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How to Change Your Self-Destructive Behaviors


If you’ve ever engaged in all night drinking marathon the night before a big exam, procrastinated until the last minute to pay bills, filed your income tax forms after the deadline, waited until Christmas day to do all of your shopping or stopped at the Oberweiss drive-thru for a large chocolate shake with whipped cream and a cookie when you have been diligently following a healthy eating plan, you have engaged in self-handicapping behavior, also referred to as self-sabotaging behavior.

eating doughnuts

Self-destructive behaviors take on a multitude of forms, but almost all can be overcome by replacing them with positive behaviors instead.

In a study by the Educational Psychology Review, self-handicapping is defined as “creating impediments to successful performance on tasks that the individual considers important.” 

The focus of this particular study was on academic self-handicapping, where the subjects took a self-esteem protective strategy by withholding efforts on a task such as studying for an exam in order to “save face” when they then got back poor grades.

The Three Major Causes of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors … and How to Overcome Them

Research shows that there are three major categories of self-sabotaging behaviors: procrastination, overindulging and fear of failure. Below are detailed descriptions of each of these behaviors followed by what you can do to overcome them.

Self-Sabotaging through Procrastination

One of the quickest and most surefire ways to sabotage potential successes is through procrastination. The negative impacts of procrastination extend over to your health, finances, work and relationships.

In a Psychology Today article, leading experts on procrastination uncovered the below revealing characteristics of procrastinators.

  • Most procrastinators frequently manifest as a form of rebellion from being raised by domineering, controlling parents that unknowingly stifled the child’s ability to regulate themselves and act on their own intentions.

Being raised under these circumstances usually results in the procrastinator turning to friends for support rather than their parents. The friends then perpetuate the procrastinator cycle by showing more tolerance to their excuses than the parents would.

  • Procrastinators have the tendency to drink more alcohol, which further solidifies evidence of self-regulation problems and avoidance methods that often accompany procrastination.

  • Some of the common lies that procrastinators tell themselves are “I work best under pressure,” or “Working under pressure makes me creative.” Unfortunately these lies don’t motivate them to get the job done the next day nor do they help instill creativity.

  • Experts have identified three specific types of procrastinators:

  • Arousal -- thrill-seekers who wait until the last minute to experience the euphoric rush

  • Avoiders -- attempt to avoid the fear of failure, care what others think of them and would prefer others thought they were lacking in effort, not necessarily ability

  • Decisional -- unable to make a decision, which they believe excuses them from responsibilities

The heavy costs of procrastination range from health problems such as compromised immune systems, more colds and flu, gastrointestinal problems and insomnia to other major areas of life such as the workplace and relationship troubles.

Don’t Put off Today … Tips on Overcoming Your Procrastinating Ways

If the thought of giving up your procrastinating ways elicits a physical resistance in your body, force yourself to put one foot in front of the other and start with these simple techniques:


Procrastination can interfere with both your work and personal lives … but you can nip it in the bud by setting short time limits for your daily tasks and rewarding yourself for each task completed.

  • Whatever your task is, start by breaking it up into segments and tackle one a day. You can even set a timer and tell yourself you need to complete your task before the timer goes off.  Be specific with writing down your tasks and be careful not to write them in a way that sets you up for failure such as “Go on a diet.”

  • Set a reward for yourself once the job is done. This could be a manicure, massage or dinner with a friend.

  • Take some time for self reflection and ask yourself why you are putting off a certain task and if you find your excuse has anything to do with potential failure, start it immediately.

  • Practice visualization and meditation by forming a mental picture in your mind of whatever it is you are worried about that is blocking you from a task and then replace that thought with a positive resolution.

Put in as much detail as you can into the visualization and imagine how you see, hear and feel when you are doing it. By practicing these techniques you will be able to let go of needless worrying, start thinking positive thoughts and get your goals accomplished. It may help to do your visualizations along with a relaxation CD. At SixWise we love the Pure Relaxation: Guided Meditations for Body, Mind & Spirit CD by respected meditation expert Mary Maddux.

The guided meditations and music on this CD calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body.

