Pallavi Pinakin notes the importance of not undermining your own efforts

What is self-sabotage? When the logical, conscious self enters into conflict with the subconscious mind (also known as the anti-self), it can result in thoughts and behaviour that keep you from what you most want in life.

Self-sabotage often occurs in the form of a critical inner voice.

This internal naysayer tells you to not even bother trying, exaggerating fears about what could go wrong or insisting that you will fail. Overthinking leads to inaction and self-doubt to laziness. And then people start saying things like ‘you’re your own worst enemy.’

In effect, self-sabotage is a defence mechanism.

Our subconscious mind thinks it’s protecting us by keeping us risk-free and safe from pain – a way of coping with stressful situations or high expectations. As a result, we hesitate, procrastinate and miss out on opportunities that could make us truly happy. We stay seemingly secure at the cost of feeling fully actualised. And more often than not, we can’t even understand why.

So why do we keep repeating the same pattern of behaviour over and over again, even when it’s clearly holding us back from achieving our hopes and dreams?

Each time we end up with the same sorry result, racking up regrets at being unable to realise our full potential.

In order to break the cycle of self-sabotage, we have to first understand a little more about how it can manifest. When we engage in self-destructive behaviour, it gradually becomes entrenched as habits, which in turn can be difficult to break.

We need to recognise self-sabotaging habits especially since some of them are so ingrained in us that they’re easy to miss. Try to look at your behaviours objectively and recognise them for what they are.

Here are some typical patterns of self-sabotage:

NEGATIVITY We tend to focus on our weaknesses rather than strengths, allowing criticism to drown out achievements. When the harsh inner voice pipes up, we worry that it’s right… What if we simply don’t have it in us? What if we’re just going to mess everything up?

PROCRASTINATION Leaving important tasks or decisions till the last minute is a sure-fire way to produce substandard results.

PERFECTIONISM This is an unexpected way in which our brain sabotages us. We think we’re simply aiming high, which is supposed to be a good thing. But more often than not, the standards we set are so unrealistic that we find ourselves stuck in a state of paralysis, reluctant to start anything until we have all our ducks in a perfect row.

TRIGGERS Certain negative circumstances or people can bring out our tendencies for self-sabotage. Try to identify your personal triggers; then look for ways to avoid them. By removing these hijacking elements, you’ll be better able to retain control of your own thoughts and actions.

If some triggers are unavoidable in your life, then simply being conscious of how they might affect you can be helpful. You may still have to hear criticism from your boss; but you’ll be much less likely to spiral afterwards.

POSITIVITY It takes work to silence that nagging inner critic. Be kind; encourage and build yourself up the same way you would with a good friend. Start by focussing on your strengths and accomplishments. You
can make a timeline of past successes and refer to it on a bad day for an instant reminder of how much you’re capable of achieving.

REPLACEMENT Replacing a pattern of behaviour is easier than simply eliminating it. Try to think of ways to react to triggering situations in a more practical and positive way – one that will bring you closer to your goal rather than taking you farther away from it.

Staying motivated is key – any change is hard to make unless you truly desire it from within. You can list the benefits of adopting this new behavioural pattern and refer to it when you feel yourself veering off track.

NEW BEHAVIOUR Make your new behaviour a habit. The final step in your journey is to establish the new pattern of behaviour so that it comes to you naturally and effort-lessly.

First, simulate healthy, productive responses in your mind in preparation for real world situations. Imagine how you’d respond and act in a healthier, more beneficial way. Once your mind has accepted the possibility of a new reality, try to practise it in relevant situations, starting small and gradually acquiring the habit.

EXPECTATIONS It’s important to focus on one change at a time rather than trying to eliminate all your self-sabotaging habits overnight. Setting sky-high expectations is a form of self-sabotage that can demoralise you very quickly.

For example, if procrastination is your most frequent downfall, start by setting deadlines and scheduling your time better. Concentrateon overcoming this obstacle before moving onto something else.