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7 Ways to Break the Cycle of Self Sabotage

by Ashley

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Key points

  • Recognize harmful habits as self-sabotage.
  • Replace negative actions with positive behaviors.
  • Cultivate self-love to overcome internal barriers.

We often self-sabotage our own efforts both consciously and unconsciously when it comes to achieving our dreams. And nothing is more frustrating than realizing that your own behavior is at the root of your struggle.

On the flip side, learning how to overcome self-sabotaging behavior can help you crush the barriers standing in between you and your dreams. And once you have learned how to avoid these behaviors, you start to realize how mastering your internal thoughts and behavior is the key to living a life that excites you.

If you’re ready to do the deep work of letting go of self-sabotaging behavior, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I will detail steps you can take to avoid self-sabotage and cultivate greater self-love and appreciation in its place.

Why do we self-sabotage?

If we all long to be happy and achieve our own personal definition of success, why do we get in our own way? It’s a fair question that often has a very personal answer.

There are many reasons we may self-sabotage, but one of the most common is that we actually fear success. A study in 2010 found that individuals who scored high on a scale measuring fear of success were far more likely to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.

Other research indicates that women, in particular, may self-sabotage secondary to low self-esteem and their assumed gender-biased roles in socialization.  

I find that I personally default to self-sabotaging behaviors to avoid my true feelings or when I’m afraid of change. It’s taken years of self-reflection and external help to understand this about myself, but learning what is at the root of my self-sabotaging behavior has actually been really freeing.

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The impact of the self-sabotage cycle

Self-sabotage has the potential to negatively influence many aspects of your life.

Research indicates that consistently engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors may make it difficult to maintain healthy and committed romantic relationships. Turns out the whole, “It’s not you, it’s me” saying is spot on after all.

And if you aren’t concerned about love, then it’s important to note that individuals who self-sabotage are less likely to succeed in academic environments, which can influence their overall career path and future life choices.

I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of having healthy relationships and being able to thrive academically. So it seems to me that it’s in our best interest to take a good hard look at our own behavior and stop self-sabotage in its tracks.

7 ways to stop self-sabotage

If you’re really ready to get out of your own way and put an end to self-sabotage, then these 7 steps are sure to get you there.

1. Identify the self-sabotaging behavior

It may sound silly, but in order to keep yourself from self-sabotaging you have to realize how you’re doing it in the first place.

I used to have a not-so-helpful habit of devouring half of my kitchen the second I got home from work. I always just thought I was really hungry after a hard day of honest work.

In reality, I realized that I was using food as a quick fix to get a dopamine hit instead of dealing with my stress in relation to work. I wanted the quick “feel good” emotion that food brings me. I didn’t even realize this until my life coach pointed it out.

Had I never realized that this was self-sabotaging behavior, I may have never been able to find healthier ways to cope with my stress and I would still be confused as to why I could never lose that last 5-10 pounds to achieve my “summer bod” goals.

Take the time to look at what is standing between you and your goals. More likely than not, this will reveal a less-than-helpful behavior that is a form of self-sabotage. Once the behavior is identified, you can begin to take steps to avoid it.

2. Find healthy behaviors to replace the self-sabotage

Once you know how you are self-sabotaging yourself, you have to find a healthier replacement behavior or mental cue that reminds you to not do the self-sabotaging action.

Let’s go back to my example of slamming down food the second I got home from work. Once I knew I was self-sabotaging my mental health and my health goals, I was able to figure out a few replacement options to deal with work-related stress.

Now when I get home, I do one of two things. One thing I do is I immediately exercise to get a healthier dopamine hit and process my feelings from the workday.

The other option I’ve come up with is calling my mom or husband on the way home from work to process the workday with the intention of discussing at least 3 good things that happened that day to alleviate overall stress.

As it turns out, it’s not so hard to lose weight when you don’t use food as a way to deal with your stress. Big shout out to my life coach for helping direct me to the right path on this one. My abs thank her, too!

