How To Stop The Self-Sabotage Cycle + 20 Journal Prompts

What is one of the BIGGEST roadblocks standing in your way to success? You. It’s you!! How many times have you thought about trying something new only to never actually do it? Or when was the last time that you made an excuse for why you couldn’t do something? Chances are, you are stuck in the self-sabotage cycle and don’t even see it. 

The problem that many people encounter when they are stuck on the self-sabotaging ferris wheel is that one thought or feeling leads to the next causing this vicious cycle that is hard to stop. You are literally on a ferris wheel that never stops long enough for you to get off! 

It’s easy to give you a few surface-level tips for ending the self-sabotage cycle but in all reality, you need to know WHY it’s happening before you can resolve the problem. Continue reading for the ins and outs of self-sabotage, why you are stuck on the self-sabotage ferris wheel, ways to stop it before you spiral, and journal prompts to help you move forward! 

What is self-sabotage?

Let’s start with the basics because there is a chance you don’t know what self-sabotage even means! 

Self-sabotage is defined as behaviour that interferes with our goals and creates problems in our daily lives. I’m sure you have heard of phrases like “get out of your own way” or “self-destructive behaviours”. Those are referring to self-sabotage! 

So as mentioned above, self-sabotage is a behaviour. It is something you are doing (or not doing) that is creating a problem in your life or hindering your progress. 

An example: you set a goal to lose 15 pounds. You know you need to exercise and change your eating habits. However, you skip your workouts and eat out with your friends often. Those are self-sabotaging behaviours. Your behaviour (skipping the gym and eating out) is causing you to not make goal progress. 

Sometimes our behaviours don’t always seem like they are self-inflicting. You may have “reasons” for not going to the gym. You were tired after work. You were sore from your last workout. Maybe you had something more important to do. 

It’s important to understand that even if there are “reasons” for not doing something, you are still sabotaging yourself. Only when you can see what is happening can you fix the problem.

The cycle of self-sabotage 

Now that you know what self-sabotaging is, let’s talk about the cycle (aka the self-sabotage ferris wheel).

Just like any behaviours you engage in, there is a cycle you go through before doing anything. 

In a famous experiment by B.F. Skinner showed animals and humans can be conditioned to do certain things (like pushing a lever to get food). It’s not a secret that if given a reward you are more likely to do something and repeat it again and again.

So, when it comes to doing something new (like working towards a goal), the behaviours it takes to get there can be uncomfortable. Therefore, the behaviours that you then engage in to self-sabotage are like a reward because they get you out of that scary, uncomfortable place!

Remember: your brain is ALWAYS just trying to keep you safe! Nowadays we aren’t running from bears and other life-threatening things BUT our brains still perceive discomfort as a threat. 

Related: How To Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone (+ 15 Journal Prompts)

woman reading but is distracted on her phone. Self-sabotage

How the cycle works

The self-sabotage cycle has 6 steps. Since it’s a cycle, you go through these 6 steps over and over again. 

Step 1 – You set a goal 

This is the first step in the cycle. You set a goal with the best intentions. 

Step 2 – Discomfort joins the party 

You start to feel a liiiittle nervous or uncomfortable about some of the things you need to do in order to achieve your goal. 

If your goal was to become an influencer you might start getting nervous about being on camera, talking to an audience, or reaching out to brands. 

Step 3 – Unhelpful behaviour 

This behaviour could manifest in a number of ways but some of the more common ones are procrastinating, forgetting, perfectionism, giving up, etc. 

You get in your own way by not doing whatever it is that you need to do by putting it off, forgetting to do it, and giving up before you even try… because of the discomfort you feel!

Step 4 – Feelings of guilt 

You will start feeling bad about not making progress. You might be mad at yourself for procrastinating or feel like you are a failure. That is NOT true! You are just stuck in the self-sabotage cycle.

Step 5 – Excuses for behaviour

When you struggle to make progress and feel bad about it you may try to repair your ego. It’s way easier to not feel bad when it’s not your fault. 

