Self Sabotage Behavior - Why We Do It

As a nutrition coach, I see it all the time. We keep ourselves from truly succeeding because we have self sabotage behavior that creeps up and keeps us from our ultimate potential. Whether we recognize it or not, this self sabotage behavior can be rooted in a variety of things, like emotions, environments, or even a fear of failure. Part of what we do here at TSK is not just nutrition, but lifestyle based, focusing on the roots of our behaviors so that we can lay down a strong foundation to build our future upon. Let’s dig into some of the common themes and occurrences we see with self sabotage behavior to help you break through your next plateau. 

What Is Self Sabotage Behavior

Just when we begin to take actions that help us get closer to our goals, when things are going good, they’re simple and straightforward, and we’re progressing with ease, is often when we self sabotage the most. Something throws us off track, we get distracted or we get bored, and we end up blaming our regressions or plateaus on something, someone, or the circumstance we’re in. Like a holiday, a breakup, or an event, for example.

Here’s the hard truth - we get in our own way and we self sabotage our efforts.

Self sabotage is technically defined as any behavior, whether rooted in our actions or our habits, that ends up taking away from our forward motion. These are the things that cause plateaus, regressions, and even failures. They’re the habits and actions that keep us from the long term habits and that give into short term satisfaction or desires, like a donut when you’re on a diet, so to speak. 

Self Sabotage Behavior - The Swole Kitchen

Examples Of Self Sabotage Behavior

While self sabotage behavior can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, some common things that we see in our coaching programs with clients are: 

  • Over committing
  • Over scheduling
  • Over indulging
  • Binge drinking
  • Procrastination
  • Cheat days & meals that turn into weeks
  • ‘Deserving a break’ from lifestyle change
  • Yo-Yo dieting
  • Over restricting
  • All or nothing mentality (black and white thinking)
  • Crossing boundaries
  • Thrill seeking
  • F-It mentality
  • … and more

Causes Of Self Sabotage Behavior

One of the reasons why this blog post came about is because of a check in call we recently had with someone. They began following a new pattern of eating and intermittent fasting, they had been doing well and working towards their goals sustainably over the last 4-5 weeks, and they came to their check in with a different attitude than the weeks prior. When we prompted to dig into the behavior change, the client said that they felt their programming was too easy, too straightforward, and working too well. So alas, they felt sluggish. They had been digging into sugars and candy because they were ‘carbs’ and that ‘it doesn’t matter as long as I follow the pattern’.

This is a great example of how our subtle, quiet inner voice of self sabotage can keep us from our long term goals, and it is something that we unfortunately see quite often. Despite when we are doing well, working on our goals, and following guidance and direction, if we have a history of not achieving our goals and not achieving them often, this inner voice and methods of self sabotage behavior are quite strong. 

Fear Of Failure And Self Sabotage Behavior

If we have failed and failed again in the past, what makes us think we’re going to succeed, do well, or even be able to maintain our goals long term? These feelings of self doubt can creep in, because of a fear of failure and the fear of the past, which are a few of the biggest reasons why self sabotage behavior kicks in with our clients.

One way of saying it, as a client once said on a check in call, is that they are ‘just waiting for the other shoe to drop’.

Before we can break through to true success, the barrier or the obstacle in our way so to speak, we might focus more of our mental efforts on not building the new, but fighting the past. The past reminders that ‘I’ll never lose weight’ and that ‘this is going to be just like every other time’. In a way, this is a great place for self sabotage behavior to grow. It seizes the opportunity to prey on you, on yourself, when you are your weakest and most vulnerable, unsure of what you’re doing and fearful of what will (or won’t) happen next.

Self Sabotage Behavior - The Swole Kitchen

Progress and Self Sabotage Behavior

Another time that self sabotage behavior seems to shine is when others can see our progress but we cannot. Here at TSK we work on a variety of goals, ranging from athletic performance to major weight loss, body recomposition and muscle building. While other people’s opinions should matter a little less than our own, often times, others are going to be the ones that notice our physical changes before we notice them on our own bodies. When this happens, we not only can feel feelings of excitement and happiness for the attention, but sometimes instead of affirmation and motivation, we feel nervous, insecure, and vulnerable.


