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Do you ever do things that seem completely contrary to your goals? You need to go to bed early so that you are well rested for a morning meeting, but you decide to start a new season of your favorite Netflix show at 11:00 p.m. You need to get that presentation done for Monday, but you spend half of Friday morning reading Twitter posts and have to scramble that afternoon. You want to save money so you can take that trip to Europe you have been dreaming of, but you keep forgetting your coupons for the grocery store and buying things you do not need. You know what you need to do to reach your goal. You make good decisions for a while, but then you do the exact opposite of what you should for just long enough to basically wipe out your previous success. You can see it clearly in hindsight, but you cannot stop yourself from making those mistakes. 

If you keep shooting yourself in the foot and cannot figure out why, you are likely suffering from self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is exactly what it sounds like. It is when you make decisions and take actions that sabotage your chances of success. You make conscious choices to do things that are contrary to your goals, but at the time, you do not realize quite what you are doing. You consciously take action despite not having decided to deliberately hurt your chances of success. You do something and look up five minutes, an hour or a day later and wonder “why on earth did I do that?” Yet you cannot stop yourself from doing it again.

Self-sabotage is infuriating and can rapidly lead you into a downward spiral where you do something that is unproductive and then spend hours berating yourself for being “such an idiot.” This makes you feel awful and self-loathing. This, in turn, makes you even more likely to self-sabotage. You then kick yourself more. A terrible downward spiral is formed. 

Beating self-sabotage is not easy and requires self-reflection. It can be done, though, if you are willing to start paying attention to your own thoughts and habits.

Identify the sabotage.

It is hard to break a habit when you are not entirely sure what the habit is in the first place. So, the first step to stopping self-sabotage is to figure out how you are sabotaging yourself. If you are not focusing at work and so sabotaging your chances at getting a promotion, why are you not getting everything done on time? Are you wasting time at work on social media? Do you get distracted talking to coworkers? 

If you cannot immediately identify a problem at work, look at your habits at home. Do you stay up too late on weeknights and then are exhausted when you get to work? Sleep deprivation could easily be affecting your performance. Are you sleeping through your alarm and then getting to work late or in a frazzled state of mind?

Once you have figured out where you are going wrong, try and pin down the specific habits that are causing a problem. If you are staying up too late, is it because you are trying to get one more thing done before bed or are you binging Netflix? Find the method for sabotaging yourself and put methods in place to limit your ability to do so. Block Netflix after a certain time, or delete Facebook from your phone.

Replace the bad habit with a good one.

Once you know how you are causing problems for yourself, replace the bad habit with a good one. Instead of scrolling through social media in the evening, read a book in bed. Rather than scrambling around in the morning trying to find everything, lay your clothes out the previous night. Find a habit that will help you reach your goals and train yourself to do that instead of whatever you are doing to sabotage yourself.

Figure out why you are sabotaging yourself.

Identifying and changing habits are only a temporary fix when it comes to self-sabotage. Fixing your habits will not fix the root of the problem. They will, however, buy you time to identify why you are self-sabotaging.

Self-sabotage is almost always driven by fear. You are subconsciously afraid of losing your job, so you screw up your performance. You are terrified of waiting for that pink slip, so you are unconsciously endeavoring to simply get it over with instead of forever anticipating disaster. You are afraid that you are not actually ready to take on a leadership position, so you sabotage your chances at getting a promotion. Once you know what you are truly afraid of, you can address that particular fear.

Accept your fear. 

You cannot beat a fear until you admit you are afraid. If you continually insist that your job is not in any danger, you shove your fear of being laid off into the back of your mind. The fear settles in your subconscious, and you begin to self-sabotage because the fear has no other outlet. Accept that you are afraid. To fear is natural. Being afraid does not, however, have to control you. Accept and let yourself feel your fear. Then and only then, can you break free of it.

Break free.

Breaking free of your fear will vary wildly depending on the fear. For some people, simply admitting that they are afraid of losing a job can put them back in control and enable them to take steps to improve their performance and protect their livelihood. For others, more extensive steps such as life coaching or therapy might be necessary. 

Beating your fear and taking back control will not likely happen all at once. You will backslide and start causing problems for yourself again. You will shove your fears back into your subconscious.  When that happens, recognize what you are doing and drag those fears and bad habits back into the light where you can defeat them once more.

Getting rid of self-sabotage can be tricky. Self-sabotage is almost always driven by subconscious fears and concerns. This mean that getting at the root of the problem can be a difficult and time consuming process, especially for those who are not good at or well-practiced in self-reflection. It is, however, worth it to put in the time and effort to eliminate self-sabotage and take back the control that can help you finally reach your goals once and for all.