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,



  • Scott Hinkle

    Thank you for this insightful post!

    I’ve been dealing with family issues for some time now and I’ve been trying to figure out why a particular person is sabotaging every effort to help her that is placed in front of her.  I know this is a bit outside the scope of this post but your insights are just as valid for this as they are for self-reflection.

    At any rate, I can see fond memories, subconscious protection efforts and so on playing a part in our current dilemma.

    Thanks again.  This gives me a lot to reflect on and helps me to curb my frustrations with the whole situation a bit.


    • JJL

      I have someone in my family like that too, and the hard truth is you are not the one who can help no matter how much you want to. The best way to influence someone who needs to grow personally is to take the focus off of them. Your attempts may be amplifying the issues. I know you don’t mean to be hurtful in any way, but what I’ve learned is my best practice is to stay in my own lane and only work on me. The progress you make in your own personal growth will inspire your family member to “be like Scott.” Works every time, especially with my children! (Please don’t tell them the strategy, lol!) Thanks so much for sharing, I look forward to hearing the outcome.

  • Henry

    Hi Judy! This is a very interesting article and definitely worth sharing. I like the way you approach this issue of self-sabotage.

    I hadn’t put into perspective what a huge roll our subconscious plays on self-sabotage. I’m also grateful for these hacks. It takes a series of good choices and much longer to feel accomplishment but it’s definitely worth it! Thanks!

  • Mark

    I love this article. I must admit until recent years I was the worlds biggest over thinker, I was amazing at coming up with reasons not to succeed and not move on. I started to listen to people like Tony Robins and John Assaraf who are great motivators who teach you to look at everything from a different perspective and to find the true meaning of any situation.  Self sabotage seems perfectly plausible to me. 

    I am Obese and Depressed and I have always used food as a comfort because I remember the feelings that came with eating doughnuts at lunchtime with my mother when I was a child. If I feel bad which, I did most of the time I would reach for the cake. 

    I believe that all behavior  comes back to the two base feelings of Pleasure and Fear. We will do anything to get pleasure and everything to avoid fear. Do you believe that all emotions are developed through environmental pressure? Or do you think there could be some in built DNA blue print that is passed down on a subconscious level?these kinds of questions are always in my mind. 

    I would love you to give me an article that I can put on my site and link back to you as my site deals with a lot of health and well being information based around physical and mental health. I found this article very interesting and very in depth.

    Thanks for the Article.


    • JJL

      Mark, you bring into view some spectacular concepts! I’m analytical too and there is nothing wrong with that, unless it pulls you down. Also, the brain has to believe what you tell it, so use that great big imagination of yours and create your successful future like you’re watching yourself star in a movie. Try to absorb what it would feel like. For example, “What if I was successful in reaching my ideal weight, what would that feel like?” The more you stay in that state the faster it will come to you. I attended a Toby Robbins event once, wow does that guy have energy!! I’m with you on the obese and depressed thing, I’ve been there many times and I’d like to encourage you to re-word it to something like: “I’m focusing on my health.” That way you’re not claiming your fate and embedding it even further. It’s proven fact my friend, our emotions can be passed down in our DNA. Trauma is felt physically, right? That’s the reason why stress is so detrimental to your health. Well, your cells remember the trauma. I have an issue with my left hand (the thumb joint) which is the exact same issue my mother had, and there is nothing I have ever done to create that injury. If you have a physical issue and it shows up on your left side, that means it’s ancestral. (I love this stuff!) I can’t prove that what I just said is scientific fact but the info was given to me by a spiritual mentor, and almost all of what she’s told me has been scary true. Hope to hear about your progress!

  • Nice Gal Nikki

    Hi Judy! I love the style of your writing and love the topic you chose to write about today. It kind of reminds me of something I read recently speaking about how important our words we speak are. When we use negative words it creates a negative energy within ourselves so we then are self sabotaging ourselves then as well. I am going to be bookmarking your website and sharing as well. Thanks.

    • JJL

      Dear Nikki thank you so much! I wish more people would understand the use of their words hurts themselves more than it hurts others. Hence the reference to gossip in my list. Thank you for your insight and for

  • jessetoikkanen

    Great article about self-sabotage, I thought to know lots about it but obviously did not cause I learned many new things. But some of these I have been trying to avoid, especially spending time on facebook or saying yes when I should say no. How about trying almost obsessively way to avoid doing some of these, is it good or self-sabotage itself? At least it has been working or if not, I have had the right “placebo” or mindset to think it to be effective!

    • JJL

      Great question! When you are obsessed about something you need to change, you have a lack mentality. It makes it so much harder to improve because we’re constantly beating ourselves up about it. Switch it up and creat a behavior that has a positive focus on where you want to be, rather than what you need to work on. Placebo is actually a very effective treatment, it’s been proven (Dr Lipton, The Biology of Belief) that what you believe to be true is reality. So if you have a fake medication it doesn’t really matter, you can heal yourself by just believing that you are getting better. Wild stuff, thanks so much for your comment.

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