Well if they can see your progression, won’t they see your regression if you fail, too? And would you want that attention on yourself? Not only did you let yourself down, but you’re letting others down? Insert - self sabotage behavior reason. Because regardless of what is going well, we focus our attention on what isn’t going well, what we aren’t doing, and how fast we aren’t progressing, regardless if we’re making leaps and bounds and things are actually going really well. We feel the external pressure to succeed, but we also feel the external failure of others bearing witness to our failure. So the cycle begins and our inner critic ‘ends up being right, you don’t deserve it’.

Safety - The Protective Mechanism

Look, things like insecurities, fear, and the inability to step out of our comfort zones happens for two reasons. The first one is to keep us safe - the fight or flight mechanism we have in all of us keeps us from doing stupid things that hurt us or threaten our life. The other reason is that our past experiences stay with us as we go through life, and the more that our bodies feel threatened, hurt, or wounded, the more that they’ll want to fight that feeling again or the thing that caused it in the first place. Our inner critic and our feelings are there to keep us feeling safe and protected, especially when it comes to things like being judged, criticized, vulnerable or even ridiculed.

While this can often be taken as a negative, and compounded with our methods of self sabotage behavior, recognizing these patterns and when you feel these emotions, which then lead to negative behaviors, can actually be used as a strength to help you keep working towards your goals. It begins with recognizing, challenging, sitting with and rewriting the narrative of the inner critic, so that it isn’t so damaging, and more encouraging.

Self Sabotage Behavior And Success

On the flip side of failure is success, and all too often we also see the fear of success to be one of the biggest reasons for instigating self sabotage behaviors while on a nutritional or fitness personal journey. Think of it this way, when we’re making progress towards our goals, when we’re crushing PRs and changing our bodies, the things around us are changing too. These things can be our environments, our behaviors, the people we choose to engage with, and more. This difference? Well, it can make us feel just as uncomfortable, vulnerable, and even alone, as the fear of failure can. We end up succeeding, but we also end up changing, and that chance can bring up that lovely inner critic, who starts the self sabotage behavior cycle all over again.

So if there’s self sabotage behavior that can come up when we’re fearful of both failure AND success, what are we to do? How are we to move if we feel like we can’t go forward or backward? This is the beauty of change, and this is where we can truly rewrite our own narrative and set sail on becoming ‘Me 2.0’. Whether you do it on your own, or with the help and guidance from a lifestyle coach, like the ones here at TSK, the future is bright and you can do it.

Self Sabotage Behavior - The Swole Kitchen

Embracing Change

Doing away with the self sabotage behavior and improving the dialogue of the inner critic can take time, but old habits can be changed with practice, time, and consistency. While we’re changing on the surface, we must find ways to persevere into that deep, lasting change. Similar to redoing an old house, we have to strip ourselves and our behaviors down to the bones and the foundation to take a good look at what we are dealing with. How strong are the reasons and meanings that drive our behaviors and habits? Do we like them? Do we want to change them? Are we willing to confront the cracks in the foundation to repair them? This is called adopting a ‘growth mindset’ instead of a ‘fixed mindset’. With a growth mindset, we can embrace the change, and often the beautiful mess that we are, enabling ourselves to not be so hard on ourselves and allowing self sabotage behavior to keep us from where we want to be.

Accepting The Old While Working Towards The New

Deep down, it is really hard to change. It’s also hard to confront the past and to have acceptance for the things that have happened to us, as well as the things we’ve done to ourselves. There’s the saying that hindsight is always clearer, and there’s some truth to it, so try to remember this when you’re looking back at the ‘old you’ and wondering why you’re not the same or why the things that used to work, no longer work any longer in your current situation. While it might have seemed easier to lose weight 15 years ago, you’re not the same person as you were then, and chances are you don’t do anything the same way. So why would the same approach work? When it might seem like it was easier, you may have even had a deeper or different reason to change, and if that reason isn’t the same now, then you may need to adopt a different way of progressing forward, like one that serves you for your ‘why’ now.

