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Mental Health

Expert Advice: How Do I Get Out of My Own Way?

Avoid self-sabotage and restore your confidence!


We all undermine ourselves from time to time. Here, experts share six easy ways to outsmart negativity and fear, avoid self-sabotage, and restore your confidence.

Stop beating yourself up.

Moments where we hold ourselves back by procrastinating, doubting ourselves, or believing that we’re not capable happen to all of us. “The tendency to lose confidence, stop yourself from taking risks, or let fear prevent you from making changes is your brain’s way of keeping you safe,” says Amy Johnson, PhD, author of Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind. “The key is to realize these are just thoughts, they’re not facts — and we can overcome them.”

Discover reasons.

Two main factors that cause us to get in our own way are perfectionism and low self-esteem, says clinical psychologist Judy Ho, author of Stop Self-Sabotage. If, say, you’re procrastinating, is it because you’re afraid of making a mistake? This could mean perfectionism is to blame, and the solution may be to set a timer for 10 minutes to build momentum. Or if you’re not going after a goal because you don’t think you deserve happiness, low self-esteem is the culprit — remind yourself everyone deserves joy, including you.

Forgive setbacks.

As soon as we suffer a setback, it’s easy to engage in negative self-talk, which may lead to self-sabotage. To resist this downward spiral, Ho suggests telling yourself, “Yes…but,” as in, “Yes, I ate five cupcakes, but eating healthier is a process, and I’ll have veggies tomorrow.” This tamps down more defeatist thoughts like, “I’ll never stick to my diet.” Ho adds, “Adopting a balanced thought process helps you find more success.”

Outsmart shame.

Even after we’ve identified the thoughts holding us back, we often still harbor shame over not reaching goals. We tend to hide shame, but Ho urges us to bring it to the light. “Instead of keeping it to yourself, call someone you trust and tell them about it,” she says. “Making this small shift releases the negativity, builds your confidence, and inspires you to try again.”

Feel joy in discomfort.

A proven way to transform self-sabotage into self-efficacy is by taking one step outside our comfort zone. “We become much less risk-averse when we challenge ourselves,” says Barbara Oakley, PhD, author of Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential. In fact, recent research shows that people who do something that makes them a bit uncomfortable — from public speaking to taking a solo trip — are happier and more successful in the long run. “Don’t just follow your passions, grow your passions by trying new things.”

Embrace tomorrow.

One of the best ways to continually thwart self-defeating behaviors is by being intentional about your values, says Ho. “Jot down things that are important to you, like ‘integrity’ and ‘adventure.’” If “community” matters to you, for example, and you don’t have time to volunteer, you may still be able to call a friend today. “Living according to your values stops the fear and doubt that is holding you back, letting you achieve your goals.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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