Judy J Lutz Self-Sabotage

Why Do People Sabotage Themselves?

Are you a self-saboteur? Boy, if I can help you with this one thing, it would make everything else look easy and instantly catapult your success. Why do people sabotage themselves? I think we should first talk about how people are sabotaging themselves, often without even being aware of what they’re doing!

How You Are Sabotaging Yourself, Let Me Count the Ways…

Here are just a few (off the top of my head) elusive self-sabotaging habits:

  • Pressing the snooze button.
  • Telling yourself: “I’m going to be late.”
  • Singing the song: “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
  • Telling someone else: “I’m not worried.”
  • Starting a diet.
  • Putting things off.
  • Complaining.
  • Gossiping.
  • Not speaking up.
  • Killing time on Facebook.
  • Watching TV.
  • Saying yes when you should have said no.
  • Holding onto regret.
  • Failing to forgive someone.
  • Spending money you don’t have.
  • Lying about the way you feel.

Now you may not agree with me at this point, and that’s actually another self-sabotaging habit: jumping to conclusions before you read the evidence. These are certifiable self-sabotaging behaviors, I promise.

The Science of Self-Sabotage Stems From Your Subconscious

Your brain’s #1 goal is to keep you alive, which is why we have a subconscious mind in the first place. Think of it as a massive database collecting and storing all of your knowledge and experience, both seen and unseen by the considerably inferior conscious mind. If you need clarification on what I mean by huge amounts of information, I mentioned it here. Your mind has peripheral vision, and not only that, because it’s made up of energy it, (along with your body) senses the energy around you. You know when you’re in danger, it shows up physically, like when you feel goosebumps, or a cold sweat. Imagine walking down a dark alley by yourself and sensing that someone is following you. It’s a clear threat, and the signals you are receiving are automatically prepping you for an efficient exit strategy. Your protective subconscious is lightening fast, thanks to catecholamine hormones such as epinephrine and dopamine. Let’s get to why this has everything to do with sabotaging yourself.

Your Behavior is Linked to a Memory

Classic example: an addiction to sugar. Your conscious mind knows better; sugar is not going to solve your issues. In fact, for most people it’s a real problem because it significantly increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. So how do we break the habit? Sugar is everywhere!

In my case, and I was addicted to all food, not just sugar, the taste of something sweet brought me back to my childhood. The only time I felt I was receiving attention in a positive way (I grew up in an extremely disciplined environment) was when I was being fed sugar. I remember my mother angrily scolding my grandmother for teaching me how to lather butter on my bread, smothering it with cinnamon sugar before popping it into the toaster. Not for what it was doing to me, mind you, but for what it was doing to the toaster. The only time my older sisters paid attention to me in a nice way was on my birthday; they’d bake me a fabulous cake. My mom organized a taffy pulling party one year, and in high school if I’d had a bad day she would greet me with a box of Duncan Hines Brownie Mix, and we’d eat the batter raw because who has time to watch it bake?

Yes my sweet friends, I was programmed to believe that sugar equaled love. This was the source of my decades long emotional eating/self-soothing/sabotaging pattern of destructive behavior. Did you read about the ice cream addiction I mentioned in an earlier post?  There’s much more to it, so if you haven’t already, be sure to check out that article. How is a memory of eating sugar keeping you alive when it comes to the subconscious? Comfort means safety, and safety equals survival.

Judy J Lutz

Your Brain Keeps You Safe by Helping You Avoid Pain

All of your stored experiences are the brain’s past references. In order to be efficient, the mind reverts back to your very first exposure to certain “trigger” emotions, or to be more accurate, fears.  Here’s an example that doesn’t involve food. Someone very close to me has a serious issue with being late, and he becomes extremely agitated any time he thinks I’m not going to be ready at the designated departure time. It was troubling for me because his escalating stress was being projected onto me, making me nervous and upset as well. It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but for him it really was. I finally asked him: “Did you have some kind of traumatic experience when you were a kid?” I got an immediate “yes.” My husband was a child actor, and one day he showed up to the set late, and I think he may have even lost the job after being reamed out by the director. It was an awful scene, one he will never forget, and it wasn’t even his fault.