Combatting Self Sabotage Behaviors

As stated earlier, most of the time self sabotage behaviors are rooted in a fear of something. Whether it is failure, success, standing out, speaking up, being too sexy, too muscly, or whatever else, if we can identify our fears, we can give less power to our inner critic and instead use those fears as fuel.

  • Step 1: Learn more about your behavior
  • Step 2: Identify the problem with a compassionate mindset
  • Step 3: Recognize your patterns and play to your strengths
  • Step 4: Decide whether this change is worth it to you
  • Step 5: After determining if the change is worth it… take the next step

Step 1: Learn more about your behavior

The first step towards combatting self sabotage behaviors starts with identifying them. If you gravitate towards simple sugars when you’re on a diet, is it really the simple sugars that are getting you or is it the feeling of constant restriction and all or nothing thinking that is driving the desire to have something that is sweet, pleasurable, and off your plan? If so, then maybe its not the cookie that needs to change, it’s the restrictive plan that isn’t serving you.

Self Sabotage Behavior - The Swole Kitchen

Step 2: Identify the problem with a compassionate mindset

The second step towards improving our inner critic and our self sabotage behavior comes down to getting really clear and honest with ourselves. Tough? Yeah, probably. Worth it? Yeah, absolutely. When you can identify the problem with compassion you can begin to find the root of it.

Say you really like the cookie, but you also really like the diet, because it provides you with guidance and a framework. You don’t color outside of the lines and you get results. But ask yourself - does it really work for you? Does it really make you happy? Is it sustainable or maintainable long term? Get clear with yourself, and if the answer is no, then stop lying to yourself about it. Life is too dang short to be unhappy and chronically deprived from fad and restrictive diets so find something that not only creates results but that gives you enjoyment and fulfillment.

Step 3: Recognize your patterns and play to your strengths

The third step is to familiarize yourself with how often and how deeply your self sabotage behaviors go. Keep a journal, a note in your phone, or talk with you coach about them. We love patterns and often your self sabotage behaviors have patterns associated with them. Along with doing so, write down what goals or types of fulfillment that the behaviors keep you from when you do them. When you eat a cookie, does it keep you from losing weight or does it actually keep you from feeling accomplished in your diet? Does breaking your diet make you feel like you’re failing yourself or stopping your momentum? Would you be happier if you could have a cookie AND lose weight WITHOUT feeling restricted on a diet because you didn’t stunt your progress when you felt the inner critic pipe up and tell you ‘you’re just going to fail, anyways, like every other time you’ve tried’?

Step 4: Decide whether this change is worth it to you

The next thing is taking a small pause and asking yourself if you are really desiring this change. Most of us don’t like changing and don’t like giving up things that we really actually like. So ask yourself, ‘do I really want to change’ and if the answer is no, then that is okay, too. When we give ourselves permission to NOT change we can actually find out that we DO want to change, and instead of our desire, its our methods that cause self sabotage behaviors, not the other way around.

Step 5: After determining if the change is worth it… take the next step

Lastly, when you start to feel the ‘f-it mentality’ kick in and your self sabotage behaviors are starting to snowball, recognize them, take a pause, and write down a list of all the things, no matter how big or small, that are going well. That you’ve been doing well, that you’re proud of, that bring you fulfillment, satisfaction, and that advance yourself towards your goals. This is a type of gratitude practice that can actually re-wire your brain to focus more on the positive, rather than the negative, to help give yourself a boost of self-confidence, motivation, and inspiration to continue forward and to not give into the self sabotage behaviors brought up by the inner critic.

Self Sabotage Behavior - The Swole Kitchen

Self Sabotage Behaviors: Takeaway

It’s our belief that all human behavior is an attempt to cope with or solve a problem. Whether the reasons we have are superficial or extremely deep, there is usually always a root for our behaviors, attitudes, mentalities, and our self sabotaging behavior, that either advances ourselves or keeps ourselves from our goals and ultimate potentials. Most often, as we see here with coaching at TSK, the problem isn’t actually food. It almost never is, in fact. The more we explore the deeper reasons for our behaviors, when we take a step back, reconnect with our reasons to achieve our goals, we can reset and refocus without the discouragement and defeat of our inner critics.

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Tags: Wellness