its sabotaging tracks.
In a recent interview on the Write about podcast nowpoint out to Dr. Ho several signs that you may be sabotaging yourself.
We all put off, put off until tomorrow what can be done now. There are many reasons for this: fear of failure, perfectionism, depression, TikTok. But you may not realize that procrastination is also a form of self-sabotage.
“Procrastination over time erodes our self-esteem and belief that we can achieve what we set out to do,” says Dr. Ho.
She says some people are so stubborn about their procrastination that they’ll defend it against her, arguing that when they procrastinate, they’re pushing themselves to create better things.
“But at some point you run out of time, so even when you have the most unique ideas, you just can’t execute them,” says Dr. Whoa.
You try to do everything yourself
Our culture emphasizes self-reliance and not depending on others for help. But you can’t do everything yourself.
Dr. Ho says that while there’s value in nurturing independence, it can also be a pitfall that keeps you from achieving some of your goals in relationships and business.
“Human connection is a universal need. We are social beings; without it, we cannot thrive mentally or physically,” she says. “When people say, ‘I’m a loner.’ Usually they say that because they’re trying to avoid being hurt or disappointed in some way, but denying yourself that universal human need is also a form of self-sabotage.”
You fear success
We all want to achieve some level of success, but we also do things to avoid it.
This seems counterintuitive. Why would we do this? Dr. Ho says evolution is partly to blame. “Your body and mind are always trying to protect you from harm. This is a big part of surviving,” she explains. Like our ancestors who feared a saber-toothed tiger, you may fear that a promotion will make your life too difficult.
“So you blow your head up with all these fears and all the bad things that can happen and catastrophize instead of allowing yourself to enjoy the fruits of your labor or think about the positives.”
Psychologists call this the “approach-avoidance phenomenon,” meaning that as soon as you get closer to achieving a goal, you begin to see all the downsides of reaching that goal and start doing things to avoid it.
How to stop self-sabotage
Identifying how you sabotage yourself is an essential first step. Dr. Ho offers these exercises to tame your inner saboteur.
Observe and adjust your thinking
“Everything starts with your thoughts,” says Dr. Ho. She suggests paying attention to your thoughts about yourself or your situation and the language you use to describe it.
For example, suppose you are fired from your job. There are two ways to respond to this.
Number one: “You may have thoughts of beating yourself up, like, ‘They discovered me for the loser that I am. Now I’m never going to find another job,’ says Dr. Ho. “If you have these kinds of thoughts will lead to certain kinds of negative feelings.”
You may also receive the same news and think, “Well, that sucks, but what can I do to try and make the most of this situation?”
In other words, what you think your experience will be like, so “evaluate your thoughts to understand what patterns you’re most susceptible to, and from there do things to try to change your thoughts,” says Dr. Whoa.
Embrace values-based living
Have you ever felt like you really want to reach a goal, but when you finally get there it’s a little disappointing? This is because the goal isn’t aligned with your top values, Dr. Ho says.
She defines values as “the ideas, the philosophies and the ways you want to live your life to make it meaningful – how you want to be talked about when you’re not in the room.”
By understanding your values, you are more likely to persevere and then face those fears and worries that self-sabotage throws your way.
Related: Here’s why values are so important in business
Break your mental patterns
When we sabotage ourselves, we often operate in an endless loop, repeating the same thoughts and behaviors over and over.
To break this vicious circle, Dr. Ho to do mental contrasting and implementation intentions (MCII) exercises. She goes into more detail in her book, but essentially they are a kind of visualization where you envision not only the positive outcomes of your goals, but also the pitfalls and barriers you may encounter.
Why do you subject yourself to such torture?
By imagining the worst, you prepare yourself. “Once you identify those barriers, it’s really helpful because then you can essentially create a plan of attack ahead of time,” explains Dr. Hey out. “It’s really powerful because it makes them feel like they have a lot more control. You don’t beat yourself up.”
In other words, you stop self-sabotage.
You can watch the entire interview with Dr. Hey listen here.