Self-sabotage happens for a number of reasons: a lack of self belief and/or self worth, a fear of failure, feeling like the outsider, a consistent focus on perceived negative aspects of yourself. It usually appears in the form of what I refer to as ‘my demons’ – those pesky internal thoughts that creep in whenever a challenge, a plan or a deadline is presented:
You’re not good enough.
They don’t like you.
They’re not going to take you seriously.
That’s too difficult.
I’ll do it tomorrow – I’ll feel better about it then.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I left something to the last minute, or avoided putting myself forward because of a constant fear of rejection or failure. My daily routine involved berating myself for not getting something done the day before, or wasting my money on something that I didn’t actually want or need, only to struggle to pay for something important later on. I hated the fact that I had put on a large amount of weight, and yet consistently gorged on junk food every night until I felt sick.
I’m my own worst enemy. Or at least, I used to be.
The key to overcoming self-sabotage is to work out what has contributed to the development your negative behaviours and the triggers involved.
I know how and why a lot of my behaviours developed. Growing up, I had very little control of my own life and decisions, so when I finally found myself in the position where I could make my own choices I consciously started to almost rebel against everything, confusing myself massively in the process. While I was staunchly protective of the direction I perceived that I wanted my life to travel in, I developed huge habits of procrastination, consequently making life much more chaotic and stressful than it needed to be. I avoided doing things that I deemed to be difficult, boring or time consuming until the very last minute, quite simply because I just didn’t want to do them, and nobody was going to tell me what to do. As a result, I was often rushing around to meet deadlines at the last minute – my assignments at university would be completed by pulling an all-nighter (despite the fact that they had been set weeks before), my bills would be paid late, I lived in a state of permanent mess and I often got into trouble because I forgot things, simply because I couldn’t be bothered to write it down at the time. This sort of behaviour continued into my working and personal life, which became impossible to manage as a teacher.
I also developed an unhealthy attitude towards people in general – after being treated rather poorly by those I deemed to be key influencers in my life I adopted the notion that I was a dislikable character, assuming that those I came into contact with automatically perceived me in a negative light. I protected myself from potentially negative situations by avoiding social activities where possible, and the occasions that I did force myself to go would be marred by uncomfortable feelings of awkwardness and second guessing every sentence.
It was exhausting and incredibly self-destructive, and this self-sabotage prevented me from living the life I owed myself.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve made some serious changes that have made my life easier and more fulfilling.
Ways to combat self-sabotage
Start focusing on your daily activities. Be mindful of the points where you are dealing with an internal struggle and try to identify the behaviours and triggers that are stopping you from achieving a task. What goals have you been unable to achieve? Do you procrastinate over even the smallest task?
Stop focusing on the negative and the irrational. Make a note of your negative thoughts while you are feeling demotivated, and then evaluate the list. Challenge yourself on each of these thoughts – what evidence do you have to justify them?
Look at those around you that you believe lead the successful life that you wish to have, and the behaviours that they adopt on a daily basis. Ask them questions – how do they organise themselves? How do they stay motivated?
Start to organise yourself. Every two months, I put up a list of my daily events and dates to remember in my front room. In this format, I can see clearly what I am going to be doing and can therefore prepare for the different activities that are ahead, and plan in advance. This works better for me than using a calendar, and I can organise things without feeling overwhelmed as I can see what is coming up. This also helps to avoid last-minute stress and frustrations.
Start just one new behaviour, and consciously repeat it until it becomes habit. This could be anything from paying a bill as soon as you receive it, to writing a blog post, to putting your clean laundry away as soon as you have finished it.
Stop looking at the big picture. Set a small, achievable goal for the day, and complete it. Many feel overwhelmed by seemingly enormous tasks, rather than focusing on the smaller steps along the way. Make yourself accountable for achieving that one goal.
Start developing a more healthy level of self-esteem. This takes time, but daily affirmations and a focus on the positive aspects of who you are will make you feel more motivated to complete things. You are worth it. You’re not stupid. You deserve to be happy. You deserve success. Remember that the only opinion that matters of yourself is your own and the minute you start to like yourself more, life becomes less complicated. I know, because it has taken me a long time to like the reflection I see in the mirror, and I’m so glad that I put in the time to make it happen.
Remember that it is ok to fail. I would much rather try and fail than carry around the ‘what if?’ that used to be prominent in my mindset.
Give others a chance and even ask for help. As someone who has difficulty in trusting others sometimes, I have missed out on potentially fantastic opportunities because of a fear of rejection. I now adopt the attitude of accepting someone as they present themselves, rather than second guessing perceived motivations behind their interactions. While I sometimes maintain my caution and ensure that I feel safe, I have been able to put myself out there a little more because of my change of mindset, and as a result more opportunities have come my way.
If you feel comfortable, have an accountability buddy. I have two, and it’s been an enormous help. I tell them what I’m going to do, and then do it before I have chance to sit down and talk myself out of it.
Reward yourself! I used to almost bribe myself into doing certain activities, and while this may seem silly, it worked! Instead of indulging in things I liked, I forced myself to complete a difficult or boring task first, then allowed myself some of the more fun activities in return.
Give it a try!
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