The 5 Root Causes of Self Sabotage and How to Untangle Them

“Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” ~ Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

Who DOESN’T struggle with some form of indulgence in procrastination, distraction, overwhelm, or self-sabotage from time to time (um… DAILY!)?

No one I’ve ever met.

We’d be creatively alive, deeply connected with ourselves and others, and just the right amount of product every second of every day if it weren’t for the (mostly unconscious) bad habits that hold us back.

After observing all my own bad habits––my self-saboteur related slips and recoveries––and after all the hundreds of coaching sessions I’ve facilitated around this topic, I’ve come to see that, more often than not, we’re the ONLY thing standing in the way of our greatest freedom and success.

The 5 Root Causes of Self Sabotage and How to Untangle Them

As for the root causes of self sabotage and what to do to untangle them, there is no question. The biggest problems stem from these five behaviors:

1. Too much hustle and not enough self-care and connection.

One of the many causes of self sabotage is lack of self-care and connection. When our ‘love tank’ is empty because we’ve put ourselves last for too long, we won’t make clear decisions and we’re likely to sabotage even our most precious relationships.

What to do instead:

Stick to consistent baby steps, but make them count. Let go of the rigid, overly sophisticated self-care practices that feel like a chore and instead, commit to doing ONE thing a day to help yourself feel good physically and emotionally. For example:

Take 3 deep breaths to get grounded.

– Dance to your favorite song.

– Eat one meal slowly with full presence.

Whatever action you take, make it count by simultaneously acknowledging your innermost emotional core (AKA your Inner Child). Picture yourself at around age 5––tender, fun-loving, and attention-hungry––then whisper, “hey… this is just for you…

I’ll always do something just for you every day”. As hokey as it may sound, taking this baby step daily, combining the nourishing action with the self-acknowledgment, reinforces the belief that you’re worthy of great love and care AND capable of giving it to yourself. This boosts creative and intuitive abilities and builds massive self-trust and self-assurance.

2. Zooming too far out when setting goals.

When we reach for a ‘Point Z’ instead of a ‘Point B’, we’ll feel pressure, doubt, and overwhelm and won’t know where to start to find relief (much less, generate any momentum). This is yet again one of the many causes of self sabotage.

What to do instead:

Zoom into your true ‘Point B’. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone describe to me their ‘Point B’ (where they’re aiming to get to in their lives within 3-6 months), and it’s such a cramped picture that even hearing it is overwhelming. It’s no wonder they feel incapable of breaking their vision down into doable, bite-sized pieces and action steps. And yet, to get any traction, that’s exactly what has to be done. If you ever slip into this behavior, stop and ask yourself:

– “What would a little bit of improvement look and feel like?”

– “What needs to happen first to bring relief and remove some pressure?”

– “How can I scale my vision back, and back, and back some more… so far back that it feels doable, simple, and clear… like I can begin to take action on it NOW?”

That should be the content of a true Point B, nothing more.

3. Blending work time with leisure time.

Without clear time boundaries, we’ll feel as though we’re living in the ‘grey zone’––foggy, unproductive, and probably guilty too.

What to do instead:

A. When you’re working, work. Don’t do the ‘grass is greener’ thing or crack out on Facebook. And don’t spend all day every day doing the easy projects while completely avoiding the challenging ones that are an actually higher priority.

Hold your Point B vision in mind as you tackle highest priorities first, and as a rule of thumb, ONLY do activities that directly generate income or build your career from right where you are. Even if you’re not currently in a career you love, try to love the shit out of it while you do all that you can every day during your work hours to rock your current position.

Wallace D. Wattles, in his classic book, The Science of Getting Rich, describes this way of operating as “more than filling your present place”, and says that it cultivates magnetism and creates “the impression of increase” right where you are. It fuels you to add more value and “create increase” in all that you do. I

t makes you more attractive, more indispensable, more inspiring––and all of these qualities will only increase momentum towards your Point B, even if your Point B feels unrelated to your current roles and routines. When you arrive at your Point B, Voila! It becomes your Point A… then clarity, evolution, and momentum continue as you create a new Point B vision and take consistent baby steps to move towards it.

B. When you’re NOT working, DON’T work. Visualize. Play. Savor. Chop vegetables. Eat with friends. Nap. Dance. Nourish yourself and unplug best you can.

4. Resisting like crazy because we’re believing our own made-up stories.

When we make meaning that fills us with stress or holds a judgment or perspective that puts us at war with ourselves, with others, or with reality as it currently is, we rob ourselves of our power, joy, and presence. Until we’re willing to question these stories and tease apart assumptions from factual truths, we cannot be free.

What to do instead: (*This one’s a doozy, and it’s super counter intuitive, but hang with me… it’s the crux!)

A. First things first: Recognize that you are resisting, then be your own best ‘vent buddy’ and let yourself feel… don’t edit. Be like that Godsend of a friend who’s always willing to hear you vent HONESTLY––f-bombs, finger pointing and all.

Meet yourself where you are and give yourself full permission to feel exactly what you feel. Don’t try to be happier or more aware. That’s too big of a jump right now and it will just feel fake. (Then you’d be more like that irritating friend who always tries to coach you and tell you how to be more positive, rather than just loving you as you are and giving you room to have whatever experience you’re having at the moment).

Breathe to feel your current feeling more and just STAY, without editing, censoring, or reaching for a different feeling. Note: If you try to force a feeling of acceptance––or worse, gratitude––when you’re REALLY feeling like you want to PUNCH something (or someone), the resistance will only grow stronger, you won’t feel like you’re honoring yourself.

And you won’t like the choices you make from that place. So the first (and probably the HARDEST) step is to just take a moment and feel whatever is there. Then the ‘energy in motion’ (the emotion) can naturally work its way out. You can also help it along if you:

– Shadowbox your face off (even better if you do it to loud music).

– Curl into a ball on the floor and weep.

– Scream into a pillow or go for a fierce sprint down the road.

– Yell “GET OUT!” over and over again, from deep inside your gut.

(If you’re in a public place and you don’t want to scare people or make them call the crazy people police to come and lock you up, try just closing your eyes and vividly imagining yourself doing any of the above).

Do whatever you have to let yourself acknowledge and feel what’s alive in you so that the energy can move. Once it does, and you’re feeling some relief––you’re a little less in your head and a little more in your body––trace the bad feelings back to their origin: the stories and judgments you were spinning that caused you to feel so shitty.

Gently own up to the fact that you are the author of the stories and hence, the resulting discomfort––and this is GOOD NEWS because it means you can change it.

*Praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah, and the whole damn Universe… Hallelujah!

B. Once you have some of your power back and a slower, more curious, objective, and observant mind feels accessible––one at a time––examine the stress-creating stories or judgments you have to see if hanging them up would bring relief.

Example stories: He shouldn’t have lied to me. I should have made more progress by now. She should’ve behaved differently. My body is too large. I have nothing to offer.

Check each one out, compared to actual factual reality as it currently exists:

– “Can I know for sure that this story is true?”

– “How do I act and feel when I believe it?”

– “What sensations and postural changes take place in my body?”

– “Does this story bring peace or stress into my life?”

– “What would happen if I didn’t have the ability to entertain this story anymore––how would I and my experience be different?”

– “Are there any STRESS-FREE reasons NOT to let go of this story?”

– “What if the exact OPPOSITE of this story were actually just as true… or truer––can I get curious enough to see how that might be?”

C. The most counterintuitive step yet: Stop trying to make the stressful thoughts go away, and just pay attention.

Even after moving through the intense feelings, catching and investigating the stories that triggered those feelings, and seeing the senselessness in holding onto the stories, it can feel scary or even impossible to let them go.

It doesn’t make any logical sense because we’ve just determined that they are the very cause of our suffering, but nonetheless, these stories can feel like old familiar security blankets. And the truth is, we CAN’T really let go of them. (At least I’ve never found a way. I’ve got a shit ton of willpower but that doesn’t seem to have a thing to do with it.) It’s almost as if the stories themselves have to be the ones to let go of us, and until they do, we just have to stop indulging them.

