Self Sabotage. You know the story: you work hard all week and make good food choices. Then, once the weekend rolls around, you figure you can live a little – which ends up undoing all your hard work.

Or you spend hours brainstorming how to make that business idea succeed and then spend further hours making excuses for why it won’t. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

self sabotage - why you keep getting in your own way - and how to stop

I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t at least considered self sabotaging – even if it wasn’t a conscious decision. Even my kids who have always been encouraged to try and been applauded for their successes, attempt to self sabotage by giving me (and themselves) all the reasons why they can’t.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Imagine how far along you could be towards your goal if you didn’t waste so much time trying to talk yourself out of it.

Though the methods that we use for self sabotage are plentiful, they all pretty much boil down to one thing. Fear of failure.

As I’ve spoken about before, fear is fear, whether it’s real or imagined, physical or mental. Ancient fears of being eaten by predators vs modern fears of being booed off stage during a public speech all activate the same part of our brain.

This part of our brain, the amygdala, is in the oldest part of town and therefore, usually gets priority. It also tends to shut down our rational thought making it that much harder to see our excuses for what they are. We believe what we tell ourselves, even if fear is doing the talking.


There are many methods we use to self sabotage, some of them are less easily spotted, like not prioritizing. While others, like actively coming up with the longest list of reasons why shouldn’t apply for that promotion, are more easily noticed.

Regardless of how we stop ourselves, the results are the same: we remain stuck. Below is a list of some of the common ways that we self sabotage and some ideas for how to get out of your own way.

Not prioritizing

This is a VERY easy trap to fall into, especially if you’re busy or overwhelmed. You get to a place where you feel like as long as you’re doing something, that eventually it has to get you into a better position. This is frequently not the case.

And while it can be difficult to settle down for a moment and make a plan, it’s fundamental for you to move you forward.

Instead of just focusing on what’s due next – regardless of whether it’s important or not – make a list of priorities. Then if what’s due next isn’t on that list, find a way to delegate it or ditch it all together.

If you’re struggling to sort out your priorities take a look at this post. There’s even a free cheat sheet you can download to help you organize your work.

Black and White Thinking

This is one that’s harder to catch yourself doing. Our brains can easily get stuck in a place where we aren’t seeing options. This is actually what part of my job is as a coach: help you open your mind to see other possibilities.

Black and white thinking is being stuck in an all or nothing mindset.  If you’re a perfectionist or you’re thinking in extremes (if you take the job either you’ll be a great boss or an awful boss), you will struggle to see any other ways to handle the situation.

Being stuck in this place stops you from seeing the possibility that if you take the job, maybe you won’t know everything about being a good boss at first, but it will be possible to learn while on the job.

If you find yourself seeing a situation is either/or, you might be stuck. Most situations have many paths that could work. A way to get around this thinking is to begin brainstorming all of the ways, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish, that the situation could work out how you would like. Alternatively you can try imagining what is the perfect way for everything to happen.

These techniques begin to engage your brains creativity and it will open up your mind to more possibilities than those either/or ones that you are stuck in.

If you’re looking for more ways to engage your creativity, check out this post.

self sabotage - why you keep getting in your own way - and how to stop

Procrastination and Making Excuses

Both of these behaviors are founded in the avoidance of failure. If you put off applying for that position until it’s expired, then you can’t be rejected. Likewise if you make a massive list of reasons why you’re not qualified,  and therefore never apply – then you also can’t be rejected.

Recognizing your fears and considering what the results of those fears would be, will help rationalize them. For example, if you’re afraid of submitting an article to a magazine, what’s the worst that happens if they say no? Yes you might feel rejected, but by submitting you also have the chance that your work could be accepted. If you never submit you will never know.

Also consider how being rejected might offer a growth opportunity. With the rejection might come helpful feedback that lets you know what you could work on to master your writing skills.

This could lead you to taking a class and eventually getting published. All things that would never happen if you never submitted your writing in the first place.

For more techniques to overcome procrastination check out this post. And for more help with getting past your fears, check out this one.

Arguing for Your Limitations

Whether the limitations that you’re using are real or imagined, by arguing for them you’re shutting your mind off from coming up with the possibilities that could solve your problem.

By telling yourself that you can’t you are telling your brain to stop looking for solutions.

Think of all the times you’ve come up with a brilliant idea while doing something mundane, like taking a shower. It’s because your brain is always processing. But if you argue for why you can’t, then your brain won’t bother doing this background work.

Additionally our mind has this tendency where the more you focus on something the bigger it becomes

So the more time you spend thinking of all the ways that you could fail, the more ominous those ways become. The fears become stronger and your visions of how those fears will play out become worse.

You can overcome this effect by working on dealing with your negative thoughts. Any time you notice that you’re giving yourself reasons why you will fail, stop and flip it to something positive and attainable.

Instead of telling yourself

“I couldn’t make it through 2 minutes of that workout class, so why bother!”


“I can absolutely do at least 2 minutes AND if I need to I can take a break and get right back to it.”

This opens your mind to possibilities and asserts that you are capable of making your ideas work.

By being realistic – as in not saying you can totally do the super advanced class after not working out for a decade – your mind is more likely to accept the mindset shift.

Switching your mindset from negative to positive will also give you more motivation. And motivated people keep trying to do things until they succeed. Consider where you want your energy to go – making up more excuses or towards the effort to succeed.

For more info on working through negative thoughts check out this article.

Click here for more ways to stay motivated.

Remember that even though self sabotage seems like a negative and frustrating behavior – your brain has good intentions. It’s just trying to keep you safe from what you’re afraid might happen.

If you spend some time rationally thinking about why you’re getting in your own way – and dealing with the emotions behind the self sabotage – you can work through it so that you can move forward on your goals.

If you’re feeling stuck and just can’t seem to get going on your goals, send me a message. This is one of the primary topics that I help clients work on. Even if you can’t see the solution now, it is there – and I can help you find it.

Ready to work with me? Click here.