Erin Urban
Aug 8 · 8 min read

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. It’s even more painful when you don’t realize it. Sneaky self-sabotaging behaviors can damage your happiness, credibility, and success, leaving you none the wiser. According to an article published in Psychology Today,” Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.”

Some of these lessons I had to learn the hard way. I was damaging my professional and personal growth without being aware of my own sabotage. Worse, my unconscious self-sabotaging behavior was impacting my personal life and dictating my decisions.


I let sh*t get to me. I set my expectations too high. I focused on all the wrong things. My inner critic was running the show, not me.

Life happens, and it likes to throw a wrench in your carefully constructed plans. Being successful requires mental agility and a growth mindset. I’ve found that, after years of experience, it’s not the planning that makes you a Star Genius — it’s how well you respond when things go to heck in a hand-basket.

1. Don’t let others dictate your behavior.

Allowing other people to dictate your behavior happens more often than you think. Instead of being “response-able” (choosing our responses to situations rather than reacting to them) we are too quick to react without reflection. Instead of staying true to our core values, we descend to the antagonists level.

I see these situations often when I coach corporate clients. This particularly affects the high performers when poor performers are not managed properly. Instead of sticking to their guns and continuing their high standards of work, the high performers will start to feel devalued and consequently devalue themselves. Morale suffers, and, eventually, they either leave or sink to substandard productivity levels.

I’ve had a client say early in their coaching journey, “Since management doesn’t seem to care if they (the poor performers) do quality work, I guess I don’t have to either.” Why in the world would you let someone else harm your credibility just because they don’t have the same work ethic as you? It seems ridiculous when you look at it from this perspective, but it happens all the time. As fellow life coach Mike Bechtle puts it, “People can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys.”

Why allow others to dictate your actions and, therefore, your future? You drive your life — no one else has that right unless you give it to them.

2. Don’t let others dictate your attitude.

When I was young and thought I knew everything, I would roll my eyes whenever I saw a motivational poster about attitude. Little did I know, I was the poster child for attitude issues. I used to be lightning-quick with my reactions to situations. While I could blame my hot temper, I just needed to step up and be more accountable. Your attitude really does drive your happiness and success in life. Why would you want to give someone else control?

You might not consciously want to give someone else the keys to your attitude, but it happens every day. Think about driving to work in the mad traffic rush every day. How often have you found yourself convinced that another person did something incredibly stupid on purpose? What about the co-worker who talks loudly in the next cubicle or that one colleague who just drives you crazy? It’s too easy to forget and hand over the keys to our attitude.

The result of me handing over my keys was daily frustration, irritation, and disillusionment. I let everything wind me up. All it did was make my life more challenging. Even if it was a seriously impactful situation, having a bad attitude wasn’t going to make it better!

We want to control the world. The reality is that we can control our attitudes, responses, and actions, but little else. I’ve become more intentional about focusing on what I can control and letting go of what I cannot, which has led to an infinitely happier and healthier life.

3. Don’t let others devalue your sense of self.

Of all the sneaky self-sabotaging behaviors that can damage your credibility and success, this one is the worst. It starts with something you do every single day. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, and sometimes it’s a good thing. Comparing yourself to others can be motivating or help you find commonalities.

Unfortunately, the act of comparison can also (and more often) lead to internal conflict and lack of self-confidence. Do you feel like you constantly fall short of your own expectations and find yourself unworthy or “less than” someone else? This is damaging behavior and self-sabotage.

I’m guilty of negative self-comparison, particularly in athletics. I fight a constant battle of comparing my performance to others. Inevitably, I end up feeling bad and thinking that I’ll never be good enough — even though I’m comparing myself to people 15 years younger. I have to remember to embrace who I am and value my own unique abilities. Most importantly, I need to remember to be grateful and realistic.

Ask yourself:

• Am I setting realistic and feasible expectations?

• Are my expectations my own or something expected of me — and by whom?

• Do my expectations align with my core values?

• Are these expectations really what I need to focus on to be happy?

Often, we are setting expectations of ourselves that are not only unreasonable but also unnecessary for our true happiness. Remember: Success is something that you decide. You own your definition of success!

