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September 01, 2021 8 min read

Woman looks self on mirror

There’s some truth behind the notion that we can be our own worse enemies.

While some things are out of our control, there are many ways that we end up sabotaging ourselves.

When we emit behaviors and thoughts that block us from our goals and desires, we are self-sabotaging. 

As you can imagine, self-sabotaging behaviors can negatively affect us in all eight areas of wellness, threatening our overall happiness and health. 

So how can you limit the self-sabotaging behaviors and enjoy a more fulfilling life?

In this guide, we will explain some of the best strategies for stopping self-sabotaging. Read on to learn more about how to be your best self. 

What is Self-Sabotage?

To know how to stop self-sabotaging, you must know what self-sabotage is.

Habits that are self-destructive impede our goals and are self-sabotaging. Often, we don’t realize that we are self-sabotaging, and it’s based on the idea that we are fighting against that goal deep down.

The thoughts and behaviors we emit that block our own goals can be very subtle and cause much bigger problems than we realize. 

Self-sabotage is a way to help preserve ourselves, to safeguard ourselves against failure or hurt for the most part. Instead, we end up hurting ourselves more and limiting our potential. 

Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behavior

Woman procrastinating at work

The next step in how to stop self-sabotaging is to recognize the signs and habits.

To do this, you must take an observant eye to your behaviors and assess self-destructive behaviors.

Some telltale signs of self-sabotage are:

  • Procrastination. Waiting until the last minute to get things done is destructive.

    You do not put yourself in the best position to succeed when you don’t give yourself enough time to do a thorough job.
     20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators, and this kind of habit suggests underlying issues with a maladaptive lifestyle¹. 
  • Halting progress. Some people start projects but never finish them. Even when they have all of the tools and abilities, they stop in the middle and never finish.

    As one article from the NY Times suggests, people may be overcommitted with too many projects, essentially taking on an impossible workload - which is another form of self-sabotage². 
  • Avoidance. Instead of addressing or confronting a challenge, often, they avoid it altogether.

    avoidance behavior only leads to increased anxiety and even increased difficulty addressing the situation in the future³. 
  • Perfectionism. Perfection is impossible.

    Believing you need a perfect time or perfect skillset before you can start a project is a form of self-sabotage. It’s an unrealistic set of standards that prevents you from progressing.

    Perfectionism is rooted in self-critique, the opposite of 
    self-compassion, robust protection from anxiety and depression⁴. Perfectionism creates stress, and the tendencies predict levels of stressdepression, and anxiety⁵,⁶,⁷
  • Negative self-talk. How you speak to yourself matters a lot.

    The last thing you need to do is put yourself down and wear down your confidence. When you’re looking for how to change self-sabotaging thoughts, evaluate your ideas, laugh a little, and focus on identifying areas to improve. 

    Positive thinking has several key benefits that will help you every day, including increased lifespan, reduced stress, and better psychological and physical wellbeing⁸. 

Find the Causes Behind Your Self-Sabotage

The next key for how to stop self-sabotaging is to identify the root causes of your thoughts and behaviors.

One main factor can be stress. In addition to physical effects, stress can lead to emotional issues like depression, panic attacks, anxiety, and worry, according to WebMD. Because of that, stress can contribute to our negative self-talk. We often develop unhealthy (self-destructive) ways to handle stress. 

Our feelings of worthiness also contribute to self-sabotage in many cases. Low self-esteem leads to self-fulfilling prophecies, where we do not believe we are good enough, so we don’t even try¹⁰. When we do not feel qualified to be successful, we self-sabotage to control our outcomes and “get what we deserve.” 

Reflect and Observe

Man feeling anxious curls up in the corner

If you want to know how to stop self-sabotaging yourself, you must take a serious step back. Carve out time for deep self-reflection so you can understand how and why you are sabotaging yourself. Examine the underlying issues, and think through your past choices, decisions, and actions. 

Figure out your typical thinking patterns. Do you have a thinking bias that is making you see things quite differently? For example, people with feelings of depression tend to be highly sensitive to adverse events, including negative facial expressions¹¹. By knowing your thinking bias, you can factor it into your judgments and intentionally change your thinking. 

Make Small Changes That Add Up Over Time 

“How to stop self-sabotaging behavior” is a profound question with many different factors.

The key is to start small. Focus on small, meaningful changes, and celebrate those adjustments. The uncompromising standards that come along with self-sabotage make it easy to dismiss or undervalue incremental changes¹². While you may want to solve your problem right here, right now, that’s not realistic. Instead, be motivated by any change that improves the situation by even 1%.

Appreciating the small improvements will help you see new solutions you may have been ignoring. A daily 1% improvement adds up pretty quickly and significantly. Instead of overwhelming yourself by demanding you fix your issue entirely, try asking how you can get better by 1% today. 

Be Kind to Yourself

Woman happily eats healthy breakfast after work-out

Finding your inner optimistic voice is crucial for how to stop self-sabotaging thoughts.

Fear, doubt, stress, and negative self-talk hold us back.

Focus on positive self-talk that helps you shift your outlook on life. Encourage yourself and build a positive, affirmative inner dialogue. 

Positive self-talk starts with practice. Be mindful of your thoughts, and take active steps to change what you say to yourself. Follow a healthy, active lifestyle filled with physical activity and whole foods to fuel your mind and body. Embrace humor, and be willing to laugh at yourself even during challenging times.

Lastly, surround yourself with the positivity you want to exude, find positive, supportive people that will help you along your journey to positive self-talk. 

Alter Your Actions

When it comes to how to stop self-sabotaging behavior, small decisions can have large impacts. “Seemingly irrelevant decisions” or mundane, everyday choices can seem unimportant. However, they can lead right down the path of self-sabotage. 

