Five Steps to Stop Self-Sabotaging, in Every Area of Your Life

I’ve lived long enough at this point to know what isn’t good for me. I know eating too many sweets puts weight on me. I know skipping the gym for weeks at a time leaves me feeling tired and depleted. I know engaging with a certain someone only leads to heartbreak. I know these things like I know the sun is coming up tomorrow, and yet I’ve not been able to stop myself from choosing any of them for good. Eventually, I succumb to the chocolate. Eventually, I sleep in instead of lifting weights before work. Eventually, I answer his calls or texts, or I call or text him myself. Sometimes I even see him.

I know these choices aren’t going to lead me to the future I desire, but I can’t seem to choose what I know is best for me on a consistent basis. Eventually, I do what I know I shouldn’t.

“Self-sabotage is knowing better, but doing it anyway,” says yoga teacher and health and wellness coach Sarajean Rudman, a Kripalu faculty member. Even though we know the consequences of self-sabotage, we become addicted to the bad feelings it engenders: “Feeling bad can become an addiction, just like feeling good can,” Sarajean says.

Sarajean says the reason is that neural pathways get created when we do something repeatedly, whether it’s something good for us or something bad. Apparently, the reason we keep making the same mistakes, she explains, is that we unwittingly slip back into these existing neural pathways. Until we can create new, healthier ones, we seem to default to the familiar, even though it hurts.

So how do we create healthier default patterns that lead us to the futures we desire?


“When we pause and breathe, we can choose how we want to respond,” Sarajean says. Instead of being in a state of fight-or-flight in which we react to stimuli in a knee-jerk fashion, we consciously stop before we take action.

In the pause, Sarajean says, we can begin to choose how to respond. We may have an easier time turning down that food that isn’t good for us, or refraining from answering that phone call that we know will only lead to an argument. “Pausing is the hardest thing to do,” says Sarajean. “Even people who practice meditation regularly have difficulty with this, but when we do it, we empower ourselves.”

Use words that design your life instead of describing it.

“To design the life you want to live, start using words that are positive,” Sarajean says. “Instead of saying, ‘I never do yoga,’ begin to say, ‘Today I will do five minutes of yoga.’ Focus on what’s working versus what isn’t.” Sarajean says those of us who self-sabotage (which, apparently, includes all of us at one time or another) can become addicted to complaining about what isn’t working in our lives, which creates more of the same.

If it feels phony to make design-your-life statements that clearly aren’t true, like, “I make over six figures a year,” or “I can run a marathon,” Sarajean suggests focusing less in that case on specific actions than on how you want to feel as a result of them. You might say, “I feel safe and secure paying my bills,” or “My legs are feeling strong and my stamina is increasing.”

“Use words that manifest the feelings you want to feel,” she notes.

Keep good company.

Keep people around who won’t let you get lost in your story of what isn’t working, but instead keep you focused on your goals, Sarajean advises. Sometimes that means redefining your relationship with friends who tend to be negative (perhaps finding new topics of conversation), and it may even mean keeping a distance from certain friends. Who you spend time with matters, even on a physical level. “Research has proven that we’re more likely to get type 2 diabetes if we spend time with people who have type 2 diabetes,” Sarajean says.

Nurture self-awareness.

Sarajean offers this exercise: A few times a day, take 10 minutes to sit quietly. Take 10 breaths as you focus on your physical body and ask yourself, How do I feel in my physical body? Then ask, What do I need in my physical body? Do the same for your psychological body and your emotional body. See what comes up in each arena.

When we begin to take inventory of how we’re feeling without judgment, we start to get in touch with our hearts. “Then we can begin to see what we really need,” Sarajean explains.

Ask yourself one question.

Sarajean suggests asking yourself this question anytime you do anything: Is this action supporting my life or is it supporting my death? It’s a stark reality check, for sure, but Sarajean says that question was the saving grace that helped her recover from an eating disorder.

When we take actions that support our lives, we begin creating new neural pathways that, in time, produce new, healthier default behaviors. “What happens is that we become more resilient,” says Sarajean. “We begin to trust ourselves. We start knowing that we can handle whatever the world throws at us.”

Find out about upcoming programs with Sarajean Rudman at Kripalu.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

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Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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