Uncertainty is an inevitable aspect of life, encompassing everything from relationships to career choices and personal endeavours.

When faced with uncertainty, we often seek ways to mitigate the discomfort and anxiety associated with unknown outcomes.

Surprisingly, self-sabotage emerges as a complex strategy through which we attempt to gain a sense of control and predictability in uncertain situations.

In this article, we delve into self-sabotage, examining how it can be perceived as a means to predict outcomes during times of uncertainty more accurately and is often driven by our subconscious limiting beliefs.

Click here to watch the extended YouTube version, where I discuss 5 Strategies for Overcoming Self-Sabotage, which includes how to undercover your limiting beliefs, plus my simple 6-step process for overcoming them.

Understanding Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage encompasses a range of behaviours and thought patterns that undermine our goals, desires, and well-being.

From procrastination and self-doubt to perfectionism and avoidance, self-sabotage manifests in various forms. It can be triggered by fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgment or underlying beliefs of unworthiness.

While self-sabotage may seem counterintuitive, especially in pursuing positive outcomes, it often serves as a coping mechanism rooted in the desire for control and predictability.

Interestingly, there has been nothing but change throughout human history. However, change is what most of us still fear the most.

By sabotaging our efforts or pre-emptively expecting failure, we attempt to protect ourselves from disappointment, rejection, or loss, thereby maintaining a sense of familiarity and security in the face of uncertainty.

The Evolutionary Fear of Change

Humans fear uncertainty due to evolutionary factors ingrained in our ancestral past. Throughout human evolution, survival depended on our ability to predict and control our environment.

Uncertainty often signalled potential threats such as predators, scarce resources, or environmental dangers. Those individuals who were more cautious and avoided uncertain situations were more likely to survive and pass on their genes.

This instinctual fear of uncertainty has, therefore, been preserved and is deeply rooted in our psychology today, often manifesting as anxiety, stress or unconscious self-sabotage when we’re faced with unknown or unpredictable circumstances.

Known Pain vs Potential Pleasure

A saying that I frequently use with clients and in my resilience/mental toughness training is:

Our subconscious mind would rather keep us in known pain than move us toward potential but unknown pleasure.

Our subconscious mind often prefers familiarity, even if that familiarity is painful, rather than venturing into the realm of potential unknown pleasure. Again, this tendency can be traced back to evolutionary roots.

Additionally, the subconscious mind tends to prioritise short-term relief over long-term gains. Although uncomfortable, known pain is familiar, and the mind may perceive it as a safer option compared to the uncertainty of potential unknown pleasure.

The prospect of venturing into the unknown can trigger fear of failure, rejection, or disappointment, which the subconscious mind interprets as potential threats to survival.

In this way, our subconscious mind often opts for the perceived safety of familiar discomfort rather than risk the uncertainties of pursuing potential pleasure.

This tendency can lead to self-sabotaging behaviours, as we may unconsciously resist change or growth in favour of maintaining the status quo, even if it means perpetuating our own suffering.

Understanding these subconscious mechanisms is essential for overcoming self-sabotage and embracing positive change.

The Illusion of Predictability

As I’ve already mentioned, in uncertain situations, the human mind craves predictability and certainty to reduce anxiety and maintain a sense of stability. So, self-sabotage can be viewed as an attempt to create a sense of predictability by influencing the outcome through familiar behaviour patterns.

Here are some examples to explain the predictability theory:

1. Dating

An individual may self-sabotage a budding romantic relationship by pushing away their partner or creating conflict, thereby pre-emptively ending the relationship to avoid the uncertainty of potential rejection or abandonment.

2. Weight Loss

A client will tell me that they’ve lost weight many times and may even have reached within half a pound of their ideal weight, but then they’ve self-sabotaged and put all the weight (and more) back on within a really short space of time.

When I dig into their background, I usually find a deep-rooted reason hiding in the subconscious for why being ‘seen’ is unsafe.

The nearer they get to their goal weight, the more people notice and comment, telling them how wonderful they look. Now, consciously, that may feel wonderful. However, unconsciously, that attention can tap into something hidden in their past that makes being ‘seen’ unsafe. Of course, that’s not in every case, but it is common.

3. Career Advancement

Another example I see frequently is people failing to take the next career step, whether that’s a promotion, change of career/change of job in another company, or setting up their own business. They will procrastinate or self-sabotage, never quite getting themselves to do everything they need to do to reach their goal.

Deep-rooted beliefs for the sabotage could be unworthiness, low self-esteem, fear of rejection, etc.

While the behaviours seen in each of these examples may seem counterproductive on the surface, they all provide a false sense of control by dictating the outcome based on familiar narratives and expectations.

Procrastination and Self-Sabotage

Procrastination is closely related to self-sabotage as it involves delaying or avoiding tasks that must be accomplished, often leading to negative consequences.

When procrastinating, we prioritise short-term relief or comfort over long-term goals or responsibilities. This behaviour can stem from various underlying factors, such as fear of failure, perfectionism, lack of motivation, or difficulty managing emotions.

In the context of self-sabotage, procrastination becomes a way of undermining your success or well-being. Delaying essential tasks or goals may inadvertently sabotage your chances of achieving success or fulfilling your potential.

Procrastination can also reinforce negative self-perceptions and contribute to a cycle of avoidance and frustration, further perpetuating self-sabotaging behaviours.

Therefore, addressing procrastination is often crucial to overcoming self-sabotage and fostering personal growth.

The Wrap-Up

In a world filled with constant change and unpredictability, embracing uncertainty is essential for personal growth and resilience.

While self-sabotage may offer a temporary illusion of control, it ultimately hinders progress and prevents you from realising your full potential.

By reframing self-sabotage as a misguided form of self-love and adopting healthier coping strategies, you can navigate uncertainty with greater clarity, confidence, and authenticity, paving the way for a more fulfilling and empowered life journey.

What Next?

Again, in the extended YouTube version of this article, I discuss 5 Strategies for Overcoming Self-Sabotage, including how to undercover your limiting beliefs, plus my simple 6-step process for overcoming them. You can watch it here.

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