Do you sometimes put off tasks until the last moment? Congratulations, then you belong to the large group of self-saboteurs. Why we behave this way – and what we can do about it.
The long-awaited promotion, the loving dream partner in Spe, the trip around the world that you have been dreaming of for so long – as soon as the things we long for are within reach, a kind of blockade sets in for many people. Instead of just grabbing it, we find wild excuses, take unnecessary detours or, just to be on the safe side, go in a completely different direction. We like to blame the fact that luck didn’t work out again on external circumstances, fate – or just bad luck. It is often we ourselves who stand in our way.
The keyword here is self-sabotage. A widespread mechanism that seems more than absurd at first glance and with a rational look: We trip ourselves with various methods when we are just about to start running properly. The bestselling author Brianna Wiest has dedicated an entire book to this phenomenon. In “The Mountain is you” she describes the problem with a philosophical view as follows:
“Sometimes we sabotage our relationships because we really want to find ourselves, but we’re also afraid of being alone. Sometimes we sabotage our professional success because we really want to be an artist, even if we are it makes us seem less purposeful by society’s standards. Sometimes we sabotage our healing journey by analyzing our feelings because that way we can avoid actually experiencing them.”
What self-sabotage means
So self-sabotage means that we ourselves hinder our own needs, desires, values and goals. This can happen consciously or unconsciously and can be expressed in a variety of habits and reactions. And almost all of us use one or the other sabotage mechanism at least now and then.
Maybe you’ve found yourself taking on way too much work knowing you’ll never be able to check off the to-do list. Or you put off important tasks until the last moment, buy things you don’t actually need – or dramatize situations in interpersonal relationships. Yes, all of this is self-sabotage.
Six mechanisms of self-sabotage
But the whole thing can take other forms. In her book, author Wiest describes the many different forms of self-sabotage – and at the same time names strategies for overcoming them. So these are six of the most defining tactics used by self-saboteurs:
inner resistance: Do you know the feeling that you are faced with a new task but just can’t bring yourself to start with it? This is the inner resistance. It happens when we don’t know exactly what we want – or aren’t willing to work towards it.
The way out: Get clarity about what you want – and what it takes to get it. Sometimes the inner resistance is right and we can do without the activity.
Overdressed: According to Wiest, everyone has a limit to what is good. This means that we can only deal with positive experiences to a certain extent. If life is very kind to us, but we go beyond this limit, then this can unsettle us – and protective mechanisms kick in. That’s when the self-sabotage begins.
The way out: Leaving the comfort zone is also difficult when it’s positive. It is therefore important to take small steps – and to dare to accept the good unknown.
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Perfectionism as a benchmark: Perfectionism is a utopia that we like to tell ourselves. And this story has only one purpose: self-sabotage. Because when we try to look perfect, act perfect, or deliver perfect work, we create unrealistic expectations of ourselves that we can never meet. Pre-programmed to fail.
The way out: Lower your own standards – and just do it without worrying about how the result will look in the end. Take the risk of making mistakes. Because, as you know, you learn from them.
The fear of failure: What could we achieve if it weren’t for that loud voice in our head that keeps saying: “Don’t fail!”. Unfortunately, far too often we listen to her and don’t even try to start a complicated love story or reach the next career level. We often don’t even start putting the necessary work into these goals and are often left with a missed opportunity and the question: “What if…?” return.
The way out: Two things are important here: understanding failure as part of life and adapting expectations of the new to reality. Nobody has a guarantee that new projects will succeed. Many things take time to deliver the desired results – but if you don’t try, failure is almost inevitable.
Achievements that aren’t: Self-praise stinks – that’s a phrase that we’ve all probably heard before. It is therefore no wonder that many people tend to downplay their own successes. A master’s degree with a 1.0? Absolutely normal. Promotion to manager? Half as wild. All the care work for the family? Of course! Most of the time, by belittling our own successes, we want to avoid feeling like we’ve “made it” and then lost it again. But the result is always the same: We don’t recognize our performance.
The way out: Here it helps to change our perspective. If we get scared when something good happens to us, we will never really enjoy it. It is not written anywhere that you fall automatically after reaching the summit.
Just stay busy: Anyone who is always under pressure and rushing from appointment to appointment doesn’t really have time to deal with their needs and wishes. The same applies to feelings, by the way. The permanent employment that many people are exposed to today is also a form of self-sabotage. They distract themselves from their inner being, from deep longings and worries – and in the end they run a little further away from themselves with every appointment.
The way out: The following applies here: breaks are worth their weight in gold. Instead of planning every free minute, consciously create free space to really spend time with yourself again. What may feel strange at first can be a real game changer in the long run.
The self-fulfilling prophecy
Self-sabotage has many faces. As varied as the mechanism can express itself, the cause is mostly clear. Often, a lack of self-esteem and a negative self-image ensure that we manipulate ourselves and provoke our own failures. It is, so to speak, a self-fulfilling prophecy that is amplified with every successful act of self-sabotage. With every new self-created disappointment, the fear of further failures increases and self-esteem suffers. Author Brianna Wiest writes in her book that fear and insecurity are also factors that can lead to self-sabotage.
The good news: We don’t have to settle for the saboteur in us. As soon as we recognize where we stand in our own way, we can actively counteract self-sabotage. As Wiest describes the way out of self-sabotage: “We have to go through deep psychological exploration processes. We have to identify the underlying traumatic event, release unprocessed emotions, find healthier ways to meet our needs, redefine our self-image and develop skills like emotional intelligence and resilience .”
Yes, that sounds like a lot of work. But it’s worth it. Because the opposite of self-sabotage is self-determination. And we can only achieve that if we reflect on ourselves and take time and space for ourselves. As soon as we succeed in accepting the good things in life instead of resisting them, we can actively shape life. Then we might dare to tackle our dreams instead of constantly chasing them.
I’m Caroline, a journalist and author for 24 Hours Worlds. I specialize in health-related news and stories, bringing real-world impact to readers across the globe. With my experience in journalism and writing in both print and online formats, I strive to provide reliable information that resonates with audiences from all walks of life.