11 Subtle Ways You Commit Self-Sabotage Without Knowing It

Are you committing self-sabotage? Self-sabotaging behaviors are often hidden from our everyday thoughts. See if you’re doing it.

Once upon a time, there was an eagle who lived like a chicken. His owner loved the eagle so much that he fed it chicken-feed and kept it in a barn with other chickens, so it would never go hungry.

Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

One day, a man passing by asked the owner why the eagle, proudest of all the birds, was living in a barn with chickens.

His owner said, “I love my eagle so much, I have given it chicken-feed every day and kept it safe in the barn. It no longer needs to hunt or fly.”

The man was curious at this. He wanted to know if the eagle really had lost its ability to fly. He picked up the eagle and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”

The eagle gave him a curious look, jumped down from out of his hands, and went back to eat chicken-feed off the dirt.

The next day, the man tried again. He went to the roof of the house with the eagle and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”

The eagle, fearing the height, wriggled free from the man, and jumped back down to the ground to be with the other chickens.

Finally, on the third day, the man took the eagle to the top of a mountain and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”

The eagle, trembling but seeing no way down from the mountain, stretched his wings and flew. Slowly at first, but then up, up, and away towards the sun.

What’s the moral to this parable? The eagle had it in him all along. But his upbringing and lack of belief in himself led to self-sabotage.

Do you do this?

The Self-Sabotage Definition I Like

Self-sabotage is when part of your personality acts in conflict with another part of your personality.

I like this self-sabotage definition because it gets to the core of what’s going on. When you engage in self-sabotaging behaviors, it’s because there’s a conflict in your personality. One side of you wants one thing. The other side of you wants something completely different.

Self-defeating, self-sabotaging behaviors can be serious, like substance abuse, overeating, and even self-injury.

But what I want to focus on today are all the subtle little ways that you sabotage yourself. The 11 ways I will detail in a moment are so insidious because they aren’t necessarily associated with negative behavior.

Having a drinking problem is having a drinking problem. But fearing change? That can be good or bad, depending on the situation.

Whenever you’re starting something new, a part of you is going to resist the change. The goal is to recognize your self-sabotaging behaviors.

And then do something about it.

11 Ways You Engage in Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

1. You Have a ”Fear of Success”

Fear of success isn’t really a thing. That’s why I put it in quotation marks.

When people talk about fear of success, they’re really talking about fear of change. Your psychological barriers to change are deep-rooted in your brain’s operating system. We worry that success will turn us into different people. We worry that success will alienate our friends or family.

There’s security in flying under the radar, putting your head down (not in the good way), and not being noticed. As artist-entrepreneur Hugh MacLeod puts it, success is more complex than failure. People like your employees or your clients come to depend on you.

The key is to not dwell on how that responsibility could go wrong, but how taking that step can empower you to do bigger and better things.

2. You Dwell on Too Many Options

More options aren’t necessarily a good thing.

Too many options can lead to decision paralysis. Options can freeze you up and make you worry about the paths you don’t take. I see this with high achievers all the time. Being a high achiever means that you can follow many different paths to success. How do you know which one to choose?

The secret to defeating analysis paralysis isn’t complicated. All you have to do is take action. Some of the most interesting people on the planet have had winding, complex careers that took them to and from diverse fields and industries. That doesn’t mean passion isn’t important–it just means that finding what you want to do in life is a process.

Get started.

3. You Quit When the Going Gets Tough

The Internet is a sea of dead blogs.

What most internet marketing gurus don’t tell you is that it takes years to build a following online. I don’t mean the one or two outliers who did it in 6 months. The vast majority of blogs at the top of the Alexa rankings have been around for a long time, 4 years or more.

That doesn’t mean throwing good time after bad is smart. You have to set smart, realistic parameters for judging the success or failure of any project. But it does mean that failing fast isn’t the same thing as quitting fast.

Make sure you understand the difference.

4. You Don’t Take Your Money Situation Seriously

Spend less than you earn. Seriously, how hard is that?

But many of you aren’t employing even the most basic strategies to manage your cash. You invest in junk instead of yourself and perpetuate bad spending habits. We all know we need to live on a budget–so why are you spending yourself into debt?

Some people criticize me for talking about personal finance so much. They say, “What does budgeting have to do with agile living?” It’s real easy. Simplicity is one of the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto (go ahead, look it up).