  • Get a good night’s sleep: When we sleep, the stress hormone cortisol is lowered, but when we are sleep deprived, cortisol levels rise. Further, your energy levels will go down and you'll be less able to cope with any setbacks during your day. With guided sleep meditations by a leading meditation expert, Mary Maddux, and music by a renowned meditation music composer with 20 years experience, the Sleep Easy CD will help you fall asleep fast, and find deep rest ... at an incredible price.

Sleep Easy CD users have reported:

  • Falling asleep faster

  • Waking up less throughout the night

  • Falling back to sleep faster when awakened during the night

  • Feeling more rested the next morning

  • Self-Sabotaging through Overindulging 

Overindulgence most often happens as an unconscious response and people experience it when they’re unable or unwilling to face reality or to acknowledge the implications of the situation.

For example, while strictly following a new way of healthy eating for over a month, you may find yourself dropping a bag of Reeses, frozen pizzas and peanut butter cookies in your grocery cart on your next shopping trip, justifying it by telling yourself it’s for your husband/wife or kids, knowing deep down that is not true.

Experts say that by engaging in this kind of behavior you are your own enemy and participating in a form of self-sabotage to your own goals.

Tell Yourself You Deserve a Healthy Body

The first step to take in dealing with diet sabotage and overindulging issues is to recognize that it is happening. If you find the times that you engage in overindulging you are feeling sorry for yourself, ask yourself what the true, underlying emotions really are.

By doing this, you may find that you are eating to fill an emotional void such as boredom, sadness that your partner is out of town or loneliness because you are spending a Saturday evening alone.

Here are some tips to help you the next time you get the urge to overindulge:

  • Take part of your lunch break at work to go for a walk so you’re taking the focus off of food

  • Find a healthy eating partner either at home or at work and set common goals together

  • If you begin to engage in negative talk, stop yourself and ask what are you feeling at that moment

  • Make plans for a fun vacation once your goal is achieved

  • Be prepared to deal with stress in a healthy manner … before it drives you to overeat and gain weight. To keep the stress levels from driving you to overindulge, the staff at encourages you to try Staying Healthy in a Stressful World, the highly praised CD by Dr. Peter Reznik, one of the most respected mind/body integrative therapists of our time. The program will actually help you to embark on a practice for transforming your stress into life-enhancing experiences.

Self-Sabotaging through Fears of Failure

Most people avoid feedback and criticism like the plague and this is especially true when it comes to performance review time at work or taking an exam at school. The thought of being criticized or failing snowballs into seemingly insurmountable proportions and causes people to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as denial and procrastination, with results that can negatively impact their work, health and organization.

You can take control of life and find out all of the possibilities and goodness that life has to offer once you let go of the fear of failure.

To get you on the path to following your dreams and accomplishing your goals, here are some practical techniques to overcome your fears:

  • Consider the high price of missed opportunities and delve into alternatives -- Without taking any risks in life, you’ll never know what opportunities lay in store for you. Fear of the unknown can cause a sense of paralysis in people struggling with pursuing their dreams. Once you’ve done your research and are informed of the possible consequences of a situation it lessens the fear of failure and makes it easier to move forward.
  • Understand the benefits of failure -- Put the worst-case scenario in perspective and ask yourself if you set out to do something and failed in the process, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Chances are the answer isn’t as nearly catastrophic as your thoughts had conjured up. As the saying goes, “As one door closes, another opens,” just as each failure represents another opportunity for growth.
  • Take action -- One of the best plans of action for reducing fear and building confidence is making the first step and going for it. After you accumulate all of your knowledge and research, you are ready to take your first step and each step after that you will feel more confident and your fears will become more manageable.
SixWise Ways!
SixWise Says ...

Your level of self-control can be depleted by simple, daily decisions, research shows. You can help to reserve some of your willpower -- and thereby reduce your risk of engaging in self-destructive behaviors -- by delegating unimportant choices to others.


Recommended Reading

Devastatingly Addictive Behaviors vs. Good Addictions ... How to Replace One With the Other

Taking Risks: How to Take Calculated Risks to Get Ahead in Anything

How to Break Free from the Self-Sabotaging 'People-Pleasing' Habits in Your Relationships


Psychology Today

The New York Times January 6, 2009

Psychology Today May 2, 2008

Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001

Science Daily March 2, 2009

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