Apply this concept to your sabotaging behaviors. If you open a social media app first thing in the morning, the chances are that you will not start your first important task on time. Suppose you’re prone to procrastinating or starting late. In that case, you must learn to recognize the self-sabotaging behavior of jumping on social media when you should be getting ready for the day. 

You have to take steps to incorporate small decisions that lead to positive, wanted behaviors. Not only can you avoid specific negative triggers, but you can also induce positive, beneficial ones.

For example, if you set out your workout clothes and prepare my workout equipment the night before, you’ll generally get to your workout right away in the morning. If not, you're less likely to start your workout right away, and may not do it that entire day.

By understanding personal patterns, you can make small adjustments that will lead to significant behavior changes. 

Set Tangible, Realistic Goals 

Self-sabotaging increases with uncertainty. The unknown and uncertain makes us unsure and can prevent us from moving forward. 

Laying down clear goals and plans are incredibly helpful when it comes to how to stop self-sabotaging yourself.

A study at Dominican University in California found that people who wrote down their goals had a 42% increase in goal achievement!

For writing down plans to work, your goals must be SMART

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Break down broad, long-term goals into daily behaviors and shorter-term goals. 

Writing out clear goals helps stop self-sabotaging behaviors by:

  • Triggering action. 
  • Guiding and aligning your focus.
  • Sustaining momentum. 
  • Promoting self-mastery. 

The Best Strategies to Eliminate Avoidance and Procrastination

Creating realistic goals

Procrastination and avoidance are two of the significant signs of self-sabotage.

One primary consideration of how to stop self-sabotaging behavior is identifying and implementing strategies to combat procrastination and avoidance.

Some of the best methods include:

  • Create a project to-do list. Many times, we procrastinate or avoid something because it seems too large to handle. Break down the process into bite-sized pieces by creating a project to-do list with each step for the project. Focus on just doing 1-2 things from that list each day. 
  • Narrow the scope of projects. Perfectionists and procrastinators habitually expand the range of projects until they become massive and unapproachable. Reframe the project into the basic tasks that are critical for completing it. 
  • Switch up the order. It’s not always most comfortable to start with the typical “first steps” For example, when writing a paper, the introduction can be more challenging to write first. If you find yourself stuck on the intro, move on to the main points and come back to that part at the end after you’ve already parsed out the main content. 
  • Just start. Pick one task in the project and do it. We remember incomplete tasks more than finished ones, so just getting started can keep you working on the project. 
  • Remind yourself of the costs of procrastination. When you put off larger tasks, it can have serious consequences. If you’re doing this, list the prices of not getting the job done. 
  • Put away distractions. Many modern procrastinators find refuge in their phones. When a task is more challenging or unstructured, we are more likely to turn to distractions. Disconnect by turning your phone on “do not disturb,” turning it off, or even moving it to another room while you work. 

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Relationships

Projects, careers, and deadlines aren’t the only things we self-sabotage. For the same reasons, we self-sabotage our jobs or goals; we also self-sabotage relationships.

According to psychology researcher Raquel Peel, some romantic self-sabotages do so because they are afraid the relationships will eventually fail, or the romantic partner will leave. She identifies four primary behaviors that lead to the downfall of relationships:

  • Criticism 
  • Defensiveness
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling 

Why do people do these things in a relationship? To protect themselves. 

According to Peel, here are some strategies for how to stop self-sabotaging relationships:

  • Choose partners that have a real potential to work. 
  • Examine your behaviors in a relationship and which negative strategies you exhibit. 
  • Adopt the attitude that the relationship is a partnership where you have something to offer. 
  • Treat yourself with kindness and understanding the same way you and your partner should treat each other. 

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging My Life 

When we self-sabotage, we create negative self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to cyclical negativity. It’s natural to want to protect ourselves from the pain of failure and disappointment. Still, we only amplify those things when we self-sabotage. 

Using the strategies and information above, you can begin the transformation to positive self-talk and self-love, leading to better outcomes and overall well-being. How to stop self-sabotaging your life comes from the simple choice to decide that you deserve better! 




(1) Ferrari, J (2010) Psychology of Procrastination: Why People Put Off Important Tasks Until the Last Minute

(2) Herrera, T (December 2018) Why You Start Things You’ll Never Finish

(3) Boyes, A (March 2015) Why Avoidance Coping is the Most Important Factor in Anxiety

(4) Van Dam, NT; Sheppard, SC; Forsyth, JP; Earleywine, M (August 2010) Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression

(5) Smith,MM; Saklofske, DH; Yan, G; Sherry, SB (May 2017) Does Perfectionism Predict Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Life Satisfaction After Controlling for Neuroticism?

(6) McGrath, DS; Sherry, SB; Stewart, SH; Mushquash, AR; Allen, SL; Nealis, LJ; Sherry, DL (2012) Reciprocal relations between self-critical perfectionism and depressive symptoms: Evidence from a short-term, four-wave longitudinal study

(7) Newby, J; Pitura, J; Penney, AM; Klein, RG; Flett, GL; Hewitt, PL (November 2016) Neuroticism and perfectionism as predictors of social anxiety

(8) Sparks, D (May 2019) Mayo Mindfulness: Overcoming negative self-talk

(9) WebMD Medical Reference (October 2018) How Stress Affects Your Health

(10) Williams, W (July 2018) Breaking the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Self-Sabotage

(11)Chen J; Ma W; Zhang Y; Wu X; Wei D; Liu G, et al. (October 2014) Distinct Facial Processing Related Negative Cognitive Bias in First-Episode and Recurrent Major Depression: Evidence from the N170 ERP Component

(12) Egan, SJ; Wade, TD; Shafran, R; Antony, MM (2014) Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism