4 Steps to Conquer Self-Sabotage

The habit of self-sabotage is both the cause and effect of low self-esteem. Not believing in your abilities, strengths, and talents can make you question your every move. Whenever you have fears of not being good enough, it plants thoughts of self-doubt and inadequacy, leaving you depleted of energy and robbing you of your momentum.

As a master of self-sabotage myself, I found that the only way to stop sabotaging my life was to simply stop listening to my inner critic who was always so harshly judgmental. Editor’s note: I like to call the inner critic, my inner Darth Vader.

With conscious effort you can achieve what I did, as I describe below. I learned to silence my inner critic, and let myself be and do what I knew all along I was capable of doing, but too afraid to do.

Step 1: Understand the Monster Behind Self-sabotage

The first step to conquering self-sabotage is to really understand what it means and what it entails. According to author and inspirational speaker Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby, self-sabotage is “when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.”

Self-sabotage is our compulsive urge to protect ourselves, but as a result, we deny ourselves the opportunity to take risks, learn, fail, and succeed. Our fear(s) keep us from growing and maturing.s

Step 2: Understand that You’re In Control

The second step to conquering self-sabotage is to understand that no matter how sly your inner critic might be, you can shut it off, ignore it, drown it out (or whatever words resonate with you) whenever you want. I like to call my technique “the critic switch.” Once I become aware of self-sabotaging thoughts (What are you doing? Everyone will laugh at your presentation! Oh, you’ve eaten a cookie, now your diet is wrecked – better eat the whole box!), I silence this critic and take charge instead. 

It starts with being vulnerable. If you aren’t able to admit that you aren’t living the way that you want to then you’ll keep repeating the same mistake. You must own your wins and loses and learn from both of them.

Step 3: Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands

I turn each inner dialogue into a “pick-me-up” talk. To achieve this I have a two-step strategy.

First, I challenge the validity of my inner critic’s claims, and then frame my actions in a positive context. I look for rationality and positivity where at first there seems nothing but the fear of failure or ridicule, or at least intense self-consciousness.

For instance, when I look at a job announcement and ponder whether I should apply or not, my inner critic would immediately start trying to replace my thoughts of new opportunities for personal growth and career development with bitter words and doubt:

Eh, I shouldn’t probably even bother. Hundreds of other applicants might have already applied. Besides, I don’t know if I’m actually good in human resources. I wouldn’t last a day at the job!

Such negative statements are red flags I’ve learned to instantly recognize them and I fight back straight away. I consciously choose to stop thinking about these comments and. I deliberately focus on my accomplishments and successes, my skills, and the unique features of my personality that others admire and respect. By offering myself much more hopeful alternatives, this gives me the clarity I need to analyze the situation and see it for what it is.

I like to think of this strategy as a technique for teaching my inner critic a new language. I ask that voice to reconsider its beliefs, and I gently challenge its credibility, thus allowing me to see the situation from a different, hopeful perspective without challenging the role of my inner critic, which is always trying to protect me from what it perceives as a potential threat.

Step 4: Offering Yourself Viable Alternatives

After that negative voice has been assuaged, I keep it from piping up again by proposing a new way of looking at reality. I come up with alluring and viable solutions so that I can  reframe my reality in ways that are healthy, progress-focused, and positive. The premise is simple: if your repertoire only consists of action-oriented, fearless thoughts, then the only way is up.

So, instead of feeling insecure, inadequate and more likely unsuitable for the job, I ask myself to take a better look at my assets e.g. I consider how I manage to offer great solutions under pressure, or how I’m amazingly good at managing and improving others’ performance discretely but effectively.

This is a technique I found to be applicable whenever my inner critic tries to convince me of my so-called inadequacies. I won’t lie to you – the first few times I defied my inner critic and started building bridges rather than demolishing them, it was very frightening because I was afraid I would fail. But the result was rewarding, and further motivated me to keep challenging whatever my inner critic is saying when I wanted something more.


Compliantly obeying your inner critic makes it awfully hard to take risks, to explore, even to have fun. But I’ve learned that to really quiet my inner critic I had to find a supporter, someone who would believe in me, boost my confidence, and respect my qualities. I found this person not in my family or my closest friends, but in myself. I realized that the only thing I had to do is to differentiate my inner critic from my bigger self. I want to explore and learn and grow and not always listen to my fearful inner critic who doesn’t know that’s a very important part of who I am.

Simple words such as rationality and logic, challenge and belief, helped me see myself for who I am and not who my inner critic believes me to be. Start by taking just two minutes to process your thoughts and emotions each day. You can get the free Dig to Fly guide to help you get started. It helps you build self awareness because you become a seeker of truth instead of allowing your inner critic dictate how you feel.

Image courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz