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Why We Sabotage Our Own Success

self sabotaging meaning

If you believe you will fail, you will engage in unhealthy behavior to sabotage your success.

The Reason Most Artists Will Never Share Their Talent With the World

Even if you don’t share that belief, if something is important to you, you might engage in self-sabotaging behaviors to ruin it. But why the hell would you do that? Isn’t success exactly what we’re after? Yes, theoretically. I love using italics unironically.

Self sabotaging meaning

When our own behavior interferes with our goals and desires, that’s self-sabotage. It can look like:

  • drugs
  • procrastination
  • alcohol
  • overeating

People have different triggers, overeating may not affect you besides your belly looking rounder. However, for me, it’s a way to escape my responsibilities. The more important the task at hand is, the more I can turn to self-sabotaging ways: overeating, watching five episodes in a row, staying up late, etc.

Fingers GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
I rationalize with…fingers.

Chips are my go-to self-sabotaging habit. I need my fingers to write. Since my fingers are all oily and stuff, I have a solid excuse, ehm, reason, as to why I can’t touch my laptop and thus can’t write. Got it all figured out Delf, don’t you?

Self sabotage behavior and why it happens


I hope you either nodded or thought to yourself “Always.”

Most of us are very tied to our identity and growth challenges that.

The doors our hard work would open, and the place it would take us to would require a new version of our idea of self. Engaging in self-sabotaging ways ensures that we won’t grow in uncomfortable ways.

Fear of growth

Growth inspires fear, fear of what you’ll leave behind and who you’ll leave behind.

If you’ve been serving yourself: “I attract the wrong people and always end up in shitty relationships with people who use me,” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that story has become a part of you. And you can’t poop it out like you do with food!

Whether we like it or not, challenging our beliefs, especially those related to our essence, causes us discomfort.

In subconscious ways, we do things that are bad for us and hinder our growth, so we sabotage our relationships and career moves.

The sociopsychological concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy states that our predictions or expectation become true, just because we believe they will and we engage in behaviors aligning with our expectations, turning them into reality.

The Reason Most Artists Will Never Share Their Talent With the World

Then there’s self-defeating prophecy which also explains a lot.

self sabotaging meaning sellf defeating prophecy

As absurd as it sounds, self-sabotage is safe. No growth, discomfort, or awkwardness!

Others idea of us and how our decision affects their idea of themselves

Roxane Gay in her striking book Hunger that I recommend to anyone who has struggled with body image issues or weight, mentioned in the chapter about her surgery:

“how to prepare for the surgery, how to deal with food once our stomachs became the size of a thumb, how to accept that the “normal people” (his words, not mine) in our lives might try to sabotage our weight loss because they were invested in the idea of us as fat people.”  (emphasis mine)

This might sound strange to you if you haven’t struggled with your weight, but it’s an everyday reality for fat people.

Examples of how others can affect your self-sabotage

  • If your friend group smokes weed every night, your decision to stop could be met with “Oh nice”-s at first, but later on, you will be lightly ridiculed and discouraged by your friends.
  • If your family members have never gone to university or considered creative well-paying jobs, your decision to pursue something “fancy” will be met with skepticism, a list of what could go wrong, and suggestions to consider a safe, technical job.
  • When you live with your partner and you’re both couch potatoes, used to ordering takeout every night and not caring about nourishing food, your decision to start eating healthy and working out might be sabotaged by a partner that is invested in the idea of you as someone who doesn’t care about that stuff.

Of course, a lot of friends, family members, and partners would cheer on, help you reach your goals, and celebrate your wins with you.

But we have to take into account how our biology preconditions us to dislike risks and new events that cause us distress. Your friend who’s making fun of you for not smoking or excessive drinking might know deep down you’re doing the right thing, but if you do it and break free of your addiction, that would mean he would have to do it too. And, ummm, it takes a while to get to that decision.

The stories we tell ourselves matter.

Helpful steps to get over self-sabotaging behavior

Just monitoring our thoughts and feelings can be super helpful.

Know your triggers

For example, I know that important projects or those that take me out of my comfort zone might trigger me, causing me to overeat and feel sluggish afterward. I only overeat when I’m home. So whenever I’m working on something and feel the urge to sabotage it by overeating, spending an unhealthy amount on social media, taking on a new unrelated project (cleaning my wardrobe), etc., I take my laptop and leave the house.

It bothers me how often we make things harder for ourselves. I don’t try to fight my urge rationally and use my willpower. There’s no need to convince myself not to revamp my wardrobe or eat an entire bag of chips. I go to the nearest coffee shop, order a coffee, and get to work.

Strengthen your positive core beliefs

“When working to reduce the impact of negative core beliefs it is helpful to elicit and strengthen positive core beliefs.”

Positive Belief Record Worksheet, Psychology Tools

It takes time to change our beliefs and mental schemas, but the process itself is simple:

  1. Specify an old negative belief
  2. Note down any proof that this belief is incorrect

In the case of self-sabotaging behaviors, this could look like:

  1. “I’m such a lazy person. I never get anything done.”
  2. On October 3rd (he asked me what day it was), I finished two important work projects, replied to five emails, cleaned the kitchen.

Keep cognitive distortions in mind

First identified in 1963 by Beck, cognitive distortions like overgeneralization, mental filters, jumping to conclusions, and other terms we’ve seen in memes, influence the way we think and perceive ourselves and others. One of the ten most widespread distortions is wrongly mistaking feelings for facts. Our feelings aren’t objective truths.

Feelings- “I feel sad,” “I feel miserable”- don’t leave much place for arguing, especially if your negative self-talk is LOUD. Focus on actions, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to your negative bully self. Day after day, you’re building a strong foundation against that old belief, so you can look at it in the eye and tell it to fuck off.

Sophie Cliff recently recommended Emma Gannon’s short and sweet book on self-sabotage and impostor syndrome- Sabotage: How to Get Out of Your Own Way.

Finally, remember, as I wrote on the procrastination piece:

It’s irrational for us to postpone something we will have to do eventually. Leaving it to the last minute is irrational. Self-sabotaging is irrational. Making situations more stressful is irrational. But pretending, expecting people to be rational 100% of the time, is the ultimate irrational belief.

1 thought on “Why We Sabotage Our Own Success”

  1. Your such a “smart cookie”! (that’s a compliment) Haha! Every time I read an article of yours I lean back in my chair and go into deep thought for a few minutes. When I come out of thought I always feel refreshed and more positive. Thank you Delfina.

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