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The Self-Sabotaging Mechanism

Most of us have high ambitions but don’t accomplish what we set out to do. It’s not because we lack the potential - as human beings, we all have stored potential - but instead, we become our own worst enemy.

We’ve all been there before. We’ve all self-sabotaged and the crazy thing is that we don’t intend to do it. It kind of just happens. And when it does, it sucks; it fills us with regret, frustration, and guilt. It’s an undesirable feeling and if we want to stop self-sabotaging, and start hitting our true potential, then we must learn the mechanism of what goes into it.

What is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotaging happens when we hurt ourselves physically, mentally, or emotionally, or intentionally stop our own success and well-being by undermining personal goals and values (Brenner, 2019). In short, it’s when we intentionally don’t take action on things that we know we should. It’s when we choose to stop ourselves from doing what we know we must. It’s intentionally deciding to not take action.

man looking toward the sunset

Why does Self-Sabotage happen?

Self-sabotaging can come from many different sources but the science behind it remains consistent. To dig into this science, we must understand what true values are. Values guide our lives by guiding our behaviours. Based on what we value, we decide to either take action or not.

True values are emotions that we desire to experience. Where most get this wrong is when they value the means to those emotions, versus the emotions themselves. For example, we chase after money because we think it brings happiness when in reality it’s just a means to accomplishing it.

There are two types of values we all chase as human beings: desired values, and undesired values. Desired values are emotions we want to experience in life, such as happiness, success, etc. Undesired values are emotions we want to avoid in life, such as negativity, uncertainty, etc.

Self-sabotage happens when someone’s values are in conflict - or when we desperately want something, but it comes with an emotional cost that we’re not willing to pay. For example, one may have the desired values of success and accomplishment, but also an undesired value of uncertainty. As they pursue their desired success, there are many moments of uncertainty that challenge them. Eventually, the uncertainty gets so intense that they decide the success is simply not worth it and end up sabotaging themselves.

Common sources of Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage can present itself in different forms - here are some of the major ones:

light at the end of the tunnel

Modeling the behaviours of others

Ever heard the saying, “you are who you hang around with”? Well, it’s true. We have the tendency to pick up the behaviours of those we surround ourselves with. As we learned before, these behaviours are driven by values. Therefore, we start to pick up the values of others that drive their behaviours.

Fear of rejection and neglect

It’s natural to fear rejection - we all want to live a life that’s stress and worry-free. The fear of being rejected, or neglected by others because lack of accomplishment often fuels self-sabotage.

Adapting behaviours to deal with others

Sometimes we have people in our lives whom we have to adapt survival-like mechanisms in order to better deal with them. In some scenarios, this means sacrificing our own gain to avoid others getting upset with us.

Past traumatic events

Finally, there’s trauma. Past events that caused you grief can really put a mental block on you. As a result, you end up wanting to avoid that feeling of negativity so much so that you end up self-sabotaging.

figure it out rubiks cube

The Big Problem

The problem we face is that most of us don’t actively review and question our values. We sort of just accept them in life. Think about it, when was the last time you sat down and asked yourself, “What do I truly value? What must I truly value in life in order to accomplish what I want?” Most of us don’t practice this important routine and because of this we end up “going with the flow,” which is the worst thing you can do if you are someone who is ambitious (and chances are, you are). We often take the values that we learn from others and subconsciously accept them. For example, you may have a parent, family member, friend, or mentor, whom you spent a lot of time with. Subconsciously, or consciously they may have taught you what things they value in their lives, which you automatically assumed you must value in your life. As a result, you end up carrying these values with you for the rest of your life (or, until you read this blog post).

The problem is that most of us have values that don’t serve us and who we want to be. We have values that are better suited for others that are in different situations other than our own. As a result, we cap our potential because we can’t get out of our own heads and stop self-sabotaging.

One of the most powerful things we do as human beings is act in accordance with our identity. If our values aren’t aligned with our identity, then we never reach our true potential as a result of self-sabotaging.

man holding up his hand

How to stop yourself from Self-Sabotaging

How to stop self-sabotaging is a simple process but one that we must be committed to changing immediately if it’s going to work out in our favour. Let’s go through the simple process.

Step 1: Know where you want to be in life

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish over the course of the next 3 years. Really describe in detail where you want to be. This could be in your personal, professional, or athletic life.

Step 2: Know who you must be in order to accomplish this

You can’t accomplish anything if you’re not willing to evolve as a person. Think, if you have massive ambitions but your behaviours don’t match that ambition, you’ll never make progress. Describe who you must truly become if you’re going to accomplish what you want.

Step 3: Select new values

Ask yourself, what values must be desirable and what values must be undesirable if you want to become this new person. Create a list of no more than 5 desirable and 5 undesirable values. Make sure that your lists don’t contradict one another. For example, if you chase success and avoid uncertainty, there will be a clash. However, you can chase success and avoid negativity - that’s doable.

Remember, self-sabotage happens when your values are in conflict. To avoid this, simply rearrange your current values to align with who you want to be. Sometimes all it takes is some conscious reflection to really get to the bottom of things.

Stay resilient.


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