Self-Sabotage: 3 Things We Do to Hold Ourselves Back (and What to Do Instead)

Success and happiness can be very elusive.

Oftentimes, we can work hard and stay focused but still somehow fall short. What we’re left with is a loss of motivation and confusion as to what went wrong. Little do we know that we’re the very culprit behind why we didn’t get to where we wanted to go. And it’s often unconscious, however unintentional that is.

Unfortunately, without working through these roadblocks, you’ll never realize your full potential. I’ve seen many good people “defeat themselves” over this. But the good news is that each of these things comes down to the same one general problem, albeit with slight differences in how you approach the solution. So if you’re willing to tackle the problem, you can in fact break through to a place of continual improvement and real progress.

Self-Sabotage: 3 Things We Do to Hold Ourselves Back (and What to Do Instead)

Self-Sabotage: 3 Things We Do to Hold Ourselves Back (and What to Do Instead)

I am the greatest obstacle to my greatest dreams.

– Craig D. Lounsbrough

Something you’ll notice very quickly is that our ego, which we’ll say for the sake of the discussion is our perception of ourselves, is the culprit behind each of these three points in some way.

It’s almost unbelievable how far we’ll go to protect our ego, even going so far as to damage our relationships, goals, and our well-being. However, if you can catch the ego and beat it at its game, you can begin to uncoil its hold over you and start making real strides in your life and work.

Here are three things we do to hold ourselves back (and what to do to stop sabotaging yourself):

1. We cut off potential paths by assuming we already know how to reach our goals

The first thing we do to sabotage ourselves is assume we already know exactly what needs to be done (and where we need to go) to achieve our goals. I’ve seen this time and time again and it’s absolutely one of the major culprits.

The thing is, we haven’t been there yet. We only have an idea of what it will actually take, what we’ll actually have to do, and what we may have to sacrifice. However, many of us have a hard time admitting to ourselves that we’re riding on an educated guess at best. We could be on point and have a very good idea of what it is we need to do to get to where we want to be, but it hurts us to think that we don’t absolutely one hundred percent know what we’re doing (and that we could be wrong).

What happens is we then cut off potential pathways that may arise to help us achieve our goals because we tell ourselves we know exactly what we’re doing and that the path we’re on is the right one. If we were to follow one of those new pathways we’d be admitting to ourselves (and often times others) that we don’t completely know what we’re doing, and sometimes we have a hard time doing that.


What to do instead:

You should be confident in the path you’re following, but it’s also important to stay open to whatever new opportunities or avenues may arise. Don’t become attached to the path you’re on. If you become attached to anything become attached to the goal you want to achieve.

By focusing on the goal, and telling yourself you’ll achieve your goal no matter what (and that the path you’re on to achieving that goal may change over time) you’ll be more open to changing course when it appears a better route has unveiled itself.

2. We block out criticism

This may be the most common way we self-sabotage. In the same way that we don’t like to admit we may not completely know what we’re doing (or that we don’t know if we’re on the right path), we also don’t like to face our flaws.

The problem with this form of self-sabotage is also easier to identify. By never wanting to face our flaws, we’re taking a huge risk. Our flaws don’t always hinder or stop us from realizing our definition of success right away, but they almost always backfire on us eventually if left untreated.


People like this are very easy to identify because when you make suggestions as to how they might be able to improve their process they snap back and become defensive.

We self-sabotage by blocking out any criticism and remaining in denial about our imperfections

What to do instead:

I was once like this, so if this is you don’t feel bad. More specifically, you shouldn’t beat yourself up but you should absolutely feel something about it and realize it needs to change. You need to understand that you are the only thing in the way of your own progress. Achieving your ultimate goals often requires other factors to come into place, but making significant progress is always in your hands.

True progress requires us to face ourselves, so the next time you receive some form of honest criticism, stop yourself and break the habit of rejecting that criticism. It may be well-placed, so take a moment to consider if the other person is right. That won’t always be the case, but if you can create the habit of honestly considering it you’ll begin to notice a pattern in the criticism you receive, allowing you to identify rightfully placed criticism and things you need to work on.

3. We don’t expand our identity level

This is another common way we self-sabotage, but it’s not the typical form of self-sabotage we’ve spoken about thus far.

When we get to a certain level of success that is just beyond what we imagine ourselves being capable of we– almost always unconsciously– sabotage ourselves to bring ourselves back down to a level that we’re comfortable with and which matches our identity level.

Identity is a bit of a nebulous term, but it has a real effect on the way we live our life. We like to stay within our comfort zone because to step outside of our comfort zone is to greet discomfort and uncertainty. This doesn’t make us feel good and we’re always unconsciously trying to avoid even small amounts of pain.

But to realize our goals and make progress is to step outside of our current selves to something greater, something bigger. When this happens we feel uncomfortable because who we’ve become and what we’re feeling are things we unaccustomed to. When this happens, we often slow down so that we’ll lose the progress we’ve made and go back down to where we were, comfortable and certain in our place.

What to do instead:

You need to be very clear about who you want to be and what you’re working towards. Once you’re clear on this, you need to think about this vision for yourself constantly. Every single day this needs to be at the forefront of your mind.

But don’t just think about it as some separate thing, imagine yourself as this person already, each time you reflect on your goals and your vision imagining you’re already that person. Over time, your identity level (your vision for yourself) will expand to meet the progress you’re making and you’ll stop sabotaging yourself.

There are many ways we sabotage our progress and hold ourselves back from realizing our potential. But if you can be open and honest with yourself, the path you’re walking, and create a vision for yourself that is bigger and better than who you are now and imagine realizing that vision, you’ll have conquered some of the most damaging ways we sabotage ourselves and be on your way to realizing your potential.


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