10 Signs You're Getting in Your Own Way
At some point in our lives, we all feel a bit stuck, whether it’s in a relationship that doesn’t make us happy, at a job that doesn’t quite suit us or with a goal that always feels just out of reach. For whatever reason, we’re unable to make a change -- or find true fulfillment -- in some area of life. Sometimes the answer to these kinds of problems lies within: Whether you realize it or not, YOU may actually be what’s making you feel stagnant by unknowingly engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. Here are 10 ways you may be getting in your own way and holding yourself back in the process.
1. You Don’t Think You’re “Good Enough”
Low self-esteem is a common hurdle, and it can instill a sense of being unworthy of whatever it is you want. “I often see people who struggle to accept they are ‘good enough.’” says Sharon Martin, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in San Jose, California. “You may not apply for a promotion because you’ve already concluded that your co-worker is better qualified, or you give up on online dating because deep down you don’t think you’re pretty enough or young enough.” Another way this manifests, says Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of “Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces,” is when you fear that your efforts won’t be good enough and the overarching worry prevents you from really trying your hardest. Some people “don’t go after a goal with gusto because if they fail then they have an excuse to save face,” he explains. “They often hold back just enough and increase the odds they will not succeed, but do so with a built-in excuse (e.g., I would have succeeded but, it cost too much, I was too tired, I had other priorities).”
2. You Procrastinate
Another common form of self-sabotage is delaying action. This is actually quite common among perfectionists. “Perfectionism leads to procrastination, which can lead to paralysis,” Coleman explains. “You get caught up in minutia and can’t distinguish what is important and what is not.” Overthinking is also connected to procrastination: “Overthinkers fear making a mistake, so they come up with too many scenarios that might go wrong and then feel they must come up with plans to counter those possibilities,” he says. “The result: They feel overwhelmed and procrastinate.” Realize that done is often better than perfect, and give yourself permission to just finish a project with the knowledge that you can edit and hone it later.
3. You’re Stuck in a Negative Thought Loop
According to executive career coach Michele Jennae, owner of Perpetual Career Management, degenerative language is one of the biggest perpetuators of getting in your own way. “Degenerative language is essentially self-sabotaging, past-based language that serves as a negative self-fulfilling prophecy,” she explains, which keeps you in a negative space about yourself and your achievements. When it comes to working out, for instance, Santa Barbara, California-based personal trainer Jenny Schatzle says that you may have thoughts like “I should have run faster” or “The person next to me looks better” or “I still have much more weight to lose.” The negative thoughts demotivate people from taking positive steps toward health. “We will do these amazing, awesome, positive things for our bodies and minds like going for a run or going to the gym and then immediately start thinking negative thoughts,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go, you’re still lapping the person who is sitting on the couch. Be present and proud that you are doing it at all.”
4. You Set Unrealistic Goals
In some cases, your ambitions may indeed be misguided -- or simply not possible for where you are in your life -- which sets you up for failure from the onset. “Someone may want to be a famous actor in theory, but the realities of auditioning every day for the rest of her life might make her sick to her stomach,” says brand-identity expert Khalan Bridges, co-founder and CEO of The unFactory, explaining how this manifests from a macro perspective. “Sabotaging yourself begins by chasing realities that aren’t true to you.” Advertising creative Brittany Poole, co-founder of HUSH, a digital-detox travel resource, says that this can happen on a more micro level too. “We say we’re going to get up at 6:00 a.m. for that workout, or we’re going to write for three hours every night. But some of these things are just never going to happen, and often we end up wasting energy on the guilt that follows,” she explains. An easy way to end this pattern? Be more honest about what’s actually possible for you.
