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How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Habits That Are Costing You Time, Money and Happiness The good news? It is possible for you to change your behavior. This article will teach you how to identify and stop self-defeating patterns.

By John Rampton Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Sergei Chuyko | Getty Images

As entrepreneurs, we have huge goals but often sabotage ourselves in a variety of ways, like self-doubt, not accepting mistakes and procrastinating. Self-sabotage habits aren't easy to avoid, but they're essential to growing up healthy. At the same time, several of these habits are hard to see in yourself.

However, identifying negative habits needs to be a priority. Why? In your professional and personal development, it can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Procrastination, perfectionism, negative self-talk, avoidance or conflict are all self-defeating behaviors that self-sabotaging people engage in regularly. In their efforts to build the life they want, they often undermine their efforts due to anxiety, fear and self-doubt. When self-sabotage becomes a habit, you are not even aware that you are doing it or that the consequences are negative, which makes it even more problematic.

The good news? It is possible for you to change your behavior. This article will teach you how to identify and stop self-defeating patterns.

Related: How to Not Let Impostor Syndrome Sabotage Your Worth

What is self-sabotage?

Sabotage refers to deliberately damaging, blocking or impairing something to prevent it from working as it should. For example, although we rarely intentionally block ourselves from getting what we want, we may still do or say things to impede our own progress. In the eyes of others, though, it might even appear intentional.

Essentially, self-sabotage is when you undermine your own values and goals. "In other words, you acknowledge that there's something out there you genuinely want and believe is good for you (e.g., keeping off those 20 pounds you just lost), but then you do things that directly conflict with that goal (e.g., late-night fast-food runs)," explains clinical psychologist, writer, teacher and podcaster Nick Wignall.

It is essential to recognize that self-defeating behavior can be either conscious or unconscious, depending on your level of awareness:

  • "Conscious self-sabotage is when you are aware of the fact that what you're doing is undermining one of your goals or values," Wignall adds. Playing video games instead of picking weeds in the backyard, for instance.
  • It is unconscious self-sabotage when you do something that undermines a value or goal but don't realize it until afterward. For example, people with a high fear of failure in their jobs often show up late or perform sloppy work to avoid promotions or increased responsibility, which would result in higher expectations and therefore increased failure risk.

The ways we self-sabotage are endless. Here are some examples of what self-sabotage might look like in your own life before we discuss what causes it and how to deal with it," he states.

Common ways people self-sabotage

The following are some examples of self-sabotage.


We've all procrastinated at some point, especially when it's something we don't enjoy. You could lack self-confidence if you put off your responsibilities. Other times it's because you don't want to disappoint others, fail or even succeed.

If you procrastinate, you interfere with your ability to do your best work. Additionally, procrastinators usually have high levels of anxiety and poor impulse control. There is even a link between procrastination and physical illness. When procrastinators delay treatments, they experience more stress, which can result in poor health.


Trying to be perfect might sound like a good idea, but it can often hinder effectiveness. In addition to finding it challenging to begin projects, perfectionists struggle to finish them once they begin.

A perfectionist might also believe that everything or nothing is possible. So, before they even get started, they tend to talk themselves out of potential opportunities.

Chronic worry

A chronic worry habit gives people a false sense of control and guarantees them a certain future, explains Wignall. In times of helplessness or uncertainty, worrying briefly makes you feel like you can take action. But unfortunately, the long-term effects are never positive, and anxiety levels rise as a result.


We can prevent ourselves from achieving our goals by talking negatively to ourselves and harshly criticizing ourselves. Our automatic responses are often unchecked, instantaneous and uncontrollable, rushing through our minds as we react to ourselves, others and situations in our daily lives.

By listening to harsh criticism of ourselves, we sabotage our goals because we don't believe we can achieve them.

Lack of planning

"Flying by the seat of your pants" is a good strategy if you're going out on the weekend or don't have any plans after work. However, the key to running a profitable business or succeeding, in general, is never to wing it.

Throughout the year, plan your goals and struggles to achieve what you hope to accomplish. To reduce the chance of self-sabotage, review, grow and improve your plan based on what you learned from your previous quarter.


Drugs, alcohol and self-injury are many ways people soothe themselves when they are constantly fighting against the script in their heads that says they can't succeed.


A person who struggles with moderation is often unable to set boundaries. In some cases, this behavior might be perceived as pleasing to others. As a result, they say "yes" to too many things. There might also be a lack of moderation in other aspects of their lives, like drinking too much.

