How to Conquer Self-Sabotage and Stop Getting in Your Own Way
June 6, 2019
If you've ever undermined your own progress or desires, you're not alone. It’s something so many of us unconsciously do.
Self-sabotage is when our behaviors or actions create problems in our lives and interfere with our intentions and goals. It means getting in your own way, and it happens when our brains unconsciously hold on to fear, loss, failure, and rejection.
I’m all too familiar with self-sabotage. For years, I subconsciously manifested situations that prevented me from sharing my writing with the world. I would place my journals in precarious places and spill coffee or water on them. I would overbook myself and miss workdays with my writing accountability partner. I would "accidentally delete" drafts of my work on my computer.
I consistently made excuses: I was too tired, too busy, too broke, too involved with a romantic partner. The truth was, I was simply just too scared. I was preventing myself from making progress because if I never really tried, I could never really fail.
Self-sabotage became a defense mechanism. If I never took myself seriously as a writer, I would never have to feel the pain of rejection.
Self-sabotage can show up in our lives in different ways, and it creates a great deal of unnecessary pain. For some, it can look like procrastination or avoidance. For others, it might manifest as misusing drugs or alcohol, relieving stress with unhealthy habits (like overeating or mismanaging money) or engaging in conflict with others.
So, why do we do it?
Psychologists have explained the phenomenon of self-sabotage by pointing to cognitive dissonance—or that feeling, for example, when negative thoughts don’t quite match up to your positive behavior.
For example: When that voice in your head convinces you that you don’t deserve a promotion—even when you’ve been doing the hard work to earn it. That conflict can cause a lot of stress, and while it’s rooted in self-control and self-worth, it’s foundations are found in fear.
Fear of not being "good enough" to acquire the things we want.
Fear that we are inherently unworthy of love, success, and abundance.
Fear of being exposed as a fraud (despite our accomplishments).
Fear of vulnerability, pain, and discomfort.
Self-sabotage is our unconscious way of enacting "control" over situations that feel icky and unfamiliar to us. If you notice yourself doing it, let it serve as a red flag warning you that there are limiting beliefs and negative narratives running through your brain.
No matter how it manifests, self-sabotage is fear of trying our best and not succeeding—of being disappointed, humiliated, or having our worst fears about ourselves confirmed by the outside world.
But here's the thing: Human beings are wired to align our behaviors with our beliefs. When we don't, we experience cognitive dissonance—we feel the mental discomfort of having our ideas, words, and actions not reflect each other.
If you’re constantly telling yourself that you aren’t deserving or capable of having what you truly want, your wiring will kick-in and you will, unconsciously, make it true.
But we can fight back by reminding ourselves that we are worthy of our desires, rather than push our desires further and further away from us with self-destructive actions.
Here’s where to start if you’re looking to reinforce inner positive narratives and unblock yourself from getting what you truly want.
Make Time to Reflect
The first step to defeating self-sabotage is reflecting on how it shows up in your own life.
Eckhart Tolle writes, "Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it."
Create a stream-of-consciousness list of the ways—small or large—that you are getting in your way.
You can observe your mind via meditation, talk therapy, and intentional journaling. Having a sophisticated understanding of your own thinking patterns will help you notice when negative beliefs creep up, and getting into a practice of noticing your thoughts—without judging them—will decrease the likelihood of you empowering those thoughts with your actions.
Remember Your Purpose
Why do you exist? What do you think you were put here, in this magnificent Universe to do? What is your "reason for being”?
I know—it’s a big question, but answering it can help you regain a sense of direction and momentum. It may be helpful to do this reflection as follows: "My purpose on this Earth in this lifetime is to ____."
If you don't know yet, that's okay! Each of us has a profound mission that only we can accomplish, whether we know what it is yet or not.
To start: Notice the ways you create value in the lives of others—the small and large things you do that make the world a better place.
By doing so, you’re beginning to understand that you are powerful and necessary.
When you notice yourself getting in your own way, take a moment to stop, breathe, and remember your "why." A clear sense of purpose compels you to take risks and push forward regardless of the odds or obstacles.
Remember that other people need your gifts and that you can have a massive impact on the world.
Embrace the Challenge
A purposeful and joyful life isn't about dream careers and indulgent vacations. It's about doing the dirty, difficult work of dealing with your own negative beliefs and toxic habits. It's about unpacking that self-doubt you've been carrying around for years, laying it all out, and seeing what you need to throw away.
It's about being honest with yourself about the ways that you are complicit in your own cycles and then doing whatever you need to do to change.
It might be challenging, but trust me—it will be worth it. Your best life is on the other side.
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Today’s recommended meditation: