Why do we self-sabotage ourselves and how to overcome it

Self sabotage is a very real struggle

Someone once asked me “Why do you always insist on taking the hard road.” I replied, “Why do you assume I see 2 roads?” As a coach and business consultant, I can easily relate to this mindset and I know self sabotage is a very real struggle for many people. Why do we self-sabotage ourselves so much?

This probably speaks to you if you’re someone who finds it impossible to break out of bad habits or destructive behaviour. You know you’re doing things you shouldn’t but you can’t seem to make better choices.

Running your own business requires an extraordinary level of resilience. There is no room for self sabotage if you want to be successful in the long term. There are enough challenges running a business on a daily and weekly basis as it is. Creating more hurdles for yourself through self doubt and self sabotage is a short cut to disaster.

Why do you insist on taking the hard road? Why do you assume I see two roads? Share on X

Why do you do that?

I’m absolutely sure you don’t wake up every morning and say to yourself “how can I make my life as hard as possible today?” Nobody does that. Yet for some reason, you continue to do things you know you shouldn’t and you continue to not do the things that you know you should.

Am I speaking to you right now? If so, know this: you’re completely normal, you’re not alone, you’re not weak, stupid or crazy and you can change.

Why do you self sabotage?

Human beings are complex characters. It’s in your nature to find a state of equilibrium. That means you seek out the familiar and you avoid change wherever possible. Most of all you usually try and find the path of least resistance. A bit like a lightning bolt.

In your mind, the hard road is actually not the hard road, it’s the familiar road. The easiest road. Maybe the only road. You don’t see options. You continue to choose the hard road for any number of reasons.

Here’s 8 reasons which might explain why you do this:

1. You prefer to stick with what you know

Familiarity is safe. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, feeling safe is one of the 5 basic human needs. You choose familiarity, even when you know it’s not the best choice.

Try this >> Commit to trying one new thing per week

If you only do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always got. There are many interpretations of this great quote but it sums up the process of learning so well. You can’t make progress by repeatedly doing the same thing. Imagine going through the rest of your life never trying another new thing. It almost seems implausible to think about it like this in the context of the rest of your life. Each moment you have a choice. Life is made up of hundreds of thousands of individual moments, so at every opportunity, find courage and step out of the familiar and try something new.

2. You lack a bit of self-belief

You’re not really sure you can do it or you don’t believe there is a better way. It’s not uncommon to experience doubts about your ability. The important thing to remember is that everyone who has achieved expert status in any area, once started as a beginner and so it’s ok if you don’t know it all yet.

Try this >> Acknowledge what you’re good at.

A lack of self belief can result from any number of things. One of the common causes is from focusing on all the things you don’t know or can’t yet do. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, acknowledge what you can do and what you’re good at. This will help to build your confidence and give you the courage to try more. Never forget all the things you’ve learnt already throughout your life. Never underestimate your ability to learn new things at any time.

3. You’re unsure of the purpose

You can change, as long as there’s a good reason. But you’re not really clear yet on what that reason is.

Try this >> Focus on your why

When the why becomes clear, the how becomes easy. If you have clarity around your purpose and your goals, it becomes much easier to do what’s required. When you know why you’re doing something, it seems easier and more reasonable to get uncomfortable and try new things.

4. You’re uncomfortable with change

You’re uncomfortable changing because it’s scary, difficult and full of the unknown, but it’s a vital part of the process in moving forward.

Try this >> Practice being uncomfortable.

Getting out of your comfort zone is something that needs to be practiced. It’s not natural to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Your instinct is to stay safe, stick with what’s familiar and avoid unknown situations to protect yourself from danger and harm.

Getting uncomfortable is a skill which can be learnt. Elite performers in sport, business, in fact any area are extremely good at taking themselves out of their comfort zone and being ok with that. In fact they thrive on the feeling of being uncomfortable. When you practice being uncomfortable, you can condition yourself to realise it’s not that bad. In, time, you can actually start to learn to enjoy the challenge and appreciate the opportunities it presents.

5. You’re stuck in your comfort zone

It’s in the name! There’s comfort in your comfort zone, but not much growth happens there. Your comfort zone may seem like a safe place to reside but it’s a dangerous to get stuck in.

Try this >> Do one thing that scares you each week

Your comfort zone may feel safe but it’s one of the most dangerous places to be. Facing your fear is scary, but it’s the fastest way to grow. Fear is a bully. When you give in to it, it has control.

You’re designed to adapt, but you have to give yourself a reason to change. Just like a skeletal muscle which needs increasing resistance to grow, you need to be challenged before the adaptation process kicks in. A body builder cannot gain strength or size by lifting the same weight day after day. In fact, because of how adaptable the body is, he will start going backwards within a matter of weeks. The body quickly becomes more efficient at doing the same thing. You have to give yourself a reason to adapt, and when you do, you will be surprised how quickly you will settle into a new normal. Start small by doing one thing that scares each week.

Here are some examples:

  • Say hello to a stranger
  • Express your opinion to someone
  • Write your thoughts or feelings for others to read
  • Do a physical activity that frightens you
  • Try a new food
  • Speak publicly
  • Say yes to a task at work you wouldn’t normally be responsible for
  • Start a new sport
  • Join a networking group
  • Start a blog
  • Teach someone something you are good at
  • Run a workshop 

    self sabotage why do you choose the hard road
    Why do you always choose the hard road? Why do you assume I see two roads?

6. Fear of failure

You don’t like failing and most other people are the same. What if the other road is not all it’s cracked up to be?

