Self-sabotage: how to not screw yourself up again.

Do you know that moment when everything is going well when you are on your way to reaching your objective but somehow, you suddenly do something that will lead you to not succeed? This is called self-sabotage. And I know you answered “yes” to my question…So here are 5 steps to stop sabotaging yourself.

What does self-sabotage mean?

When I was in the commando paratrooper’s unit, I studied war tactics and trained for different types of operations. One that I particularly liked was the sabotage mission.

For instance, I would receive a target, most of the time a point of interest (antenna, bridge, railways, …), and a simple order: destroy it (or undermine it). Oh and a little note: Don’t be seen doing it!

Sounds fun isn’t it? Yes, super exciting! I had to come up with a brilliant plan, sneakily infiltrate behind the enemy lines, conduct the sabotage mission without being discovered and then leave the place as fast as possible to reach the extraction point!

But the first time I heard the word SELF-sabotage, it got me confused…?

I mean, why on earth would someone actively or passively take steps to undermine their own success or use destructive behavior on themself?

And it also got me thinking, do I do that?

Well, I remember that day when I had an endurance test, and the night before I ended up partying until late, knowing I shouldn’t. And guess what, I didn’t have the best results.

Or that moment when I was procrastinating on registering myself to be a speaker at an event until the list was full and I couldn’t go on stage anymore. Leaving me frustrated.

Ok, is that self-sabotage? I guess so! And we probably all do that in one way or another, (unconsciously most of the time), but why?

The origin of sabotaging yourself

Everything we do is for a reason. The reason is not always obvious, but there is always one. Usually, our behavior comes from a protection mechanism that was put in place to avoid struggle, discomfort, or danger. 

We go through life creating all kinds of beliefs and behaviors in reaction to events, situations, and people that crossed our path. We create this whole operating system to cope or to protect ourselves. But these methods created in the past can cause difficulties when the situation changes.

Have you ever asked yourself these questions:

– Why do I keep doing that?

– How does this keep happening to me?

– I knew I should not do it but I did it anyway, am I stupid or what?

In other words, why do I sabotage myself?

We, humans, got pretty good at managing our hardware (body). 

Well, did we?

Looking at the decline of global health, we have still a long way to go, but that’s for another conversation.

On the other hand, managing our software (mind and emotions) seems to be much more challenging.

The mind is a powerful tool that can help you move forward or hold you back. Keep in mind (easy joke…) that your mind only wants to help you! The problem is that the way it does it, is not always what you want.

We sabotage ourselves to avoid struggle, discomfort, or danger that would potentially come with a new situation.

Self-sabotaging for immediate pleasure 

Your mind uses the collections of information gathered in your past to help you make decisions in the moment and for the future, so you can feel good and stay safe.

We are wired for seeking immediate pleasure and most of our behaviors are created to avoid discomfort and move us away from pain.

It is really easy to do something when the reward is immediate (eating ice cream, watching a movie,…) but challenging to take action when the gratification is delayed (going to the gym, working on your project,…).

When we make a decision that leads to long term fulfillment but that doesn’t provide immediate satisfaction, we basically have 3 fears that appear:

– We fear the pain of losing what we have.

– We fear the pain of doing the work to get there. What if you can’t make it? What if it’s hard or uncomfortable? What if you want to give up? What if you fail? 

– We fear the pain of being disappointed. What if it is was not worth it? What if after doing all the work, it’s not better?

Those fear will slow us down, hold us back or even prevent us to start, so we can stick with what is familiar, avoid potential discomfort or disappointment, and seek more immediate gratification situations.

Self-sabotaging to stick with what is familiar

Self-sabotaging behaviors can develop from the need to control a situation. When you’re in control, you feel ready to face anything that comes your way.  

What is known feels good, because it is predictable and gives us a sense of control. On the contrary, everything uncertain and unfamiliar is uncomfortable and so we try to stay away from it. We like what is familiar! Look at kids watching the same cartoon over and over again, or you, resisting change in your life.

The problem comes when you make something disempowering familiar. For example, being broke, being fat, being in abusive relationships,…

Although you desire something different, you will unconsciously sabotage yourself to move forward and tend to stick with the current situation because it is something you know, it is predictable, and gives you a certain sense of control. 

We all have a certain set point, a preferred level of functioning, something that we are used to, something that we know and somehow makes us feel comfortable. When we improve our situation, we start moving away from this set point until we reach an upper limit. Now the new situation is becoming too uncomfortable (even if it is better) and we will try to bring it back down to a certain level of comfort, close to our set point.

Self-sabotage occurs when we reach this upper limit.

Set point and upper limit schema showing the self-sabotage zone.

Self-sabotaging to prove ourselves right

The second problem is that the longer we stay in a situation (either good or bad) the more we reinforce our beliefs about this situation and sooner or later we recognize it as a new set point.

If you are broke for years, you might start developing disempowering money beliefs:

– Money doesn’t grow on trees

– Money is bad

– I’ll never be rich

– I’m not good with money

– I can either make money or follow my passion

We all have a strong sense of self that we call ego. And we will tend to confirm the beliefs we created to prove ourselves right, regardless of the belief!

If you believe that you are worthless or incompetent or if you believe that you are enough and always lucky, you will live a very different life. We create our own reality! The set of beliefs you are living by is determining your life if you want it or not…

We tend to sabotage ourselves to confirm our negative beliefs but we also empower ourselves to affirm positive beliefs. Better to carefully choose what you think about most of the time.

Competing commitments that sabotage your success

Sometimes, we might have (unconscious) desires that are in conflict with one another. Those competing commitments might hold us back in our journey towards success and sabotage our progress.

