How to Overcome Self Sabotage & Achieve Your Goals

Susi Elkins, a media producer and mother of two in Michigan, has a lot of lofty goals: Be more careful with her money. Exercise regularly. Express her creative side by writing every day. Eat healthy, whole foods. Keep better track of her budget.

Unfortunately, Susi also seems to run up against a lot of roadblocks. The healthy meal she intended to cook for her family's dinner? More often than not, she comes up just one key ingredient short, throws in the oven mitt and grabs some takeout. That pair of pants she decided to buy when they were on sale? Checking in frequently to monitor the price gives her an excuse to go back to the store again and again... where she inevitably ends up blowing a lot more money on stuff she never knew she needed. Planning to hit the gym after work? Her bag always seems to be missing some vital item, like a sports bra or socks.

It could seem like bad luck or simply poor planning, but Susi doesn't think so; she's beginning to realize the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways she sabotages herself. The healthy meals, for example: "Even if I go to the store to buy what I need for a specific meal, I almost always come up short," Susi says. "It's like I know that I won't feel like getting up early to put it all together and get it in the crock pot, so if I forget something I can just say ‘Oh well. It will be easier to eat out anyway.'"

When we're excited about embarking on a new journey—whether it's a fitness plan or a new career—it sometimes seems like that enthusiasm can carry us through to success. But often, old habits and patterns start creeping in, tainting our enthusiasm with anxiety or boredom. Or, we may expect our partners to be just as enthusiastic as we are about our intended changes, and we allow their less-than-eager reactions to derail us-and maybe even feel relieved. After all, it's not my fault my husband canceled the gym membership or stocked the fridge with a month's supply of soda, is it?

Sometimes, we may not even recognize that we're being sabotaged—by ourselves or someone else—until things fall apart and we're left with a wimpy bank balance, sagging exercise plan, and a corn-syrup-and-caffeine rush.

Self-sabotage and partner sabotage alike often stem from the same emotions and deep-down baggage: fear, insecurity, and comfort with what we're used to—even if what we're used to leaves a lot to be desired. "Even though they make us miserable, these patterns are often our comfort zone," says Bo Forbes, PhD, psychologist and yoga instructor.

And what looks like a lack of support—and therefore, love—on the part of a significant other could actually mean quite the opposite: according to Cynthia Sass, registered dietitian and author of Your Diet is Driving Me Crazy: When Food Conflicts Get In The Way of Your Love Life, a sabotaging response to your goals—whether it's obvious or subtle—is often related to insecurity over losing you. "He may fear you're going to change and leave him behind" when you make a life change, Sass says.

But we don't have to sabotage our goals—or let others do it to us. Here are a few tips that can keep you from putting obstacles in your own way—and help you jump over any roadblocks others may throw up:

Move That Body—Work That Brain

According to Forbes, old patterns will continue to emerge unless we get the right and left sides of our brains working in sync—combining some kind of mental work (reading, meditation, journaling) with a physical activity like yoga, exercise, or tai chi. And if your significant other is feeling left out by your new motivation, try getting him or her involved.

Just Do It. Now.

Sometimes careful planning is action's enemy, as Susi Elkins realized when she tried to create a schedule for daily writing. "If I plan to write at night, I'll have a glass of wine with dinner and then become too tired. If I plan to write in the morning, I'll stay up too late and then can't wake up in the morning," admits Susi. Planning can be great, but it also gives us a lot of time to come up with new ways to sabotage ourselves. Sometimes we just have to seize—or steal—any free moment we can in order to make things happen. Once we get in the habit of acting instead of over-planning and over-thinking, we can try planning again.

...But Don't Rush It

Taking action is smart, but expecting instant results is a sure recipe for sabotage: when you don't reach your goals right away, it's easy to become discouraged and use it as an excuse to give up. "When you're making a transformation, keep in mind that it takes time," says Bo Forbes. "Valuing the goal over the process is a mistake." Instead, try to find joy and pleasure in the process of changing instead of charging full-on toward a finish line. After all, in the long run you'll be a lot better off if you, say, get in shape slowly doing an activity you love than if you force yourself to go to a class you hate for four weeks then give up.


Maybe your boyfriend misses the way you two used to bond over beer and pizza. Or maybe he's afraid you're hoping to trim down, tone up—and then replace him with a slimmer model as well. Maybe he doesn't even realize you're trying to eat better because you haven't clearly said so—or because your actions aren't matching up with your intentions. Either way, you'll never know unless you ask, using plenty of those ubiquitous "I" statements: ("I feel like you're not happy about the changes I'm making. Is there something I can do to make this easier for you?").

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