Five steps to stop self-sabotage in its tracks

After last week’s post ‘“Want to create a good habit? Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?‘, I had an interesting email exchange with one of my newsletter subscribers.

‘I think I’m an Abstainer,’ he wrote ‘but the other thing I’ve noticed is that once I’ve been sticking to a good habit for a while, I seem to make it deliberately difficult to continue to succeed. I think I start to self-sabotage.’

His phrase ‘I seem to make it deliberately difficult to continue to succeed’ reminded me of a phrase from Gay Hendricks‘ book The Big Leap:

“In my life I’ve discovered that if I cling to the notion that something’s not possible, I’m arguing in favor of limitation. And if I argue for my limitations, I get to keep them.”

Do you recognise that self-sabotage behaviour too? Do you notice that sometimes when things are going well, a few limiting beliefs creep in and undermine your newly-formed positive approach? What can you do?

Work through these five steps to defeat self-sabotage

Step one: Identify inner voices

Self-sabotage usually starts with our thoughts. When you feel a creeping sense of self-sabotage, notice your inner dialogue. For instance:

  • What do you say to yourself when you commit to a new routine?
  • What do you say to yourself when you get up each morning?
  • What do you say to yourself when facing a challenge?
  • What do you say to yourself when you head into an unfamiliar situation?

Step two: Challenge your inner dialogue

If you notice yourself thinking ‘I’ve never done this before. I’m always rubbish at new stuff’, challenge that thought. ‘I’m always rubbish at new stuff’ is a very fixed mindset approach – try allowing yourself some room for growth: ‘If I don’t get it straight away, that’s ok: it’s a learning process.’

If you hear your inner voice say ‘This is a big deal – you’re never very good under pressure’, challenge that thought. Is that true? Is there really not a single time in your life when you have risen to the occasion and handled a challenging situation well? So often we find it easier to remember times when things went wrong than the countless times that things went so smoothly that we barely even noticed.

Step three: Change your behaviour

How are your day-to-day actions contributing to your success? Do they support it or sabotage it?

If you wanted to stop drinking alcohol, you’d probably decide that going to the pub every night wasn’t going to help. If your goal is to meet more people in a similar field of work and raise your profile, opting out of conferences and networking events is probably counter-productive.

Take a look at the people you spend the most time with: are they positive people with a growth mindset who are fun to be with? I take Maya Angelou’s words as an inspiration for myself and to guide me towards people I’d like to befriend:

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.’

Step four: Break it down

The subscriber who emailed me mentioned that once he’d achieved an initial goal, he seemed to set too big a new goal. Say your original goal was to take part in a 5k race which you achieve and then you sign up for a marathon and it’s just too big a stretch so you stop running altogether.

If your goal is to read your child a bedtime story each night and you currently don’t leave the office until he’s fast asleep, it’s unrealistic to think this situation will change overnight. Perhaps you could start with one night a week. Maybe you could even take a book to the office with you and spend ten minutes on a video call reading him a story before you head for the train. After a few weeks, you can add in another night when you leave on time. Breaking your goal down into smaller steps will help you avoid sabotaging yourself with an unachievably big goal.

Step five: Share your story

Maybe you don’t have a coach but perhaps you have a trusted colleague who you could talk to about your tendency to get in your own way. Ask them to help you by a) telling you when they notice you seemingly undermining yourself and b) keeping you accountable to your small step goals.

These five steps sound simple but that doesn’t make them easy: however, working through them step by step can help you to overcome a tendency to self-sabotage.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: will you try these five steps next time you notice yourself undermining your own success? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’re ready to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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