The Art Of Self Sabotage

Sabotage (Photo credit: wellkeptthing)

“Self sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.”   Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

A talkative mouse was trapped in a flood, desperately clinging to the side of a lily pad – and sinking fast! A helpful owl came to his rescue.  As the tides rose ever higher, the owl said to the talkative mouse.  “You are rescued and will live but I’ve noticed you talk a lot.  Promise me you’ll keep your mouth closed around my legs and on no account open it, or you’ll fall to your fate!”  “Of course!” said the mouse, who proceeded to clamp his mouth onto his feathered rescuer’s landing gear.  They took off and flew across the floods.  The owl was about to land on some high ground, but the mouse decided he wanted to alight some other place to get dry.  “Not there…” shouted the mouse, but those were the last words he ever spoke as he fell into the swirling waters below.

It is a simple story with some profound truths.  Could the mouse have prevented his demise?  For sure!  Yet we are so often like the talkative mouse, hijacking our own success.  In a recent survey 93% of people surveyed indicated that they self-sabotage in more than one area of their life.  Poor money management, bad eating habits, and negative behaviours were amongst the highest areas of self destruction.  In fact we seem to have made self sabotage an art form.  For example, if you want good health but your diet consists of fast and processed food, you are doing it the wrong way.  If a toned body is what you seek to achieve but you’d rather sit in front of the television instead of hitting the gym or taking some brisk walks, you can forget your dream.  Maybe you want prosperity or wealth but you keep putting it off waiting for the appropriate time or opportunity.

So what is self-sabotaging behaviour and how do we recognize it?  Basically, every action you take that detracts or distracts you from accomplishing a goal you set is a form of self-sabotage.  It is the art of ‘shooting yourself in the foot.’  “Sabot” is the French word for a wooden shoe.  Sabotage, then, was the practice of throwing a wooden shoe into the machinery to stop the work.  It has come to mean any attempt to hinder production or spoil a product.  Nathan Collier said, “Self-sabotaging behaviour is anything you do that holds you back, keeps you from being your best self.  Self-sabotaging behaviour is rarely 100% negative; there is usually a short term payoff.  Trouble is, by definition, the long term consequences far outweigh the short term benefits.  So why do we indulge?  Because the one benefit is upfront, in our face, immediate, real.  The consequences are down the road, almost like they belong to someone else.  Our present self gets the benefit, some future self gets to pay the price.”

I recall a particular incident on one of my workshops where a young man had been given an internship opportunity with a local company with the potential of making a career for himself.  As part of the deal the company allowed him to attend the workshop, which was about how to make good choices to give yourself the best chance of success.  At lunchtime on day one this young man asked if he could quickly draw money at a nearby ATM.  I said sure, no problem, but that was the last I saw of him.  He simply never came back.  Not just that, the company never saw him again either.  He simply chose to waste the opportunity he had been given.  I thought about it a lot afterwards and wondered what had gone through his mind?  How did he make the decision to blow this chance he had been given?

Well, we may not realize it, but we are all a lot more like the young man than we think. gives us 7 signs or statements we make that demonstrate self sabotaging behaviour.  Do any of them sound like you?

1. “I can’t because _____.”

2. “I messed up, so I’m going to quit.”

3. “ I’ll do it later…”

4. “What if something bad happens?”

5. “What will people think if…..?”

6. “I don’t like change.”

7. “It wasn’t my fault!”

Well, do you ever talk like this?  Are you starting to see yourself as the talkative mouse?  The more to you recognize that self-sabotage is holding you back, the more you will be able to overcome it.  Figure out what you want in life, and just decide to go do it.  Recognize when you’re self-sabotaging, correct it, and keep trudging along.  We have seen the public demise of the rich and famous many times, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, to name a few.  They all allowed certain destructive behaviours and negative habits to control them.  We ask how they could allow this, yet when we look inside we are no different to them.  So we need some real, practical solutions.

Firstly, the key is to recognize the triggers: the situations, emotions, thoughts, people, stimuli, feelings that prompt self-destructive behaviour.  Knowing your personal triggers for negative behaviour allows you to make the choice to substitute them with positive behaviours that address much or all of the same need.

Secondly, do what works for you to achieve whatever you seek to be, do, or have.  The positive actions are different for each of us, but find what will work for you.  Do you need to create certain disciplines in your life?  Do you need to change some of the people you hang around with?  Do you need to call on any external help like a coach, mentor or support group?

Thirdly, do not do what doesn’t work.  Be clear on what your destructive behaviours are and make the choice to stay away from them.  Replace them with positive behaviours and actions and stick to your decisions.

So, if up to now, your goals have always seemed to be just out of reach, you are currently settling for less than you really want, and you find yourself road-blocked on the way to your dreams, there is a good chance that it is because of self sabotaging behaviours.

Mary Evans said, “I have never been contained except I made the prison.”  Maybe it’s time to stop surrounding yourself with excuses, mediocrity, blaming, fear, over-analyzing, procrastination, and so forth.  Maybe this letter is your ‘helpful owl, coming to rescue you and take you to dry ground.  It’s up to you to grab hold of its legs with everything you have and accept the moment of rescue as a chance to do better next time.  I know this is something I need to do.  How about you?

Have a wonderful week

Your friend


If you have any questions or feedback about “The Art Of Self Sabotage” please email me at, I would love to hear from you.

Antony Jennings is an international trainer, consultant and motivational speaker based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  Antony writes this free weekly mentoring letter to support and encourage those who are serious about taking charge of their lives.  You will find an archive of his letters at or

You may think it is a cop-out to just copy someone else’s newsletter as my own blog post – but I have referenced Antony Jennings and he is a far more prolific writer than what I could ever dream to be.  And what he says here is so true – and we all know by now what my self sabotaging behaviour is – my negative thinking and always expecting the worst.  At least I am aware of it, and will continue to work on it until it is no more.  Thank you Antony Jennings for a very insightful newsletter – thank you.


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