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7 Ways You Sabotage Yourself Up (and How to Stop)

sabotageAre you unintentionally blocking your own success and happiness? We spent a lot of time talking and thinking about dreams and roadblocks and success during our digital sabbatical last week (more on that coming soon).

If you’re making these kinds of statements to yourself, it’s time to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

(Ha! I finally found a way to use a Zach Galifianakis quote on the site.) 

Here’s a list of the biggies we’ve encountered.

#1: “I’ll be happy when X happens.” Remember when you were 17 and you dreamed of the day you’d get your driver’s license, move out on your own, and start making your own rules, thankyouverymuch? You’ve probably realized since then that a driver’s license doesn’t solve all your problems or bring you to instant nirvana. In fact, you may resent all the time you spend in the car now running errands or commuting to work.

There is no destination for Happy (and as world travelers we should know). Happy is in the journey, which means right now, in this moment, and how and with whom you’re choosing to spend your time.

#2: “She’s not usually like this.” Except that she is. If you’re regularly defending the behavior of friends or family members who just don’t seem to give a damn, you’re giving them way more consideration than they deserve. When you surround yourself with good people, you up your game. When you surround yourself with jerks, there’s a high probability you’ll turn into one, too.

Don’t waste your time and effort on people who treat you poorly. 

#3: “I’ll never be X” (X = thin, happy, in love, debt-free, a rodeo clown, etc.) Nope, not with that attitude you won’t. The way you talk to yourself is just as important as the way you talk to your closest friends. So if you wouldn’t rain on her parade, don’t rain on your own.

You may not reach all your goals in this lifetime…but you will most certainly not reach them if you talk yourself down before you even start. Rethink those stories you’ve been telling yourself and insert a dose of reality.

#4: “He needs me.” Meh. Except in extreme circumstances, this is not true. We want specific people in our lives, but we don’t need them to survive. Allowing each other the space for self-sufficiency and enjoying your own pursuits will strengthen your relationships, not weaken them. If you have to be a slave to make the relationship work, it’s not the kind of relationship you think it is.

This statement is often driven by ego, which is the last thing a martyr wants to admit. (Believe me, I know.) Start fulfilling your own needs and you’ll be surprised to find how good people are at fulfilling their own.

#5: “I don’t have anyone to do it with.” It can be harder to make friends as you get older because you simply aren’t exposed to as many people who are in the same life stage as you after you leave high school or college. But it is far from impossible.

When you pursue your interests, you’ll find friends who like those same things. You can’t expect to always find them before you start. Don’t let this statement keep you from enjoying what you love and meeting others who feel the same way.

#6: “I’m fine.” Let’s just put it out there. Anyone who says this is clearly not. When you hide what you’re really feeling or try to mask your pain, you aren’t giving the other person a chance to help fix it (especially if they are part of the pain). Stop saying you’re fine when you’re not, and you’ll start actually feeling fine more often.

I was fine for 10 years until I blew up my life all around me with a divorce and cross-country move. “Fine” is a ticking time bomb. Defuse it now by saying what’s on your mind.

#7: “I’m not X.” (athletic, smart, attractive, etc.) For years I said I wasn’t an athlete. This week we finished walking 150 km with packs and tents for a week in Scotland. If you stop worrying about what you aren’t and simply pursue the activities that interest you, you’ll often be surprised at how it turns out. You may not be X right now, but you very well could be in the future. But only if you start.

What self-sabotage statements would you add to the list? Tell us about it in the comments.

Stay tuned for next week’s rundown of our grand adventure hiking The West Highland Way…was the biggest challenge the physical effort or the fact that we were offline for 8 days? :)

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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.


  1. Great list! With simple ways to stop sabotaging yourself. I’ve done many of these. (still working on a few!) This is exactly what Krystal and I share often. The one I struggle with the most is “I’m not X” which is usually a comparison to a specific person. I’m not so-and-so, so I can’t do that. I don’t have the same time, experience, whatever. It’s always a load of crap, but it’s an excuse for me to not doing something.

    The other one I struggle with from my own list is: “If I’m successful, I won’t have time to spend with people I care about. My world will revolve around work” This is so not true and is just a way for me to hesitate in pursuing dreams. I know that I will make time for them; I always have. But with this excuse, I sabotage getting stuff done because what if that happens? So then I continue to screw around on FB rather than working on the next project.