Don’t let fear keep you from letting go.

Relationships of any kind are tough. Now that I am happily married, I can honestly say that I’ve learned so much about letting go, adjusting my expectations, and being intentional about my responses. It wasn’t easy. Letting go is pretty freaking hard. We are scared of what will happen when we do. Much of my early years as a perfectionist was focused on control. I felt I needed control because I was AFRAID.

> Afraid of things not going to plan

> Afraid of being disappointed or being disappointing

> Afraid of not being good enough

> Afraid of rejection, isolation, and unhappiness

Fear is the dream killer. Fear has killed more dreams than anything else on the planet. If you are a victim of fear, it’s likely you will only get what you fear the most. We tend to attract that which we put the most emphasis on. In other words, if you want abundance — then let go of trying to avoid lack. If you want love, then stop trying so darn hard not to get hurt. Focus on love, not avoiding the pain.

Sounds counter-intuitive but it works. It’s the law of attraction. You may have heard about this and it’s not scientifically ‘proven’ exactly outside of the realm of quantum physics (just look that up if you want a brain twister). This law basically states that if you want to attract something, that is what you must set your intention on.

So what we normally do? We focus on all the negative stuff. Oh, sure — we want the good stuff … but we are busy focusing on all the negative stuff. Guess what happens? You get the negative stuff. If you want to stop sabotaging your life: focus on what you WANT not what you don’t want.

Let go of that which does not serve you

Don’t sacrifice your gains for false rewards.

Stop killing yourself with false kindnesses. For example: I’m allergic to chocolate (hives, headaches, etc). Yet, I still see chocolate as a reward! How dumb is that?? The problem is, we do this to ourselves all the time! Gay Hendricks called it our ‘upper limit’ switch. We are conditionally programmed to only accept so much happiness, abundance, and goodness in our lives.

In essence, we are likely to self-sabotage anything in excess of that ‘limit’ we’ve subconsciously set. Because this originally sounded so wonky, I had to experiment.

The experiment freaked me out.

I noticed that every time (no exceptions) that I noticed my husband and I were getting along exceptionally well; I would sabotage it. It was almost always something insignificant and I would conveniently forget to be intentional about my responses. The rosy glow I had previously experienced was ruined and my ‘limit’ was still firmly in place.

When it came to losing weight, the same sabotage behavior happened. I would notice that I was feeling trim and it wouldn’t be any time at all before I decided I needed to reward myself with a heavy calorie item like cake or ice cream. Reward? How is ruining everything you worked so hard to get a reward?

What about working out? Yep. It was there too. If I realized my goals, I almost immediately slacked off instead of sticking to my plan. I told myself that I deserved a break and it always set me back. While rest is always a part of the exercise plan, the ‘break’ was always much larger than necessary. We have put the wrong emphasis on what a reward is. By doing this, we are self-sabotaging our goals!

Fighting Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of self-sabotage and hand over control of our behaviors, attitudes, and sense of self-worth to other people and trip ourselves up without even thinking. A self-sabotage cycle where we want the best, focus on the worst and attract exactly what we are focused on is particularly dangerous.

Fight your self-sabotaging behaviors by owning your impact and keeping the keys to your life.

Develop a daily practice of pausing, reflecting and then intentionally responding. By being self-aware, you can avoid behaving reactively and short-circuit self-limiting behavior. In order to be intentional about your attitude, it takes consistent focus to control your perspective. A good attitude is not automatic. It took me practicing daily to develop better habits. I was finally able to look for the positive instead of only focusing on the negative.

By becoming more aware, I am now able to catch a potential self-sabotage situation before it cuts off my potential.

Many of us listen to our inner critic or allow others to push us off our center. You are giving away your keys. Repeat and act upon positive self-affirmations. Just saying things isn’t enough — you have to act. Adopt a gratitude habit through journaling, meditation or supportive mantras. You are accountable for yourself. When you own your impact and become intentional, happiness naturally follows. You can blow the lid off of your perceived potential!

Erin Urban

Written by

I am the career strategist powering UPPSolutions, LLC, a Forbes Coaches Council Member, and a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist.

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