Try this >> Celebrate failure and enjoy mistakes

As shocking as it may sound, you’re not perfect, so stop trying to be! Everyone starts at the beginning at one point in their life. Anyone who has achieved mastery in a particular area, started as a novice.

You are conditioned throughout your life to believe that failure is bad. Mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. Your parents started protecting you from mistakes from a very early age. They caught you when you fell and they comforted you when you stuffed up. They tried to teach you ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Our school system is designed to teach you to strive for no mistakes. Mistakes are looked down upon.

When a baby learns to walk, she falls down, a lot. She makes mistakes, she learns something, she tries again and she makes mistakes again. She makes mistake after mistake after mistake. And through hundreds of mistakes, she learns to walk. When she makes her first mistake, she doesn’t fall down and give up. She doesn’t feel shame or humiliation. She tries again and again, until she masters the skill.

7. Fear of success

Fear of success is a complex fear. It’s not very well understood. How could anyone be afraid of being too successful? Success has all kinds of consequences such as more responsibility, more commitment, increased workload or the inability to be able to handle the pressure. Previously I have written about how to Harness Your Fear. Fear of success can actually bring up the same kind of anxieties as fear of failure.

Try this >> Identify where your fear is coming from and what it’s attached to.

Which part of success is holding you back and why are you standing in your own way. Fear of success is one of those things only you can address so it’s important to work out why you feel this way and what is stopping you from reaching your potential.

8. Fear of the unknown

When you don’t know what’s around the corner, you tend to avoid it rather than risk the consequences. Self-preservation is a strong motivator to resisting change.

Try this >> Ask yourself these questions. What’s the:

  • worst that can happen?
  • best thing that can happen?
  • most likely thing that can happen?

A fear of the unknown occurs when you build a picture in your head from the stories you tell yourself, even when they’re not realistic or likely to even happen.

It’s important you can acknowledge the worst case scenario so you can plan for how you would tackle the problem, should it arise. Recognise the potential and possibilities at your fingertips so you can focus your efforts in the right direction. Finally, bring yourself back to the moment. Concentrate on what’s in your control and the most likely outcome.

Knowledge is power

Knowledge can be power because when you can recognise why you self-sabotage, you can start to take action to change your behaviour. If you really want to make better decisions, start to acknowledge, understand and then take responsibility. You can do it!


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35 Replies to “Why do we self-sabotage ourselves and how to overcome it”

  1. I definitely like to stick to things that are familiar. I’m always afraid to step outside my boundaries and always stop myself doing things I know I want to to. I’m going to work on trying not to do this more.

    1. Good on you Sarah! It’s hard to do but I’m sure you will take an amazing leap forward when you give this a go 🙂

    1. You know Kristin, the funny thing is, familiarity is relative. I’m guessing the life you’re living today is very different to the life you had 10 years ago? Yet somehow you’ve grown, adapted and found a new familiar. Just because you have new challenges ahead doesn’t mean you can’t adapt (and maybe thirve!) in a new familiar!

  2. Very great motivational and self-reflective post. I have been self sabotaging my whole life and once I realized it, I was able to keep that in my fore mind while trying to grow as a person.

  3. What a great article. Knowledge IS power, and the knowledge you shared in this article was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you Sylvia! Knowledge is power however knowledge without action is actually meaningless. There are many very knowledgeable and talented people who have achieved nothing due to lack of action. All the best 🙂

    1. Thankyou for your comment. You can certainly make progress and continue to work on self belief. 🙂

    1. I’m so pleased you’ve acknowledged this Kim. Can you identify why you lack self-belief? Why do you believe you can’t do it? Think about the last time you hesitated because of this reason. Do you know anyone else who has achieved what you thought you couldn’t? If so, what makes them so special? Realistically, what is stopping you from achieving the same thing? If they can do it, why can’t you? Belief is everything! Try and work hard to realise how capable you are. 🙂

    1. Hmmm interesting Brittany. You are definitely part of the majority. This is very common. Perhaps just one time stepping outside your comfort zone could be the start of amazing things!

  4. Great post Lisa. OMG, I face this all the time – need to make big changes but all the 8 reasons ticks the boxes of why I don’t. This post encourages one to take action.

    1. I’m so excited to hear this Tee! I hope you will come back and share the changes you’ve made. You can do it!

  5. I read something about this last year and really recognised it in myself.
    I think the big thing for me is fear – fear of failure (stuffing it up), fear of success (actually pulling it off and getting more responsibility), and fear of unknown ( what will happen if I do this).

    I love reading about this kind of stuff!

    Xx Angela

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Angela. Here’s a good way to think about your future opportunities – What is the worst that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? What is the likely outcome? Sometimes these 3 questions can help you see that the benefit actually outweighs the fear. Give it a go next time!

  6. Fortunately I can say that I do not fit into any of these characteristics listed in your article. However, I know so many people who sudden with these and they are okay with living life this way.

    1. Everyone has different goals, that’s true Delvecchio. Each to their own. If they are comfortable, all power to them!

    1. That’s fantastic Brittany! Please come back and share with me the changes you have made. You can do it!

  7. What a great article it made me stop and think. And I realize that I am sabotaging myself, thank you for the wake up call.

  8. Oh yes, I’m 100% about comfort and convenience. My life is so busy, sometimes it’s just easier to continue doing something than taking the time to change it up.
    But you’ve inspired me to take another look! Thank you!

    1. I’m so excited by this Chris! I really hope you give it a try. Maybe start small, just one small thing. You can do it!

    1. Thankyou Qudsiyah! Yes we can be our own worst enemy at times. We are the problem but we are also he solution!

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