Simplicity in your lifestyle means getting rid of all that excess overhead so you can concentrate on what really matters–creating meaning in your work and your life.

5. You Let Others Monopolize Your Time

Time is your most valuable resource because it’s finite and non-renewable.

Yet you have no idea when your Peak Productivity Times are. You don’t guard your time from interruptions and distractions, let alone use smart productivity methods like the Pomodoro Technique.

If you work in an office with chatty co-workers, you know what I’m talking about. Between unplanned pop-ins, small talk, chatting about kids or sports, gossip, and dumb questions, you can lose an entire day to disruptions!

Guard your time. Jealously. Because no one’s going to do it for you.

6. You Avoid the Hard Work in Favor of the Trivial

No one ever saved the world checking email. There, I said it.

Give your inbox a rest. Turn off your Facebook and Twitter notifications. If you want to do something important, achieve something great, or create your legacy, you won’t do it jumping out of your seat every time your phone buzzes. That stuff is attention pollution. It’s not that important.

Seth Godin differentiates between hard emotional work and hard physical work (really, labor). Most of us do the former these days, and not the latter. Doing hard emotional work (being creative, solving problems, putting yourself out there) means conserving your attention and brainpower. Hard emotional work requires mental focus and concentration.

It’s not easy. We live in the Age of Work Anywhere, Anytime. But you need to do the hard work if you want create anything of value.

7. You Don’t Take Radical Responsibility

“I am 100% responsible for the success or failure of this project.”

When’s the last time you heard that in Corporate America? Probably never, amirite? The Cover Your Ass culture of “bigger is better” companies has led to a workforce that’s been conditioned to never take responsibility.

Shift the blame. Point the finger at the other guy. Keep your job.

Radical responsibility is hard. It’s scary. You are going out on a limb. But for any would-be entrepreneur, it’s also liberating as hell. You are both the designer and end user of your life. That means you’re already 100% responsible for your lifestyle. Embrace it.

8. You Tell Yourself a Negative Story

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Many of us are walking around with negative stories in our heads.

  • I’ll never be good enough.
  • I’ll never live up to my parents’ expectations.
  • I’ll always be second-best.

Think the negative self-talk doesn’t mean anything? The field of narrative psychology is telling us that it does. Human beings are storytelling creatures. We understand the world and our lives in story form. We learn lessons and persuade others with stories.

So what do you think it’s doing to your psyche when you repeatedly tell yourself a negative story about your self-worth?

Let it go. You wake up every day with the rest of your life ahead of you. It’s time to turn the page to a new chapter.

9. You Spend All Your Time Planning

Planning feels like real work. But are you only using it to avoid starting?

Long-term planning is a joke and your five-year plan will be obsolete the moment you finish writing it. Starting is the most important thing. That doesn’t mean you start without being prepared. Preparation and planning are two separate things.

You must start with a quick, initial plan and a strategy. But then you focus on responding to feedback, course-correcting, and iterating instead of sticking to the plan at all costs. No plan survives contact with reality anyway.

10. You Sabotage Your Sleep

You will spend a third of your life sleeping. So why do you treat your sleep so poorly?

Happy sleep leads to happy work. Happy work leads to a happier life. In the scheme of things, it’s not that hard. But we make excuses about why we don’t sleep more and sleep better. Those excuses are a roadblock to achievement.

I know you’ve read about people who can sleep only 2 hours a night. It sounds tempting. But trust me, no than 1% of the population is capable of doing this. Odds are, you can’t. Get your 7 hours of sleep a night and every facet of your life will improve.

11. You Don’t Cut Yourself Any Slack

I know, I know. This last piece of advice seems to contradict the rest right. After all, I’m talking about how oblivious you are to the way you sabotage yourself!

But seriously, you need to cut yourself some slack from time to time. High achievers in particular have always had to hold themselves to a high standard. That means, at times, being unduly harsh.

I know I’ve had this problem. I am easily my own worst critic. Literally, no one has ever said anything as harsh to me as I say to myself pretty much every single day. It’s a problem. Self-compassion is the answer. Self-compassion doesn’t mean lowering your standards, but it does mean finding a way to forgive your small mistakes.

Including when you commit self-sabotage.

You’re only human.

Image by HooLengSiong.

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