Though most of us don’t have an arch-nemesis, it is very possible that we’re our own worst enemies. If you’ve ever found yourself acting against your best interest, then congrats, you’ve just self-sabotaged! Commonly defined as any behavior that acts against your self-interest and prevents you from achieving your goals, self-sabotage comes in many shapes and forms––some that we might not even recognize for the destructive behaviors they are. Before you can stop self-sabotaging, you need to identify what it looks like in your life. Ahead are five common signs that you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
1. You procrastinate.
Sure, procrastination is par for course when it comes to students. Who isn’t guilty of putting off homework until the day before it’s due? But if you procrastinate more often than not (and to your own detriment), then it’s time to take a step back and seriously evaluate your actions. Odds are, you’re already aware that this behavior doesn’t make you feel any better in the long run––the guilt of procrastination is a major red flag that constantly putting things off isn’t the sort of habit you’re happy to have acquired.
Though turning on the TV instead of working on your resume may make you feel better in the moment, it won’t benefit you for any longer than that. For this reason, procrastination is categorized as an a-rational action, which means that intellectually, you know you should shut off Netflix and get to working—but instead, you opt for the emotional reward of indulging in another episode. Fast forward five months later, and you still haven’t gotten around to formatting that resume, let alone applying for that on-campus job.
Luckily, you can break out of this vicious cycle. Just as it’s in your power to procrastinate, it’s also in your power to stop doing so. And no, don’t you even dare think about putting off this change “until later.” Even small steps such as reaching out for accountability can make big differences. Text your mom that you have an essay due soon and have her nag at you until you finish your rough draft, if that’s what you need. Schedule a study group with friends, or let your professor know that you’ll be coming to office hours. Even setting deadlines for yourself can ensure that you have the proper motivation to act now, not later.
When you have a specific plan of action, such as “I will finish my resume by Thursday so I can print it out for my career services meeting on Friday,” you’re much more likely to follow through, as opposed to “I want to finish my resume and utilize campus career services at some point.” Most importantly: just start. Procrastination depends on you giving in to excuses, distractions and emotions. By overruling all of those factors and making the conscious decision to work towards your goals, you’re one step closer to actually achieving the things you’ve been dreaming about.
2. You dwell on the past.
If you find yourself ruminating on the past more than just occasionally reminiscing about it, then it’s possible that your obsession with the past could be holding you back in the present. Whether you believe that you peaked socially in high school and now can’t be bothered to try making friends in college, or believe that your past bad grades prevent you from earning an A in the future, focusing on the past too much is never beneficial. By staying in the past, you prevent yourself from living in the present or looking forward to the future. This form of self-sabotage keeps you firmly stuck in your present position, unable to let go of the past.
When you find yourself constantly reliving “the good old days” or wallowing in self-pity over the bad old days, remind yourself what these days have in common: they’re over now. Examine what’s keeping you tethered to the past and make every effort to break these chains. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and stop comparing your current situation to your past. By having gratitude and appreciation for the present you’ll be able to pursue current opportunities without being held back by your past.
3. You self-medicate.
Maybe you spend egregious amounts of money or play video games until you can hardly remember the real world. Maybe you drink or turn to similarly harmful methods of self-medication. Whatever you do, it’s all just a ploy to cope with emotions or situations that you can’t bear to face head-on. But odds are, the more you self-medicate the less close you are to actually solving the root cause of your behavior.
To stop self-medicating, first make sure you can correctly identify what triggers this behavior in the first place. Is it stress? Anger? Dealing with one particular person? Once you've discovered the source of your problem, it’s time to step away from your chosen method of “medication” and engage in some actions.
Address the problem directly. If it’s something that truly can’t be solved and must be dealt with, replace your self-medicating behavior with healthier coping skills, such as meditation or conversation. Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t feel as good as what you were doing before — it’s going to take some repetition to form a new habit. Of course, if your self-medicating behavior has spiraled into an addiction (to eating, drinking, drugs, gambling or so on), it’s time to seek professional help.
4. You ignore emotions and thoughts.
From dismissing your doubts about your relationship to refusing to let yourself feel disappointed over a bad grade, there are a million ways to tamp down on the things we’d rather not think about and feel. But by burying your feelings or suppressing your thoughts, you’re really only hurting yourself. When you ignore your emotions and thoughts, you deny yourself the opportunity to process them in a healthy way and instead set the stage for a misplaced outburst or an out-of-nowhere breakdown. By putting a lid on your feelings and thoughts, you’re guaranteeing that eventually they’ll boil over.
Luckily, the solution to this self-sabotage is simple (albeit simpler said than done). Give yourself permission to think what you think and feel what you feel. After all, your thoughts and emotions are valid and how you feel is something no one can ever take away from you. Once you’re able to sit with your feelings and thoughts, you’ll be able not only to accept them but also analyze them, therefore enabling you to take appropriate action when needed.
5. You fear failure.
More than just being a symptom of self-sabotage, this is often an explanation for why you self-sabotage in the first place. Though, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that self-sabotage stems from a fear of success––at first glance, the way you intentionally don’t study, botch interviews and “forget” to turn in important documents can seem like you’re intent on ensuring you’ll never succeed. But actually, you’d rather be control of your own failure than truly pursue success. Why? Ultimately, you’re worried that your best won’t be good enough, so you’d rather stick with your worst.
Rather than resign yourself to low standards and half-hearted attempts to improve your situation, stop the self-sabotage. Yes, it may be scary to pour your all into something knowing that the outcome isn’t one you can predict, much less one you’ll like. But think about it this way: you can spend your whole life self-sabotaging and never achieving your goals, or you could pursue your goals, regardless of the outcome. There are a million cheesy mantras surrounding this basic principle (you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, feel the fear and do it anyway) but they exist for a reason. When a fear of failure dictates your every move, you lose out on reaching your full potential.
So instead of giving in to self-sabotage, push back against it! In time, you’ll discover that being your own advocate is a lot better than being your own enemy — and a lot more conducive to achieving your goals.
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