5 Steps to Break Through Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage and self-defeating behaviors can happen to anyone. Depending on your situation, they can lead to procrastination, indecision, anger, lack of focus, chemical dependency, self-pity, self-doubt, and more. Whether you’re coping with too much pressure or too little motivation, you may need to take time to adjust your priorities and expectations. Stop demanding perfection and aim for improvement instead.

self-sabotage - finish line

What Self-Sabotage Looks Like

Self-sabotage and self-defeating behavior is easy to find. These are the things that you do on a regular basis that you know are bad or self-destructive, such as procrastination, but you do them anyway. You have a report due on Friday but you wait until the last minute to get it done. You leave the dishes in the sink even though you know it angers your spouse. You don’t return important phone calls.

Related Article: How to Turn Procrastination to Action

Chances are, your self-sabotaging behaviors have the same underlying cause. If you are not returning important phone calls, it may be because you lack confidence in yourself or, your abilities – you may also hate your job and are looking for ways to make the day easier.

Though these coping methods may provide some short-term relief, they’ll ultimately make your life more stressful and difficult. You could end up paying for these mistakes with reduced income, lower self-worth, unfulfilling relationships and emotional turmoil.

How to Break the Cycle

1. Recognize the Pattern

To break the cycle of self-sabotage, you must first recognize the pattern. I’ve found that I tend to focus on trivial, minor tasks when I have an emotional block to my work. The project may be due tomorrow, but my self-doubt leads me to snack, tidy up, answer emails or reorganize my office. These are called non-confronts; you find other things to occupy your time so that you have an excuse when your work goes unfinished.

You insist that you were too busy to get it done, which is only half true. Yes, you were busy, but with all of the wrong things. You procrastinated by not prioritizing. There is a difference between being busy and being productive – successful people find a way to get focused and stay on what is important.

What are your non-confronts? What sort of “busy-work” do you put ahead of your obligations?

Related: Success and Failure – What’s the Difference?

2. Break the Habit

When you recognize a non-confront, stop it immediately, and think about why you did it in the first place. Are you afraid of rejection or failure? Is your work unfulfilling or unsatisfying? Whatever the reason is, you must find a motivator to push you forward and allow you to succeed.

Think about the consequences of your self-sabotage – will you feel angry or mad when you have used up all of your precious time? Will your income suffer and it will be another year of just scraping by?

Related Article: How to Stop Negative Self-Talk

3. Make The Change

You are the gatekeeper of your mind; your environment and the information you expose yourself to will determine the outcome of your life.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was teased for listening to personal development tapes. When my attitude began to improve and I started to personally develop, I was once again teased. But if I stopped growing and striving to improve myself, I would have sunk back to their level. Broke and unhappy don’t work for me; how about you?

4. Surround Yourself with the Right People

If you want to change and avoid self-sabotage, surround yourself with those people who you admire and have the lifestyle you want to achieve. Get into social circles with people doing the same things you want to do. Make decisions and take action.

It’s not about social climbing -like mortgaging your house to pay for admission to the country club – and it’s not about being phony or putting on airs. It’s about striving to be your best and to place yourself only in those environments where success and excellence are valued. It’s a huge part of getting past self-sabotage, too, because it’s a known fact that you emulate the people you associate with.

Related Article: The Incredible Power of Self-Talk

5. When You Lose Your Way, Get Back on Track

Perhaps the most important step to breaking through self-sabotage and making a positive change in your life is to recognize the moments when you are losing sight of your goals. When this happens, change that pattern and get back on track.

The Takeaway

There is something unique and special about each of us. It might be your charisma, your charm, your sex appeal, athletic ability, intelligence, quirkiness, humor, or your ability to bring out these qualities in other people. The problem is when you start down the path of self-sabotaging behavior, none of these great qualities can shine through – and you push yourself farther away from being the person you are.

Do whatever it takes to cultivate your talents and leave the self-sabotage behind – your life is waiting.


Croix Sather is an internationally known author and speaker in the field of personal transformation and the psychology of success. He is most well-known for his 2011 RUN ACROSS AMERICA inspirational speaking tour and as the author of Dream Big Act Big. He is also the world record holder in the Death Valley Badwater Solo Self-Contained Crossing Ultra-marathon.

Featured photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Originally published 12/18/12 and updated 4/14/14. 

Scroll to Top