Here’s how:

Don’t try to “fix” anything or make yourself let go of the stories as that will only cause them to stick around (what we resist persists and grows stronger). Instead, as the mind spins stories (that’s its job… it’s always going to spin stories and make meaning), just keep a portion of your focus on your interior and notice your breath.

Don’t try to change your breath, just use it as a way to connect to your core––that wise, timeless, witnessing part of yourself that trusts, even amidst the external chaos, that all is well. Noticing your breath can just bring you back to that grounded place of “I am okay” because it reminds you that:

As much as you are this body breathing, and this mind thinking, you are also the witness watching yourself being breathed.

With access to that remembrance, you can see a bigger picture and perhaps a bigger truth. There can be space, some tiny breaks, between all the stressful thoughts and stories.

Next, from that more spacious place, make like an archaeologist and get your witness on. Study, observe, watch the thoughts and stories spin while you do your best not to entertain them. Notice what sensations arise but don’t add labels or try to change your experience. Paying attention is enough.

When you don’t feed into the stories, they eventually complete themselves, then you come out of it unscathed. Probably even a little bit more compassionate towards yourself and all the other “meaning-making machines” on this planet who suffer because of their own stinkin’ thinkin’.

For more on freeing yourself from your imprisoning stories, explore the work of Byron Katie and experiment with using the free ‘Judge Your Neighbor’ worksheets that she makes available on her home page,

5. Trying to manage what isn’t ours to manage.

When we step outside of our own business (into God’s or someone else’s business––trying to control the weather, a certain outcome, or a certain someone, for instance), we immediately feel disempowered. And rightfully so, because outside of our own business, we have no power to affect change. This is a waste of our precious energy.

What to do instead:

A. Come back to your own business. Focus on things that ARE yours to manage––the parts of YOU and your way of being that are within your power to control, i.e. your attitude, actions, and perspectives.

B. Exercise ‘Big Trust’. Stop grasping for certainty in areas where you can’t yet have it, and put your energy towards the ‘sure things’. Start by making a ‘Love List’. Decide what you LOVE and what you feel SURE about in life, i.e. your kids, the clients you adore, the elements of your work that most light you up, the things you love to do that make you feel stronger and more like yourself, etc.

Focus ONLY on the good (not what you want to “fix”) and list out all the things in your life you genuinely feel certain about or that feel like a perfect fit. Then, notice what didn’t make the list.

Make peace with these things you don’t feel SURE about because obviously––according to reality (AKA God)––they aren’t yet yours to know, figure out, act on, or feel certain about. So leave them be. Pull your claws out of needing to control them. Stop looking for answers that aren’t there. These things are not your business, at least not now.

Invest your time, heart and resources into the things you’re sure about now, and trust that more will be revealed and clarity will come through the action you take to nourish and build the ‘sure things’.

*Note: We are not our behavior. AND, this work is easier said than done.

So approach all of this––especially the way you treat yourself as you attempt to catch and untangle these behaviors––with a sense of gentleness and compassionate curiosity. Remember that what we’re talking about here is Self Realization, becoming truly AWAKE as a consciously evolving human being. It’s a lifelong journey and there really are no shortcuts… but it’s worth it!

Paraphrasing the words of poet Tara Sophia Mohr:

We are not just these bodies and these egos––concepts, characters––we are beings having an experience in this moment.

We are no animals. We are galaxies with skin.

From Tara to us, via her poem Your Other Name:

Don’t forget your true name:

Presiding one. Home for the gleaming.

Strong Cauldron for the feast of light.

Strong Cauldron for the feast of light:

I am speaking to you.

I beg you not to forget.

And these are the 5 root causes of self sabotage. What about you? What is the one one thing you need to let go to start honoring yourself and the things you say you want to achieve? You can comment below 🙂


Kris Ward

Kris Ward is the founder of where she offers training and certification in Lifestyle Design Coaching™ and leads heart centered entrepreneurs toward lucrative self-realization and deep self-care. You can connect with Kris on her Facebook Page and Twitter Profile.

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