It's also possible to "overdo it" in more subtle ways, such as staying up all night watching T.V. or working out until you exhaust yourself. It is common for overcommitting to mask an underlying fear of failure under the appearance of a strong drive to succeed.

Chronic lateness

Consistently being late is often a sign of self-sabotage. The later you show up to social events, the less anxious you will feel about interacting with people too much before the event begins. But, on the other hand, it causes you to lose trust and respect with your friends and family in the long run.

Resisting change

People who resist change can become trapped in their comfort zones due to uncertainty intolerance. By doing so, you either cling to old habits, create excuses, like being too busy or make goals without following through with the steps to reach them.

People who resist change are less likely to take healthy risks or try new things that could benefit their growth.

Not admitting your mistakes

The biggest problem right now seems to be that everyone takes a stance on everything and won't admit they don't always know it all. Instead of admitting their mistake, they double down on their original opinions.

We are all imperfect, so it is okay to make mistakes from time to time. However, a person's true self-growth is ultimately determined by the lessons they learn and how they move forward with their new-found knowledge after learning them.

Running on fumes

Do you remember the story about the goose that hatched the golden egg? Due to the owner's frustration, they cut open the goose to get all the eggs. Spoiler alert, things didn't turn out so well.

Trying to accomplish more by neglecting your personal needs is shortsighted. It's a sign of self-sabotage.

Lack of communication

Despite knowing you need help on a project, you fail to reach out for assistance. Even though you're running late, you decide not to text.

The importance of communication in our lives, both at home and at work, cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, self-criticism is often to blame for our resistance to communicating with others. We fear that by asking for help, we are highlighting our weaknesses.

Our relationships can be negatively affected by a lack of communication. Moreover, it can foster impostor syndrome. How so? You fear being "found out" since no one knows what you're going through.

Related: How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Habits That Are Costing You Time, Money and Happiness

What causes self-sabotaging behavior?

As Dr. Judy Ho explains in her book Stop Self Sabotage, self-destructive behavior is a biological reaction. Dopamine, aka the feel-good neurotransmitter, is released whenever we set goals. However, due to the fear of failure, avoidant behavior triggers when it comes to completing them. This leads to a conflict called the approach-avoidance conflict, in which we subconsciously back away from our goals.

In self-sabotage, we misalign our values and behaviors. It usually happens when we are forced to do something we don't want. Another possibility is knowing what we want but doing something that doesn't help us.

However, as Wignall states, "There's no one reason why self-sabotage happens."

"And looking for a simple answer is often a sign that you don't fully understand what self-sabotage really is and what it takes to work through it."

With that in mind, here are some other possible reasons to engage in this destructive behavior.

  • Difficult childhood. Self-sabotage can be influenced by growing up in a dysfunctional family. In the absence of a secure attachment style, you may experience ambivalence or avoidance. We may even model negative habits.
  • Relationship difficulties. In an Australian study on self-sabotage in romantic relationships, 15 psychologists specializing in romance identified the main reasons for self-sabotage. These factors include insecure attachment styles, low self-esteem, fear of getting hurt, fear of commitment, unhealthy relationship beliefs, and coping problems.
  • Low self-esteem. Negative self-images and low self-esteem are particularly prone to self-sabotage. As a result, they behave in ways that reinforce their negative self-perceptions. Consequently, they become uncomfortable as they get closer to success.
  • Cognitive dissonance. People who display this behavior struggle with cognitive dissonance or contrasting ideas that conflict with one another. A consistent belief system and consistent behavior are essential to humans.

Related: Self-Sabotage Keeping You From Success? 8 Ways to Stop Today.

How to stop self-sabotaging yourself

You can replace self-sabotage with self-advancement since self-sabotage is neither a part of your character nor defines who you are. You should begin by developing simple self-advancement methods and gradually add on more until your inner critic no longer hinders you.

Here are ten tips to stop self-sabotaging:

1. Become more self-aware

Reflect on your self-sabotaging behaviors and increase your self-awareness. First, see if you can identify your behaviors and thought patterns by journaling regularly. Then, take a few moments to check in with yourself throughout the day. You can become more deliberate about making changes by gaining insight into yourself.

To improve your life, search for patterns. For example, do you frequently undermine your well-intentioned intentions? Were these acts committed before you were in the process of succeeding or when you were on the verge of achieving your personal goals?

2. Look before you leap

This means considering the consequences or dangers associated with a course of action before acting or committing to it. It's based on a fable written by Aesop in the 500s B.C. called The Fox and the Goat. Regardless, modern-day self-saboteurs can learn a lot from this old proverb.