3. Change your internal dialogue

Another critical way to stop self-sabotaging is to check on the conversations you have with yourself.

Are you constantly talking about your fear of success or failure in your own head? Or are you your own best cheerleader?

I remember I was up for a potential promotion at work and I kept telling myself I wasn’t worthy of the promotion. And guess what? They opened the floor for negotiation and because I had been talking myself down, I ended up missing out on an opportunity for a substantial pay raise.

I tend to learn lessons the hard way. But now when it comes to work or any other aspect of my life, I make it a point to hype myself up and focus on the best possible outcome.

Your thoughts are powerful. You may as well harness that power for your own good instead of your own detriment.

4. Identify what you’re really afraid of

Sometimes when we self-sabotage it’s because we fear success and what that would mean for our lives.

Another piece to the story of me not getting a deserved promotion was that I was afraid that if I got paid more than my colleagues they would resent me. I also was afraid that if I really did get the promotion, I might let my bosses down in a way that made them realize I wasn’t worth that pay grade.

This fear contributed to my negative self-talk and not getting the promotion. If I had taken the time to look at what I was really afraid of and address it objectively, the outcome could have been much different.

I am often able to figure this out on my own if I spend some time journaling about the situation and dumping all my thoughts onto paper, so I can see patterns and be brutally honest with myself.

5. Rethink your goals

Sometimes when we’re self-sabotaging it’s because the goal we’re working towards doesn’t actually mean anything to us.

I had a goal to do yoga 3 to 5 times a week to improve my flexibility, but every time it came time to leave for yoga class, I found an excuse for why I couldn’t go. After months of spending money on a class membership that I wasn’t using, I finally got real with myself.

While I care about my flexibility, I’d rather just do a few targeted stretches instead of 30 minutes to an hour’s worth of stretching. I was trying to force myself to do something that I inherently didn’t care about, so self-sabotage was just a natural reaction in accordance with that.

By reframing my goal to stretching for just 10 minutes after my workouts, I was able to actually achieve a goal that meant something to me and avoid self-sabotaging behavior.

6. Embrace discomfort

Often, self-sabotage stems from an innate desire to remain in our comfort zones, even when it’s detrimental to our growth. Embracing discomfort is about consciously deciding to undertake tasks that challenge your current skill set and push your boundaries.

This means saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that scare you slightly but promise growth and learning. It’s about understanding that discomfort is a temporary but necessary step towards achieving your goals. Instead of shying away from challenges, take them head-on. Reflect on what you can learn from each situation, and remember that growth is often found in discomfort.

In practice, this could mean volunteering for a challenging project at work or trying out a new hobby that intimidates you. The key is to start small and gradually increase the level of challenge. By doing so, you’ll slowly build your tolerance for discomfort and reduce the urge to retreat to old self-sabotaging habits.

7. Cultivate mindful awareness

Mindful awareness is about being fully present and engaged with the current moment without judgment. It’s about noticing your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they arise and recognizing them as temporary and not an absolute reflection of reality.

By cultivating mindful awareness, you become more adept at noticing when you’re about to engage in self-sabotaging behavior and can choose a more constructive path.

Start by incorporating short mindfulness practices into your daily routine. This can be as simple as a five-minute breathing exercise where you focus solely on your breath. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. As you become more comfortable with this practice, you can extend the time or include other mindfulness techniques, such as body scans or mindful walking.

The goal is to strengthen your ability to stay present and decrease the automaticity of self-sabotage. With time and practice, you’ll be able to catch yourself before falling into the trap of self-sabotage and redirect your actions towards more positive outcomes.

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Wrapping up

You don’t have to stand in your own way when it comes to finding happiness and success. You can step aside and ditch self-sabotaging behaviors by using the tips outlined in this article. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll realize that once you get out of your own way life becomes a whole lot easier and that maybe you were your own roadblock to success all along.

Do you often find yourself self-sabotaging? What’s your favorite way to combat self-sabotaging? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Kaiser AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

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