Why Do People Sabotage Themselves?

It’s very simple and just plain obvious: we like pleasure, we avoid pain. On a subconscious level this is instinctual programming for survival. When you were a kid, what made everything better? Toys! Most of us were given toys as a reward and guess what, it worked. We still reward ourselves with toys, they’ve just gotten bigger. Toys make us happy.

Why do you think we all fail on a diet? Because everybody hates to diet! It causes pain. No one ever said: “I crave celery,” right? We have to eat that celery. We’re telling ourselves: “I hate celery,” while our subconscious mind is busy  thinking how nice it would be to eat cake. The brain has to follow your pattern of thought, as well as your true belief. Celery equals pain and should be avoided for your survival.

On the other hand, cake is awesome, it makes you feel comfortable and safe, which benefits your survival. Your subconscious mind is listening to your true feelings and if you think about how much you hate dieting, you’re done, the diet will never last. You must tell your brain that you are choosing healthier foods because you want to be healthy. This is a mindset piece, I haven’t even gotten to the biological reasons why diets fail. Trust me, there’s more. So how do we fix this?

Use Your Words

I’m a huge fan of Marisa Peer, named “Britain’s Best Therapist” by Tatler Magazine. She’s one of my best resources for understanding the power of your words, and how your body and brain are responding to them. Marisa taught me that the mind has to do what you ask. (Watch her video!) I have used her techniques many times and I can assure you, what you say to yourself in your mind as well as out loud will absolutely become your truth. You see, there’s energy behind your words. Plenty of arguments have started when someone  says something that doesn’t quite ring true, and it’s because the person they are speaking to can feel the underlying energy, they get a sense of the true belief which differs from what was said. That’s what they call “reading between the lines.” Now, the caveat is concerning…you may not even be aware of what you truly believe because it resides in your hidden subconscious, and that’s called denial.

Hidden Deceptions

Another great mentor friend of mine is Rod Hairston, author of the book “Are You Up For The Challenge?: 6 Steps to Lasting Change Starting Now, Not Someday” When I first met Rod, he said: “I haven’t heard of you yet,” and my response was: “You will!” That’s me using my words to manifest my preconceived future. Rod explains very clearly about the specific steps you go through when trying to implement change. My favorite section in the book covers “The Seven Categories of Deception.” Don’t read it unless you really want to understand how and why you’re fooling yourself. Like Marisa, he explains how powerful it is to change your thoughts, therefore you’re emotions and behavior, by changing the specific words you are using. It’s a simple fix, we just need to train ourselves to use different words.

Three Words to Eliminate from Your Vocabulary

Lastly, and this is really cool, there are three common little words which are consistently sabotaging your efforts, and you use them all the time. They are: “don’t, not and no.” These are words that your subconscious brain doesn’t recognize, it actually cancels them out.

If I were to tell you “not” to visualize a pink giraffe sitting on a snowy mountaintop, you would instantly see it in your mind, right? Instead of saying: “You’re not listening to me,” isn’t it much more effective to say: “Hear me?” Flip the negative to the positive and communicate what you want and mean more clearly.

Yes, “Don’t Stop Believing” is telling yourself to stop believing. “I don’t care” means I care. “Don’t make a mess” means make a mess. “No rush” means rush. “I’m not criticizing you” means I’m criticizing you. Can you feel it now? It’s that whole thing about the energy behind the words, and these hidden subconscious beliefs are making a significant impact on your behavior.

You might want to try this out for yourself. Make a list of the negative things you say all the time, and then create more powerful statements of affirmation. Here’s an example: when approaching the pantry, instead of saying: “don’t eat that” try saying: “walk away.” It will make a huge difference in your attitude and therefore your result.

It Boils Down to Biology

Your brain is producing chemical messengers (hormones) in response to your words, and these messengers spur your emotions. I took a wonderful course by Jen Sincero through DailyOm  entitled “You are a Badass at Habits,” where she uses a beautiful bus metaphor. It goes something like this: “Your beliefs are driving the bus. They take you where you’re going whether you’re paying attention or not. Your thoughts are the tour guide, your words reflect your thoughts and beliefs, your emotions are the fuel, and your actions pave the road.” What a great explanation for all that we’ve talking about here.