Consider whether your negative behaviors, thoughts and feelings will serve or harm you as you begin to notice them. Self-sabotage often occurs when we feel pressured to do something out of fear. To avoid things that could hold you back, take a moment to consider whether they will move you forward or hold you back.

3. Make a plan — then follow through

You'll need to come up with a plan for how you'll break negative behavior patterns. For instance, if you know your self-sabotaging thoughts will sneak up before you schedule an appointment, add the appointment to your calendar anyway. This can be your personal rule: "Any appointment I have must be placed on my schedule."

The power of habit takes over when you make it a personal rule. By doing this, you're more likely to show up. Also, it gives you a chance to figure out what else is holding you back.

Remember, a crucial part of self-defeating behavior is procrastination. Your goals become more attainable once you begin to take action. As a result, you can reduce your fears and (re)build your self-esteem.

You can get accountability and support from a coach, mentor or therapist if you need help getting started. Additionally, it can keep you motivated when you make small changes. The most effective way to change is through incremental progress, which perfectionists tend to hate.

4. Use the word "but" to overcome negative self–talk

"One thing about battling bad habits is that it's easy to judge yourself for not acting better," says James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. "Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it's easy to tell yourself how much you suck."

When that happens, add a "but" to the sentence.

  • "I'm out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now."
  • "I am stupid, and nobody respects me, but I am striving to learn valuable skills."
  • "I'm a failure, but everybody fails sometimes."

5. Identify and embrace your strengths

The character strengths of each individual can be identified, acknowledged and embraced to help them thrive. Make a list of your strengths, not just what you do well, but also the attitudes and emotions you value.

In short, to develop self-love, you should know your strengths and use them every day.

6. Practice mindfulness

In many cases, it is painful to change self-defeating behavior patterns. You may use them to cope with past traumas. In some cases, they may have prevented you from achieving your goals. You'll likely see the impact of these patterns on your professional, personal and romantic relationships once you begin to unravel them.

When these difficult feelings arise, it's helpful to be gentle with yourself — and that's when practicing mindful breathing and meditation will help. You will be able to develop self-compassion and break down your patterns faster with this method. In addition, by practicing breathwork, you can stay present, which will help you notice when your inner critic starts to nag.

7. Get rid of the all-or-nothing mentality

The first step to breaking a habit is accepting that you'll probably slip up occasionally and developing a plan. Unfortunately, it's more difficult to avoid feeling frustrated and defeated when you slip up.

Falling back into old habits might make you wonder, "Can I really do this?" As such, giving up might seem like the only choice.

Instead of looking at your failures, try looking at your successes, says Erika Myers, LPC. For example, perhaps you're trying to quit smoking and succeeded three days in a row. It's the fourth day, you have a cigarette, and you feel like a failure for the rest of the night.

"Having a cigarette after going a few days without smoking doesn't take away those past days," said Myers. However, the choice you make today can change tomorrow.

"You're looking for movement in a particular direction rather than perfection," Myers added. "Instead of focusing on your end goal, consider this: Anything you do that's more of what you want is good."

8. Put an end to perfectionism

It's common for self-sabotaging people to be perfectionists. You may be overly particular and want everything to be flawless. But, of course, that's not possible.

Rather than settle for perfection, strive for excellence. Take note of your progress toward your goal and make minor improvements along the way.

9. Understand your seemingly irrelevant decisions

There's a concept called "seemingly irrelevant decisions" in addiction treatment. For example, an alcoholic in recovery might feel like calling an old drinking buddy to say hello or play basketball. But soon, they're back on the slippery slope.

"You can use this same concept to understand much less destructive, but still sabotaging, behaviors," says Alice Boyes, Ph.D., and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit. "For example, you might realize that if you start a new task within 30 minutes of when you plan to leave work, it's highly likely that you'll leave late." You might also learn to recognize your sabotaging behavior of answering the phone when you should be leaving.

"On the positive side, you can also learn what makes it more likely you'll do positive, wanted behaviors later," Dr. Boyes adds. "A micro decision for me is whether I leave a document open on my computer when I plan to go back and work on it after taking a break." Generally, I'll go back to it if I leave it open, she says. "If I close it, I won't. It can be very satisfying to understand your own psychology and realize your personal patterns."

Related: Let Go of These 10 Things and Start Making Better, Faster Decisions

10. Don't be afraid to ask for help

You can always seek help from a psychologist if your limiting behavior is too complex. It's easy to gain a deeper understanding of yourself with the help of a therapist. In addition, they give tips for overcoming self-sabotaging thoughts and taking care of your emotional self.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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