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  • Hour glass icon9 minutes


  • Understand the meaning of self-sabotage
  • See real-life examples of situations that can trigger self-sabotage
  • Identify seven signs of self-sabotage and how to stop them.

What is self-sabotage?

I want (x) but I keep doing (y).

Self-sabotage is an action (or nonaction) that gets in the way of our goals, dreams, and desires. In essence, it makes us commit to behaviour that is misaligned with our sense of what is right, or what matters to us.

At a conference recently, we asked a group of Early Career Researchers to anonymously share the situations that triggered self-sabotage, here are some of the responses:

“Seminars: these events are attended by academics, lecturers, and others far smarter than me. They dress better, they have more interesting viewpoints, and they simply appear more comfortable.

“I feel it continuously, I question if I am cut out for this.”

As these responses show, self-doubt and self-sabotage can be influenced by our perception of the environment: how other people behave towards us and what this communicates. For example, beliefs about how success or worth is evaluated.

“I had a paper accepted and promised to post the code I used in the paper. But now I have a sinking feeling, that when I post it, everybody will pick it apart and tear me apart for not-great/bad coding practices.

“I work with people much smarter than I am. At the same time that I’m inspired to rise to their level, I feel like I don’t even deserve to be where I'm at. A couple of weeks ago I had a paper declined and harshly reviewed. I know that's the beauty of science and peer review, yet I can’t help but feel worthless.

If any of these examples are similar to things you have said to yourself, there is a good chance you have experienced self-sabotage. We rarely talk about this with our peers, or friends or advisors, so we don’t often have a chance to evaluate these feelings around performance, competence and self-worth.

The seven signs of self-sabotage and how to stop them:

It takes self-reflection to identify and overcome self-sabotage. Read the common signs of self-sabotage below to identify patterns that you may be experiencing, consider the reflection questions, and start to build new habits.

Final thoughts

It is possible for us to influence our own patterns of thinking and improve our health by doing so, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as flipping a switch.

Learning to notice and challenge self-sabotage, replacing it with new healthier behaviours and doing so consistently, over time can help you succeed in forming positive habits that support your mental health.

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130 minutes