That is where the excuses come in. Instead of procrastinating you tell yourself you just don’t have time. Instead of admitting you’re being a perfectionist, you tell yourself that it’s just not finished yet. 

Step 6 – Cycle repeats 

You feel better about not making progress because “it’s not your fault” and you “now know why you were struggling” (aka not enough time, etc) and jump into your goal again with a “better plan”. 

the self-sabotage cycle graphic

How to stop self-sabotaging 

The first step to stopping the cycle is to know what your self-sabotaging behaviours are! This requires you to be very real with yourself. 

It may be hard to take a deep dive into why you aren’t succeeding. However, if you don’t then you will continue to do the exact same thing over and over. Remember what Albert Einstein said? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. 

Figuring out what your self-sabotaging behaviours are 

The best way to figure out what your own personal self-sabotaging behaviours are is to look at your excuses. 

What do you commonly give as reasons for not working on your goals or not achieving something?

Do you say you didn’t have time? Or that you keep forgetting about it? Maybe your reason is being too tired, too uneducated, or too busy. 

Take a deep dive into those reasons and see if they are true or not. Again, you need to be honest with yourself and be okay with the answers. Practice self-compassion!

Learn your triggers 

Triggers are behaviours or thoughts that happen prior to feeling discomfort. When you start to get those uncomfortable feelings take a step back and ask yourself why.

It could be something as simple as having a to-do list so big it’s causing you to just freeze up. Or maybe the thought of going to the gym is uncomfortable because of a negative experience. 

If you can sort out the triggers you can work around them and eventually get past them!

For example, the thought of going to the gym is uncomfortable so you want to avoid it. Instead, you decide you will start working out at home to become more comfortable (because you’ve realized what the problem is). You are still able to work towards your goals this way instead of totally giving up!

Create a new plan 

Now that you know what your self-sabotaging behaviours are and what is triggering them it’s a lot easier to create a plan to move forward in a good way. 

This part may require a little creativity. Goals and goal achievement are not black and white. There are a million ways to get to the same result so if one way is causing you stress, try another way! 

Start with asking yourself what you are comfortable with NOW. Maybe heading to the gym is a bit much today but you could start going for walks around the neighbourhood. Maybe changing your eating habits is too overwhelming today but you could start reading a book about nutrition so you are better educated! 

As you build up the confidence you will find taking the next steps to be easier. Self-sabotage is mostly self-belief based. Once you see yourself succeeding (even in small ways) you will start to believe your bigger goals are possible. 

20 journal prompts to stop self-sabotage 

01. How does not achieving my goals make me feel?

02. What is making me not take action on my goals?

03. What is one thing I can do today to move close to my goal?

04. Do I think I am worthy of success? Why or why not?

05. What is a “bad habit” that I have hindering my success?

06. Some of the first signs of my self-sabotaging are…

07. Why do I tend to make excuses for not succeeding?

08. How would I feel if I achieved my goals?

09. What are my biggest goals right now? Are these truly something I want? Why or why not?

10. When was the last time I achieved a goal I set?

11. What makes me feel confident?

12. What are 3 small steps I could take toward my goals this week?

13. What do I need to let go of in order to achieve my goals?

14. What motivates me to keep going?

15. What are 5 things I can remind myself of when I start to self-sabotage?

16. What am I really good at?

17. Is there someone who can help me stay accountable? Who?

18. Do I believe I’m able to learn new things? Do I have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

19. How would I feel if I never tried to achieve my goals and dreams?

20. When I catch myself self-sabotaging I will…

Related: How To Figure Out What You Want In Life + Journal Prompts

No one ever said ending the sabotage would be easy. Don’t feel bad if you end up back on that self-sabotage ferris wheel. It’s not going to be something you can “fix” overnight. Just keep working towards your goals and dreams and when those nasty behaviours pop up, squash them, and move on! You can do it, I believe in you ❤

What goals are you working on right now?

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