4 ways you might be self-sabotaging your success (and what to do about it)

by Jul 6, 2020

It’s not uncommon to associate self-sabotaging behavior with failure. But the truth is, it can be an equally established habit of successful people.

Self-sabotage is a learned response that stems from deeply rooted beliefs and cognitive processes. These include low self-worth, impostor syndrome, the need to be in control (even if it’s of our failure), fear of the unknown, and sometimes boredom. It can show itself in small and big ways, and it can be extremely well-camouflaged. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible to unlearn, as long as you’re ready to do some soul searching.

Here are some common ways you might be self-sabotaging your success, and the best ways to stop this detrimental habit.

1.   Procrastination & rumination

The most common way of self-sabotaging is the easiest one to recognize within ourselves. You know which one: promising to get started on a big paper as soon as you finish an episode of your favorite show. Or, choosing to think about all the reasons you might get rejected instead of applying for that dream job.

Fortunately, these forms of self-sabotage are easy to catch, and can thus be easy to stop. If you find yourself procrastinating or overthinking, call yourself out on it. Come up with an easy-to-follow plan of action, set a deadline, hold yourself accountable, and get to work.

Once you’ve accomplished your task, consider why you had been putting it off in the first place. Was it truly laziness, or was it something more deeply ingrained, like a fear of failure?

2.   “Yes, but…”

How often do you start your sentences with an affirmation, only to negate it right away? When speaking with other people, it may be a sign of competitiveness. However, the problem arises when you start applying the same pattern to your own thoughts.

If you feel like you might be guilty of this habit, stop and think of the ways it might be hurting you. Are you limiting your options? Are you failing to recognize other people’s good ideas? Maybe you’re finding ways to avoid solid advice?

An easy coping strategy would be to create a “negation jar.” Vow to put a dollar (or five, or twenty) in a dedicated jar each time you catch yourself exhibiting this type of negativity. By adding a financial incentive, you’ll be far more likely to kick the habit quickly.

3.   Ignoring self-care

Most of us get so invested in today’s hustle culture that we often fail to notice that in chasing a dream, we’re hurting ourselves beyond repair. I know I’m definitely guilty of this form of self-sabotage. Whether you’re skipping meals to spend more time studying or staying up all night to cram for an exam, know that these actions have a considerable impact on your performance.

For example, it’s a well-known fact that sleep directly influences our memory. Deprivation can leave effects both on your short-term and long-term memory, which is, ultimately, going to affect your performance in school or at work.

If you’re a bit of a workaholic (like me), remind yourself to take regular breaks. Get sufficient rest, try to eat foods that feed your body with the right nutrients, and incorporate exercise in your routine to manage stress and boost cognitive ability. Short sprints on a low battery are possible. But if you want to run a whole marathon, you need to keep your fuel levels up consistently. And the key to that is self-awareness and care.

4.   Failing to acknowledge your success

How many times have you made a mistake, then spent days, weeks, or even months berating yourself? Now think about the times you’ve taken the effort to congratulate yourself on a job well done. Not that often, am I right?

The thing about self-sabotage is that it doesn’t just prevent us from achieving our goals. Often, it also stops us from enjoying our successes. And without a rewards system in place, this could seriously affect motivation and productivity down the line.

So make it your mission to give yourself recognition, whether that’s by treating yourself to your favorite craft ice-cream, writing about your achievement on social media, or just crossing something off your to-do list. Know that acknowledgment is as equally important as hard work.


As the old saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But remember, it’s not enough to just want something. Success depends on hard work, courage, motivation, and, ultimately, belief in your abilities.

So keep your focus sharp, and don’t let anything deter you from bringing your ideas to life. Work to recognize, address, and minimize your self-sabotaging behaviors. Learn to say no to the things that don’t line up with your wants. Give yourself flexibility when it comes to your goals. And, of course, don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough.

With just a few small adjustments in behavior, you’ll find that the world is full of opportunities. And all are yours for the taking.

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Natasha Lane

Natasha Lane

Natasha is a lady of a keyboard and one huge geek. She has a rich history of working in the branding, small business, and career growth related fields, so she is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge all around the web. To see what Natasha is up to next, check out her Twitter Dashboard.