Health & Wellbeing

Self-sabotage: the harm you don’t realise you’re doing to yourself

Isabella Batkovic looks into some of the most common forms of “self-sabotage”.


Have you ever made plans with friends and cancelled the last minute? Do you go to the gym and then come home only to binge on a box of Krispy Kremes? When you know your university assignment is due in a matter of weeks, do you wait until the night before to start?

If any of these behaviours sound like you, you might be the victim of your own “self-sabotage”.

According to, “behaviour is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.”

Sound familiar?

Usually caused by low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth, those who self-sabotage would recognise many of the behaviours/practices listed below:

  1. Procrastination

Oxford Dictionaries defines procrastination as “the action of delaying or postponing something”. This behaviour is common, especially among university students. Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada), Timothy Pychyl says there are three reasons we procrastinate:

– We put off things we don’t like to do or that upset us in some way.

– Our intentions are vague and weak.

– We’re easily distracted, and some of us are highly impulsive.

By engaging in such behaviours, the act of worrying about a task in the present is postponed until the near future. This doesn’t solve anything and only makes the act of self-sabotage more harmful.


  1. Lack of commitment

Usually fuelled by fear, a lack of commitment says a lot more than you might think. If you constantly cancel plans or find you can’t stick to something (e.g. going to the gym, joining friends for dinner, attending an information session), this could indicate a growing level of social anxiety and a lack of self confidence. Constantly repeating such behaviours only makes things worse.

  1. Quitting when the going gets tough

We’ve all heard the phrase – “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. However, if you don’t finish what you start, or leave when things get a tiny bit difficult, you will set a negative and harmful precedent for the rest of your life. Quitting something because it’s “hard” will not solve any long-term problems.

  1. Negative self-talk

According to personality development website, many of us are walking around with negative stories in our heads, such as “I’ll never be good enough”, “I’ll never live up to my parents’ expectations” and “I’ll always be second-best”. These sorts of ideas are shaped by your context and upbringing, and they can have a severely negative impact on self-perception and mental health.

  1. Option overload

Too many options/decisions can lead to feelings of doubt, fear and uncertainty. This is especially true for high achievers, who, according to, worry about the paths they don’t take, leaving them paralysed by the number of choices they have/don’t have.

Ways to combat self-sabotage

UON student Renae Wallis is studying a Bachelor of Psychology and has this advice to offer when it comes to procrastination:

“For most of us who find ourselves procrastinating, it’s often due to a disconnect between what we are intending to do and what we will actually achieve. An important aspect of achieving the desired level of productivity in completing any task is understanding the benefits of completing the task early and the positive implications that it will have on you, in comparison to completing the task later and experiencing the inherent stress associated with leaving things to the last minute,” Miss Wallis said.

Many other common tips include “being aware of your thoughts” and “learning to accept yourself”, things which are all much easier said than done. However, an important point to remember (one that can be found in most theory concerning this subject matter) is to CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK. You don’t expect others to be perfect, so why be so hard on yourself? Remember this as you try to tackle some of your self-sabotaging behaviours, which will take time, effort and patience.

Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day.


If you have further questions about this topic or would like to seek professional help, the University of Newcastle Psychology Clinic is a great place to start.

Click here for more information or for general enquiries, call 4921 5075.


Image: Rachel Fisher, Flickr, no changes made.

Designed by India Beletich


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