May 20, 2023 by Molly Patrick

Self-sabotage—why we do it and how to 🛑

When we truly want to do something but keep putting it off or making excuses, we are engaging in self-defeating behavior. This is also called self-sabotage. I’ve never liked that term because it sounds dramatic and very serious. Plus, anytime I hear the word “sabotage” I get the Beastie Boys stuck in my head.

So let’s stick to calling it “self-defeating behavior.” That sounds more manageable to overcome—and it totally is. I’ll show you how.

We self-defeat (yep, myself included) because doing new things is scary AF. Even if it’s something we used to do but haven’t done for a while, it’s still scary. Humans are wired for consistency and predictability, not for diverging from routine. Like many other human instincts, it’s a survival mechanism for our perceived safety. High fives for having a human experience!

When we don’t do the things we really want to do because we’re afraid of failing, the hilarious irony is that we end up failing anyway, just a lot faster.

For example, if you really want to try Plant Fueled Life and eat more plants, but you’re afraid you won’t follow through, what happens when you don’t try? You don’t follow through before you even try.

If you really want to try yoga or start running, but you're afraid you’ll quit after the first week, what happens when you don’t try? You quit before the first week.

Aren’t we funny creatures? We create the exact result we’re afraid of without ever doing the thing we wanted to do in the first place. And we’re too busy being afraid of what ifs to even see what we’ve done! In other words, fear of failure makes us fail before we start.

If you’re feeling stuck in the self-defeat spiral and you’re ready to put one foot in front of the next, ask yourself these two powerful questions:

1. If I did this, even if I took baby steps, what’s the worst that could happen?
This helps because you will see A) you’re probably already creating the worst thing that could happen by not doing the thing, and B) the worst thing probably isn’t the end of the world. You can totally handle the worst thing. You likely already are.

2. If I did this, what’s the best thing that could happen? 
Answer this question with as much detail as possible. This will help you see that the benefits of what you want outweigh your fears.

The next step is to start noticing your thoughts when you’re considering not taking action. Here are some common thoughts that keep us stuck:

  • I can’t do this
  • I’m not good at establishing new routines
  • What’s the point, it won’t last anyway
  • I’m not worthy
  • I’m not good enough
  • It hasn’t worked in the past
  • I’m doomed
  • Who am I to do this
I’m sure you have your own thoughts you could add to this list!

Here’s the thing you might need to read twice: Thoughts are not facts.

We might be convinced they are facts, but I promise you, they are not. They’re sentences in your brain you’ve thought enough times they’ve turned into a belief. But they are just thoughts. This is great news because changing those thoughts is key to changing your behavior.

As you go through your day, be mindful of your thoughts leading up to when you don’t take action on something you ultimately want in your life, and write those thoughts down.

Identify the top five thoughts that are holding you back, and start questioning them

Ask yourself things like:

  • Is that true?
  • Even if this thought is true, is it helpful?
  • Would the person who loves me most think that about me?
  • Why do I think that?
  • Is there another way to look at this?
Once you start to question the five main thoughts that are holding you back, play around with new thoughts that will lead you to take action. Here are some of my favorites:

  • I’m going to keep moving forward
  • I am worth it
  • Actually, I can do this
  • I am smart enough
  • I am more than capable
  • Nothing can stop me
  • I got this even if I don’t know what the hell I’m doing right now
  • I’ve done hard things before, I can totally do this
  • If other people can do it, so can I
  • I’m making this a priority
Every time you catch yourself thinking one of those crusty old thoughts that isn’t helping you, swap it with a new thought that empowers you. Write that shit down and put it where you’ll see it often. It takes time and practice, but you can change your thoughts, which means you will change your actions.

Self-defeating behavior doesn’t happen to us. It’s something we have control over. We just need the self-awareness to clearly see the life we’re creating and the willingness to change our thoughts.

Have a beautiful weekend, my friend.


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Written by ex-boozer and ex-smoker, Molly Patrick that will help you eat more plants while throwing perfection down the garbage disposal.


Not for those offended by the F word.