Let’s say that you are committed to releasing some weight and being healthier. But somehow you can’t move forward. You know that it will improve your life and that you are capable of doing it but still, you can’t bring yourself to do it.

You keep eating foods that you know you shouldn’t eat and can’t get yourself to be more active. There is always a good excuse.

The reason might be that you have a hidden commitment that is sabotaging your success.

competing commitment that sabotages your success, rope pull game

For example, you don’t want to be seen as the “diet person”, you just want to enjoy life, and restricting yourself doesn’t feel like living!

You want to feel free to do whatever you want,… and for you, a diet is not a synonym of freedom.

For instance, you assume that to be healthy you’ll need to give up on the “good” thing, and never have fun again. You believe that food makes you feel good, that if you don’t eat like everybody else, you will be rejected and alone.

Because of these hidden commitments, there is a part of you that doesn’t want to be on a diet and will do everything for the situation to remain the same. But simply by raising your awareness, you can change the game.

Self-sabotage in a nutshell

If you combine the pursuit of immediate pleasure, your preference for what is familiar, your belief system, and the hidden competing commitment, it suddenly makes sense why you self-sabotage, doesn’t it?

You can now understand why a person keeps ending up in a wrong relationship over and over again. Or why do some people never get in shape, why do people stay broke even after making good money, why do people keep having bad jobs, or why do you always end up in the same place, no matter what you try.

The results of self-sabotaging yourself

Self-sabotage is leading to a negative spiral towards unhappiness, helplessness, frustration, and the creation of negative psychology.

The more you have to deal with those failures, the more you create negative beliefs that lead to toxic feelings and emotions:

“I can’t do anything right.”

“I won’t make it, so why should I bother?”

“Once again, I really messed up”

“I’m terrible at this.”

Over time you will create bad habits, procrastinate, and live with guilts. You will fear failure and success. You will feel stuck and that there is no way out. You will feel that life is hard and put your focus on minimizing the struggles and the pain. You will become a victim. A victim of your own thinking. A victim of the system that you created to stay safe and feel good.

Mission accomplished: you sabotaged yourself.

But don’t worry, you are not doomed! There is a way to win the battle.

Pawn stuck in a jar, limiting and sabotaging himself

How to stop self-sabotage?

The best thing you can start with to stop self-sabotage is giving yourself some love. You are not broken, it is the nature of the human mind. Your behavior has always been in the sole intention of keeping you safe. But as we saw, it is not always very helpful to move forward. Here is a 5 step method to break free from self-sabotage.

Step 1: Recognise when you are self-sabotaging yourself


Seeing the reality as it is, is empowering. The problem is that everybody kind of avoids doing that because it puts you in the center of the problem, as the one responsible for creating it in the first place. 

Yep, you are the source of all your problems. The question is not if you agree or not, because it is just how it is. You are sabotaging yourself. The question is, are you ready to accept it? 

Usually, taking responsibility for our misfortune is painful. Suddenly we have nobody or nothing else to blame.

Now there are situations where we have no control and no influence. But the way we react to it, the way we let it affect us, is always a choice.

Where do I feel stuck in my life?

Is there a situation that whatever I do to change it, I don’t move forward?

Is there a situation that keeps happening to me over and over again?

When am I not doing what I know I should be doing?

Which habits are not helping me move forward?

Step 2: Identify the source of the behavior

Now that you identified a situation where you are sabotaging your success, it is time to dive into the reason behind it.

How do you feel before sabotaging yourself?

What do you think about it?

What is your internal dialogue?

Which belief that served you in the past is now holding you back?

Are you committed to something else that interferes with your objective?

What are you afraid of?

The way we think determines our actions, our behaviors, and ultimately, our identity.

Now that you have deconstructed the situation and identified WHY you behave the way you do and tend to self-sabotage, let’s re-write the script.

Step 3: Challenge your thinking

To challenge the way you think, you have to first build a strong foundation about what you want. So what do you want? 

What do you really want?

Why is that important for you to get that?

How do you think you will feel when you get it?

Get clear on your why (read this article to help you set goals that matter).

Challenge your fears (read this article to learn how to deal with your fears).

To live a better life, you have to ask yourself better questions.


What can you say to yourself that is positive or encouraging?
What options do you have? 
Is there more than one way to achieve your goal?
How can you deconstruct your big goal into a series of small achievable steps that will build up your confidence?

Step 4: Get good at being uncomfortable 

That’s a secret to success! As simple as that! Be comfortable with failure. Comfort is overrated anyway! Do you want to go far? You have to be ready to leave your comfort zone and lean on your edge. Nothing new here.

How do you get better at it?

By practicing! Step by step learning to be ok with feeling uncomfortable. Because here is the trick, it will never go away. You can’t feel comfortable all the time and be successful. You have to practice how you react and behave when you are in uncomfortable situations. 

You have to master your mind and your emotions to stop self-sabotage. The more you can deal with YOU, the easier it will be to put yourself in those situations while keeping the long-term goal in sight and working your way through the doubts and fears.

That’s what it takes to become a high performer.

Step 5: Make a plan and stick to the damn plan!

“If you keep doing what you have always done,

you’ll keep having what you have always had”.

No choice here, if you want things to be different you have to do things differently. So make a plan, be strategic. Divide your objectives into different steps, minimize the risk, take commitment and choose empowering beliefs. Take a calendar, schedule your actions and make sure to have an accountability buddy or work with a professional to reach your goals.

This is what I do, I help people get more in their life. I support my clients to go through the challenges, beat their doubts, 10x their dreams, and live a created life.

Here is my question to you…

Are you going to keep sabotaging yourself?

Are you going to decide to stay a victim or are you going to fight your way through?

Are you going to live a life trying to minimize the struggle or choosing to maximize your experience?

It’s up to you.