    Thanks for the great list and the kick in the butt!

    • Hi, Shawna. If your version of success is adjusted to have MORE time with people you love, then you’ll work toward your dream in a different way than if the goal is money or prestige. :) Good luck!

  2. Great post, great list.

    I tend to put myself down to put others at ease, and I do this with humour. Except its not funny because now days I only seem to do this at work. Bad idea but its a habit and a double edge sword because I feel good about making someone laugh (and they usually do) but then bad because the joke was always at my own expense.

    Hmmm, what to do?

    Just this week I decided I was going to stop this behaviour. I put a pile of rubber bands on my desk. Each time I put myself down (even if it made someone else laugh), I put a rubber band on my right wrist. If I complained about someone else or made an unnecessary negative comment, it put a rubber band on my left wrist. At the end of the day it took them off and put them back in the pile as I gave myself a fresh start each day. My goal being no rubber bands.

    The first few days I had multiple bands on each wrist. But by day 3, my awareness had grown and I was stopping myself when I felt tempted to take a jab at myself. Zero rubber bands.

    Reading your post today has reminded me how important it is to be your own cheer squad. I’m going to go back to my rubber band exercise today with even more vigour and check myself for other sabotaging behaviours that I can rid myself of.


    • NB, the self-deprecating humor can be the most damaging! You think because there is a laugh and it’s said light-heartedly that it is okay, but it’s not (I know because I suffer from the same condition you do). How smart of you to use the rubber band strategy! I think I’m going to borrow this tip – thanks!

      • You’re welcome.

        I have a ways to go (as evidenced by the bands dangling on my wrists as i type) but persistence will win out over this habit as it has with [many] others.

        And thanks again for this timely post and your reply.

  3. My personal favorites of self sabotage after hearing it so many times mainly from parents are in no particular order: “I am stupid” , ” I am a huge disappointment and a waste of space on this planet”.
    I have managed to get rid of those and actually find that I am not stupid but, smart and I no longer feel that I am a huge waste of space and a disappointment. Mainly because I now have a daughter and hope to NEVER say those things to her no matter how angry or mad I get at her or myself.
    You are right though we can be our own worst critics without having others point out our “flaws”.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Oh, Rebecca, that’s awful! Thankfully you are smart enough to see that people who are hurt, hurt. It’s always about them, even though their misery is damaging to those they take it out on. Good for you for making a commitment to stop the cycle with your daughter!

  4. Wonderful–so much so that I’m including it on the website of links for my fall college health class (I do a unit on mental health). A way to free yourself from mental clutter and just be yourself, eh? :)

    (and I’m still guilty of #1 far, far too many times… we all have something to work on)

  5. I think my biggest form of sabotaging self-talk is something along the line of “who do I think I am, to want that?” I’m close to my family, but they aren’t people who dream big dreams like I tend to do. So whenever I get frustrated because I haven’t achieved X yet, part of me is also thinking, “Mom/Dad/cousin so-and-so have never done that, and they’re perfectly okay with never doing it, so why can’t I just be happy with the way things are?” This is something I’ve only realized about myself in the past few months, and I’m working on being more aware of it.

  6. Betsy, as always! I enjoy your writing and this was no exception. :) Funny out a “digital sabbatical”, as you put it, can open your mind in so many ways! These are all really great points and I agree with you and it pretty much comes down to your attitude, towards yourself, others around you, expectations, and raising your standards all around :) Great post, thanks for sharing!

  7. The “only if” conditional of #1 is all too familiar to me, though I think I’ve managed to purge it from my consciousness. Its close relative is, “In order to accomplish X, I need Y.” Y here is stuff, e.g. “In order to write well I need a good computer.”

    I would add blaming one’s parents for one’s shortcomings, as in, for example, “I cannot write because my parents did not appreciate my creative endeavors.” It and similar statements channel responsibility for one’s life away from one’s own efforts (or lack thereof).

  8. Ashwin D Kini says:

    Loved the article here Betsy. Gonna subscribe to your newsletters. Also, thank you for the really good stuff that you create on the website. :-)


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