Is Self-Sabotage Holding You Back?
by Annia Baron
Staying up late knowing you’ve got an early start. Picking a petty argument with your partner. Having that third slice of pizza when you’re aiming to lose weight or deciding that watching YouTube tutorials on how to build an elevated garden bed is suddenly more important than finishing off tomorrow’s presentation.
Self-sabotage is common and often presents as avoidance, procrastination, distraction, or risk-taking. So why do we make choices that interfere with achieving the very goals we set?
Let’s start with self-worth and cognitive dissonance. Usually, our behaviour matches our core beliefs e.g., if you’re vegan, you’ll avoid buying or consuming animal products. If you care about the less fortunate, you’ll likely donate to your local charity or volunteer. When it comes to self-worth, if you’ve felt you’re not good enough or undeserving in some way, progressing towards success and achievement creates a ‘dissonance’ or a mismatch between the belief and your actions. This causes psychological tension that your mind will seek to rectify and so the sabotaging act provides immediate relief because it brings things ‘back in line’.
Imposter syndrome can play a role here too; we sabotage our success if we fear being exposed as a fraud when attempting to better ourselves. In both cases, the fear of failure is pervasive. Other reasons include boredom, stress or a strong tendency for instant versus delayed gratification. But for many of us, lack of clarity and connection to those things and experiences that are most important to us (i.e., our personal values) is a major contributor to self-sabotage.
“So why do we make choices that interfere with achieving the very goals we set?”
Kelly McGonigal, psychologist, educator and author of The Neuroscience of Change and The Willpower Instinct notes that regularly reminding ourselves of the ‘why’ behind our intention to change in the first place is key. McGonigal highlights, “Change is often experienced as a threat, and when we’re threatened, the brain loves to cling to the old, familiar ways of thinking.” With clarity of what’s most important to you, and connecting emotionally to those intentions, you can empower yourself to choose a new course of action when moments of susceptibility arise.
In addition, the research supports mindfulness and self-compassion for creating and sustaining meaningful changes. Along with a myriad of well-being benefits, mindfulness can act as the pause button right before the pull towards the old, familiar habit. It allows space to think more broadly and long-term. Self-compassion has been shown to enhance our self-worth, foster resilience, improve motivation, and generate happiness. In the context of self-sabotage, it reassures us that even if we don’t always get it right, it doesn’t mean we’re undeserving or inadequate (see self-compassion.org for Dr Kristin Neff’s leading scientific research and resources on practicing self-compassion).
In sum, become aware of your self-sabotaging habits. Get to know the circumstances they’re likely to creep in. Give yourself a clear vision of what you value and why it matters to you. And importantly, be gentle. Choose to celebrate your efforts instead of berating your shortcomings. Every day is another opportunity to evolve into the person you want to become. So, stop procrastinating and get to it. ■
You can access a free personalised values illuminator by visiting remindyourself.com, click on ‘illuminate’ and enter the password, modernmindset. Annia Baron is a Clinical Psychologist and Mindset Coach at ReMind Yourself in Hobart. remindyourself.com @anniabaron