Why do we sometimes feel like quitting before we’ve even started? We talked to three psychology experts to better understand self sabotage and how to find ways around it. Here are six easy ways to become your best ally and achieve your goals.
Leap barriers and remember, you’re only human.
The impulse to “self-handicap,” or put up barriers to our own success, is a universal defense, says expert Julie R. Eyink, Ph.D, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Southern Indiana. “This way, if we stumble, we can externalize the blame, protecting our self-esteem by telling ourselves, ‘Well, the project didn’t work because I started it late,’” she says. “When you’re not achieving the outcomes you want, ask yourself if fear of failure may be sabotaging your progress. Realizing this is something we all do is the first step.”
Try the opposite.
A main driver of self-handicapping is procrastination, says expert Candice Seti, Psy.D, author of the Self-Sabotage Behavior Workbook (Buy on Amazon, $14.99). “If, say, you tell yourself, I work better under pressure, yet aren’t getting results, delaying may be your brand of sabotage.” Just experiment by doing the opposite: What would happen if you started the project right now? “Framing it as an ‘experiment’ takes the pressure off — you’re just collecting data and seeing if a new approach works better.”
We underestimate our resilience, and that can make us derail our future by not giving our all in the present. “Visualize success, as well as concrete barriers,” urges expert Judy Ho, Ph.D, licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of Stop Self-Sabotage (Buy on Amazon, $23.99). “Such ‘mental contrasting ’ helps you overcome the fear at the root of self-sabotage.”
Say you’re avoiding a diet because you ’re worried you won’t stick to it — envision success and failure. This lets you see what you can do to problem-solve. Says Ho, “Mental rehearsals are shown to decrease sabotaging behaviors.”
Celebrate small wins.
Building your confidence is the best way to outsmart the impulse to get in your own way, declares Eyink. Her “prescription”? Give yourself a pat on the back twice a day. “In the afternoon, and again at the end of the day, note something you did that you’re proud of — anything from helping a co-worker to holding the door open for someone. It takes practice, but the more you train yourself to see all the good you do, the more of an ally you’ll be to yourself.”
Tap girl power.
We’re less apt to undermine ourselves around other women, observes Eyink. “Our research shows women see through us when we make excuses for ourselves, so we don’t do it as much around them.” Men, however, show no such aversion, which is why we “handicap” ourselves more in their company. The upshot? Simply surrounding yourself with supportive female friends reduces the habit to hold yourself back.
Stick with it!
“When you notice yourself thinking something like, ‘I never follow through with anything,’ come up with a statement to counter it – such as, ‘I’m capable of sticking to it’ – and write it down,” says Seti. “I have clients who put affirmations on sticky notes all over their house, on their computer home screen, even in the refrigerator, to help them stick to healthy eating. The more you encourage yourself, the stronger you get.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.