In my previous post, I talked about why we self-sabotage.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here.  To summarise, our brains were designed with one primary focus; to keep us alive long enough to procreate.  That’s the fundamental purpose of our brain and, therefore, the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Our programming (early childhood conditioning – the reactions, thoughts, and behaviours we witnessed as children) and our past experiences significantly impact what our subconscious perceives as a threat today.  As a result, we can consciously decide that we want something, but our subconscious mind perceives it to be a potential threat and begins to sabotage our progress.  Think of it as misguided self-love.

This mismatch between our conscious and subconscious minds creates internal conflict.  When there’s conflict, we begin to work against ourselves subconsciously.  

Three Causes of Self-Sabotage


1.     Childhood Programming


If you witnessed your primary caregivers openly display the following types of behaviour/ mindsets as a child, it’s likely impacting your ability to succeed today.  For example, if your parents:

Had limiting beliefs around their/your abilities, e.g.

  • People like us don’t do things like that.
  • It’s alright for them, but…
  • I/you couldn’t possibly do that 

Had a ‘lack’ mindset around money/wealth, e.g.

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees
  • People with money are bad
  • Who do you think I am?  Rockefeller/ Elon Musk/ Steve Jobs? 

Openly displayed worry, anxiety, stress, or overthinking, e.g.

  • There’s always something… What now!
  • Nothing ever goes right/ I knew this would happen
  • I knew it was too good to be true

2.     Past experiences

If you’ve tried something before and it didn’t work out (which may have meant that you suffered some degree of financial, emotional, or even physical pain or suffering), that ‘failure’ will have encoded itself (to a greater or lesser degree) in your nervous system.  For example:

  • You tried setting up a new business, and it failed
  • You asked someone out on a date, and they rejected you
  • You interviewed for a more senior role but didn’t get it
  • You got made redundant from a job you loved

4.     ‘Throw Away’ Negative Comments

As a child or adult, someone may have said something to you that deeply affected how you felt about yourself and your abilities.  The impact would likely be more significant if you held that person in high regard, e.g. parent, teacher, boss.  

It may have been a ‘throw away’ comment that meant little to the person saying it but had a long-lasting impact on you.  For example, just this week alone, three clients have told me about seemingly inconsequential comments that profoundly affect them to this day:

Client 1

My art teacher put a one-liner on my report card, ‘Lacks imagination’.  After that, I never bothered trying in art classes again.  Ever since then, I’ve considered myself uncreative. I’ve recently been thinking about putting some online courses together for my clients, but I don’t think I can do it – I’m not that creative.

Client 2

My parents told me that I wasn’t very bright growing up.  I was great at English and Art, but my parents were too, so they saw nothing ‘special’ in my abilities.  My brother was brilliant at Maths and Physics.  I constantly heard that he was ‘the clever one’.  Now I  have my own business; I often feel that I’m not good enough, and I’ll get found out – I guess I have imposter syndrome.

Client 3

I spoke to a recruitment consultant this week who said there’s no way I’m ready to go for the next step in my career.  However, that’s not what others have said, but she seemed so sure that I think she may be right.  

So, as you can see, our experiences can dramatically colour our view of the world and impact what we believe is possible for us, even if they’re not true!  These are our LIMITING BELIEFS.

How to Overcome Self-Sabotage

Firstly, we can only change what we’re aware of.  So, getting clear on your limiting beliefs is vital.  Next, robustly challenging their validity, taking a critical deep dive into where they came from and whether they are still valid (if, indeed, they ever were!). 

The Exercise

I recommend setting some specific time aside to do this exercise.  Put it in your diary as you would any other important meeting.  Make sure you won’t be interrupted (put your Out Of Office on and turn your phone to ‘Airplane’ mode).  Turn on some inspiring music and pour yourself a favourite beverage.

Physically write down what comes to mind when you ask yourself the following questions (please do not use a laptop or phone to record your answers – the connection between brain, pen, and paper is far more powerful).  You might want to invest in a journal for this project.

  1. What story are you telling yourself about why you can’t, do, be, or have the ‘thing’ that you want?
  2. Where did the story originate?  How old were you?  What was happening at the time?
  3. Is/was the story true?  What evidence do you have to back it up?
  4. Is that story still relevant today?  If so, how?
  5. What is a more realistic way of looking at things? What could your new story or belief be instead of the old one?

As you write your answers to these questions, avoid editing the answers.  Just let the words flow.  Your first response is likely to be the truest.  You can reflect on their meaning later.  Just get everything out of your head and onto the paper.  Let it flow.

This process takes some radical self-analysis, and it may be challenging to do by yourself.  If you find it hard and can’t seem to get to the bottom of what’s going on with you, try talking to a trusted colleague, friend, or experienced coach.  There’s a large amount of recent evidence proving that talking about our problems or writing them down (the next best thing), helps our minds to organise and process information in a way that it doesn’t if it remains in our heads. So, journaling is another great tool whenever you’re feeling stuck.

What experience do you have of self-sabotage? How have you dealt with it? Your tools may help someone else! Leave your comments in the section below or mail me at jo@jobanks.net.