Woman on scale holding apple and a donut

Woman on scale holding apple and a donutBy Barbara Broggelwirth RDN, CDN

Sabotage is any action that gets in the way of our intent. It could be self-motivated or come from something external in our environment. Identifying those cues can solve half the battle in addressing self-sabotaging behaviors.

It’s safe to say that we all know people who, consciously or unconsciously, sabotage other people’s efforts at behavior change. The co-worker who insists we have a piece of their birthday cake, even when they know we are working hard to avoid consuming calorie-rich treats during the week. The friend who coaxes us to sit with them during our lunch hour when our intention was to take a walk. You get the idea. These are called saboteurs. Sometimes they may have selfish reasons to see us not achieve our goals; it may make them feel bad about themselves to see you making changes they feel incapable of making.

It’s not always external factors that get in the way. We might also sabotage ourselves from achieving our goals. According to Psychology Today, this is actually very common, and the reasons are multifaceted. Here are a few reasons they highlighted in a recent article:

  1. Self-worth – We may unconsciously feel undeserving of success. If we believe that we don’t deserve success, our brain will tell us to act in accordance with that belief and we’ll self-sabotage. If we begin to see some success, but still view ourselves as flawed or unworthy, we’ll likely fall back into old habits that prevent us from progressing and succeeding.
  2. Control – If we believe that we will fail, then we can control our actions by guiding ourselves towards that failure rather that giving up control and reaching for our goals wholeheartedly. It’s easier to stay in control of our failure than to face the possibility of being blindsided.
  3. Familiarity – We do what we know. It is estimated that human beings make about 35,000 conscious decisions each day. That is part of the reason we build habits, so we don’t have to think so hard. Therefore, it makes sense that we would fall back into habits even though they are not fully in alignment with our goals. We do what we know is easy.
  4. Boredom – Ever know anyone who creates turmoil in their lives for the sake of it? It may give them a rush. In that same way, doing something that feels “wrong” may give us that same rush. We want to break up the monotony.
  5. Fear of failure – When we truly want something, the fear of not accomplishing that goal might keep us from taking the steps to achieve it. It’s the fear of trying your best and failing that stops us. We worry that our best just might not be good enough.

If you find that you practice self-sabotaging behavior, the first step is to find out what actions you take to keep yourself from achieving your goals and then addressing them head on. You may even find that you identify with many of these self-sabotaging behaviors. The most important thing you can do is accept the fact that you are only human and in trying to change, you should expect and mentally prepare for “failures.” No one is perfect and you will not succeed at every new thing you try. In the end, learning from those failures and adapting will make you stronger.


Adapted from “Why Do We Self Sabotage?” Psychology Today

Why Do We Self-Sabotage?. (2020). Retrieved 27 July 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201710/why-do-we-self-sabotage-0


Barbara Broggelwirth RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.