5. You Blame Your Responsibilities
Life coach and counselor Emma Brooke says that the most common self-sabotaging behavior that manifests among her clients is not taking responsibility for their own lives. She often hears reasoning like, “I can’t do XYZ because I have to look after my husband/children/elderly parent.” While we all have responsibilities, she says, “It’s very easy for our subconscious minds to use them as excuses not to go after our dreams because if we do, we may fail or be disappointed. In effect, we’re holding up our hands and saying, ‘Oh well, it’s not my fault I can’t do that!’” A common way this may show up in your life is when it comes to diet and exercise, says Schatzle, who notes that many people often tell themselves that they don’t have enough time to work out. “You don’t need to work out for an hour every day to be healthy or to lose weight,” she explains. “Ten minutes is better than no minutes.”
6. You Surround Yourself With Toxic People
From staying in a bad relationship to continually agreeing to have drinks with your frenemy, engaging with people who don’t add anything positive to your life prevents you from seeking out healthier bonds -- and just depletes you emotionally. “A lot of people rationalize and justify these relationships. They have core beliefs that the needs of others are more important than their own needs,” says Dating With Dignity CEO Marni Battista. “Then they beat themselves up for staying in the relationship. It’s a vicious cycle.” While these relationships are unique to each person, it’s worth evaluating how you feel after you spend time with certain people in your life. Ask yourself what your mood is after you grab a cup of coffee or chat over the phone. If you feel drained or stressed rather than fulfilled, you know it’s time dial back that relationship.
7. Your Conditioned Thoughts Affect Your Behavior
Surabhi Surendra, M.B.A., a women’s issues blogger at Womanatics.com, explains that conditioned thoughts lead to conditioned actions, which keep us stuck in belief systems that may not actually apply to us. These habits can come from our upbringings -- or even one comment we heard long ago from a person of influence -- and affect us on a daily basis, from who we date to the types of jobs we apply for to even what we wear. “For example: I never wore the color red, as I was conditioned to think that red is a bright color and it would not suit dark-skinned girls,” she explains. “It took me decades to come out of that cocoon and embrace the beautiful color that now suits me the most!”
8. You’re More Concerned With Fitting in Than Feeling Good
Adult peer pressure can be a powerful thing, and it’s important to resist the urge to give in, Schatzle says. This is particularly true when it comes to making healthy choices: Perhaps you’re dining out with friends and everyone is ordering burgers and fries. Since “cheating” together is almost a bonding ritual these days, especially among women, it’s difficult to be the person who orders a salad in this situation -- especially if your dining companions start giving you a hard time. “What you choose to eat and drink -- or not drink -- has nothing to do with your friends,” Schatzle says. “Why should your food choices and desire to feel good affect them?”
9. You Expect the Worst to Protect Yourself
Relationship expert Susan Trombetti of Exclusive Matchmaking notes that expecting the worst can be a form of self-preservation that leads to self-sabotage, especially when it comes to your romantic relationships. This is more common among those who have suffered through bad relationships in the past. “If you don’t demand more of a relationship, then you aren’t risking anything,” she explains. You’ll never be let down if you approach relationships like this, but you may also scare the right person away. “If you’ve built up a layer of protection to ensure that you never get hurt again, no one can blame you. But you’ll likely find that there aren’t many people who are willing to fight their way through your layers,” writes relationship expert Evan Marc Katz. If you treat potential partners as if they’re going to hurt or disappoint you, chances are they won’t want to stick around, he says.
10. You Stop When You Start Seeing Results
Perhaps you are skilled at accomplishing your goals, but you lack the proper follow-through to keep them going. “When we see some improvement we begin to demand less of ourselves,” says Nic Velasquez of Unlimited Mastery, a platform that helps people learn new skills. “We feel like we deserve a break, so we start to slow down and change the very behavior that got us the results in the first place.” He explains that people are typically great at building momentum -- and then walking away from it. Coleman agrees, noting that the solution to this is all about willpower. “Stay on task and don’t allow the usual excuses to win out,” he says.
What Do YOU Think?
Do any of these apply to you? What have you found useful to end self-sabotaging behavior?
Journalist Natasha Burton has written for Cosmopolitan for Latinas, Maxim, Cosmopolitan.com, and WomansDay.com, among others. The author of "101 Quizzes for Couples" and "The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags," she is regularly called on as a relationship expert by various media outlets around the world.