The Setbacks of Self-Sabotaging

By Jimmy Warden

We have all done it. We have all tried to make changes in our lives. Yet, there is one common obstacle that often gets in the way of each of us. That obstacle is our own self-sabotaging behaviors. These are the small actions that don’t always seem like big deals in the moment, but in fact, they turn out to be more than that. These are the constant mini-setbacks we go through when we fail to follow through on actions that we described with our words. These are the same setbacks that don’t allow us to make the growth that we are searching for. The good news is, we have the power to change these behaviors so that they are minimized or eliminated, if we’re diligent enough.

No matter what our goals are, there are always going to be obstacles that stand in our way, but we like to make our lives even more challenging by way of self-sabotage. Self-sabotaging means what it says. Someone who is self-sabotaging is indeed doing something that is sabotaging their current situation. Engaging in this type of behavior often has negative outcomes. For example, the smoker that wants to quit smoking might say, “well this is the last one”, to justify lighting another one up. It could also look like the heavy drinker who claims they’re going to get sober saying, “this is my last beer”, to justify cracking open another cold one. The same goes for someone who says, “I’m going to eat healthier after this”, as they’re enjoying something that is indeed the opposite of healthy.

Those are just a few quick examples, but there are many more that we could come up with as we really try to ponder all of the silly things we do to stop us from growing as people. These examples might seem small on a moment to moment basis, but they indeed become challenging when those are already built in habits. Habits are hard to change. It takes a lot of conscious effort at first, and there is often a lot of resistance towards whatever it is we’re trying to change. This tends to happen because change is uncomfortable. However, all of these mini-setbacks compound over time, and eventually we are looking in the mirror, or thinking about ourselves, wishing we hadn’t done what we did. This feels terrible. The reason that it hurts so bad, is that we lied to ourselves.

Lying hurts, and the person we lie to the most is ourselves. This is one reason why we experience regret. We wish we had done something differently in the past, because we had made a promise to ourselves to do it, but broke the promise. This is why it’s important that we try to speak honestly to ourselves, but more importantly, go forward with what we said we were going to do. It will help save us from unnecessary pain that we give to ourselves. This is one way that we can start trying to minimize some of our self-sabotaging habits. When we recognize when we’ve engaged in them, we become aware of them, and then we can try to change them, so we no longer let ourselves down. In the meantime, we’d also start seeing that we will grow more in the process.

Even the mere recognition of our behavior is a step in the right direction. We spend so much of the day mentally away from our physical space. In a way, we’re almost unconscious at times, which opens the door for self-sabotaging behavior. However, when we become more conscious and more aware, we can start seeing where we’re going wrong. Once that has been understood, we can then move into a different phase of thinking, and start figuring out how to solve the puzzle of self-sabotage. Do we need to remove cues for the self-sabotaging behavior? If so, that means no purchasing cigarettes, or even lighters, if we think back to the example of the smoker. They would also need to stop hanging out with people that smoked. It might seem extreme, but it would give that person the best opportunity to be successful in making that change, if all of the cues for smoking cigarettes were also removed from their life.

These actions are definitely a lot easier said than done, but it is crucial for us to think about the new life that we could create for ourselves and others when we are trying to get some of these challenging behaviors under control. We often end up getting in our own way by engaging in these behaviors because we are just thinking about ourselves in those moments. A lot of the self-sabotaging behaviors we partake in are often our stress relievers and coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, they tend to be unhealthy ones. They don’t put us in better physical, mental, or spiritual states because they end up being the orchestrators of emotions like regret and disappointment. The more that we regret things and become disappointed in ourselves, the less belief we’ll have in ourselves to build a better life.

This is when self-guiding questions really help. Questions such as, “what do I want to change?” and “why do I want to change?”. It might help to also think about, “who else would benefit from my changes?”. This will help us get outside of ourselves and realize that those decisions we make are about more people than just ourselves. It can hurt to lie to ourselves, but once other people get involved in our decisions and the changes we’re trying to make, more accountability is created. It’s actually kind of easy to let ourselves down, considering we do it all of the time, but it is much harder to let other people down.

So think about who might benefit from the changes we want to make. Let’s think about how the quality of our lives will change. Let’s give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Let’s stop being our biggest obstacle. Let’s control or eliminate our self-sabotaging behaviors. Most importantly, let’s try to do it with a smile on our face.

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