We’re just scratching the surface on this subject, and we can always discuss this subject further over on my Facebook page: Mindset Mastery, but check out my “2 Minute Tips” video first. Thanks!

Hope it was helpful,



  • Wendy

    I can totally relate to the sugar addiction as I struggled with obesity most of my adult life. The food is only a part of the equation. Getting healthy requires changing how you eat, but also reprogramming your brain. I was taught as a child that food is love. So as an adult, I used food to help me feel better when I was feeling stressed, sad or angry. The bottom line is, food is not love. Once I realized that, there was a switch that went off in my head. 

    • JJL

      Exactly! Bravo Wendy, you are way ahead of the majority and unfortunately so many of us equate food with love. Just thing about every family gathering, it’s always involving food. I started studying the mindset thing when I was working as a health coach, I had a simply laid out plan for moving forward, the easiest steps possible and my people were not able to follow the directions. I had to know why, and hopefully now that I’ve done some research I can help people more effectively. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Eric

    Phenomenal read. I am one of those people who is always self-sabotaging myself. Sometimes I find I’m on the brink of success and just walk away because of the fear that comes with making something happen that might be good for me, which I don’t feel I deserve. I agree our brain has ways of trying to get out of painful moments, moments I think we need to experience to stop self-harm or sabotage. Great post. 

    • JJL

      Ouch you sound like me with that fear of success thing, absolutely spot on! Thank you so much Eric, and you will get past that for sure now that you know where it comes from. Self-worth is the biggest challenge. Think about the first thing you heard as a child that you remember when someone made you feel small. For me it was the fight over the tv station we were watching, my older sister took away all of my power. Sound so silly but it

  • Justin

    WOW. I love this article. It’s so important to understand these bits of information. If you are reading this comment and you didn’t pay close attention to the information within this article then you are “sabotaging yourself” right now. Go and finish the read and really take the time to look deep within. The fact that you are possibly self sabotaging yourself means that you have been holding yourself back from life in many ways. Wouldn’t you agree Judy?

    Can’t wait to chat with you more



    • JJL

      Justin you are my hero! Thanks so much for backing me buddy, I really appreciate it!!! I do agree, we have so much unrealized potential. You rock. Ready to chat any 😘

  • Pentrental

    Great question Judy and thank you for such a thorough post. As far as the alarm clock goes, I am definitely a snoozer I must admit haha. Don’t Stop Believing by Journey lol. This is a great list and I appreciate your humor as it helps to alleviate the seriousness of the matter, which is a form of prevention in itself I would think. The science of self-sabotage stems from your subconscious, I like that. To me it means that rather than sweeping things under the rug we should meet them head on and confront them. And I agree it’s called denial when we are not even aware of what we truly believe. Marisa Peer and Hairston look like they have solid information and understanding of the matter so I will definitely check out their work further. Don’t, not and no can be destructive words and now I will remain more conscious of them when speaking my words. Great insights and I am looking forward to seeing more 🙂

    • JJL

      Many thanks! i agree, we tend to cover up the true seriousness and you are absolutely right in the way you recommend we handle our setbacks. Who was it who said “The only way to get out of hell is to go through it?” Funny enough, sometimes it just takes a few minutes to acknowledge our truths and then we can let them go entirely without hesitation. Much better to do that then to have that constant background

  • Gaurav Gaur

    Hi, Judy.
    I liked your idea to flip the negative question with positive words. It seems quite interesting and practical.
    Half of our tensions can be taken care of if the mindset is positive. We just need to consciously work upon them and the rest of the outcome will be positive. We just need to flow with the flow in a positive direction.
    Warm Regards,
    Gaurav Gaur

    • JJL

      Thank you Gaurav! Yes it’s all about the flow, and sometimes a sluggish start is all you need. As long as you start you will then be able to create momentum. (It’s all about the action, no matter how small.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.