Seven ways we sabotage ourselves, and how to turn it around

Woman sitting at her desk

Watching someone (or, maybe yourself) in self-sabotage mode is painful. 

It is not always clear why human beings do this to themselves. It can be any one or a combination of seven factors.

1. Past

Think childhood, families or teachers all wagging admonishing fingers, looking on in disapproval (not necessarily imagined). The memory of their comments to us on even one occasion, may hamper our best efforts at times.

2. Habit

Even when negative or destructive, some people are wedded to discomfort because it’s easier occupying an emotional mess that’s familiar, than willingness to step away into an unknown, possibly riskier direction.

3. Fear

The spectre of embarrassment, failure, rejection bother most of us, and rightly. Humans can be very judgmental, although those who judge have no wish to be in the situation themselves and carefully avoid scenarios where they might suddenly be the centre of attention. This syndrome (called schadenfreude) involves gloating in other people’s setbacks.  It’s what we all imagine on occasion.

4. Feeling stuck

You feel tired, bored, demotivated. ‘What’s the point?’ you mutter. This is when a little action begins the necessary (healthy) process of sweeping procrastination away.

5. Anger

For a masterclass in mutual self-sabotage, watch this snippet from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This emotion an be toxic. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton self-sabotage to the extent where everyone wants to run in the opposite direction.

6. Resorting to unhelpful comparisons

Your inner perfectionist is always carping about what you did wrongly compared to the other person who seems to do it effortlessly. Envy is the green-eyed manipulator in this instance.

7. False pride

‘I deserve this so I’m going to go ahead.’ Translation: ‘If I don’t keep running, everything ceases or worse, I’ll publicly fail.’  This is closely aligned to fear, but differs in its manifestation: the person self-sabotaging through false pride is afraid of losing control, whereas the fearful person won’t do anything.

How to turn it around

There is one way to take back control, and that is to get our mindset right. Get back into logical rational thinking. It is our thoughts that invariable send us down the wrong path.

Time to tackle the self-sabotaging thoughts

For each of the typically self-sabotaging, frequently irrational refrains below, try the following rational helpful thoughts.

Unhelpful: ‘It’s awful, terrible, I can’t cope.’

Rational and logical: ‘It’s disappointing, irritating, frustrating … I will get over it.’

Unhelpful: ‘I can’t stand it, I’m never going to be able to …’

Rational and logical: ‘I don’t want it but I can stand it … It’s not the end of the world.

Unhelpful: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’

Rational and logical: ‘It’s irritating and frustrating.  I have the inner strength to withstand this and walk away if required.’

Unhelpful: ‘I should always get this right.’

Rational and logical: ‘We all make mistakes, I can learn from them.’

Unhelpful: ‘I’m a failure.’

Rational and logical: ‘This didn’t work out, but I’m prepared to listen and do better in future (starting now!)’

Unhelpful: ‘I’ll never get this finished.’

Rational and logical: ‘There’s a lot to do, but I can manage my time. I’ll chip away and slowly the pile will reduce.’

Unhelpful: ‘I’m overwhelmed and stressed.’

Rational and logical: ‘I’ll ask for help. I will take a break. I will get back in control.’

Unhelpful: ‘I won’t get this promotion.’

Rational and logical: ‘Maybe I won’t this time, but I’ll keep developing my skills and be on the alert for something better.’

Unhelpful: ‘It’s so annoying. This meeting is off-track.’

Rational and logical: ‘Perhaps it’s time I spoke up, candidly but tactfully and sincerely.’

Unhelpful: ‘I’m useless.’

Rational and logical: ‘I have skills and I value myself, and I’m prepared learn and try.’

Anyone can get into a self-sabotaging rut, especially when you’ve had a bad run of fortune. But because we are highly suggestible as a species, it’s best — as much as possible — to short-circuit dark thoughts with a little action, a dose of self-belief, and some help from trusted friends.

NOW READ: Four simple changes that will make you more productive

NOW READ: Just chill out: Study shows doing extra work at home reduces productivity


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