Striving for perfection, exploring your options, working under pressure, and being in control. These all sound like the traits of someone who wants to achieve their goals. However, they also have the potential to derail them. When you take the behaviors too far, you can hurt yourself and your career, says Candice Seti, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Self-Sabotage Behavior Workbook.
“Some of us self-sabotage more frequently than others, and some of us sabotage ourselves in a way that is more debilitating, but we all do it,” she says. “Actually, it’s not a question of if we self-sabotage; the better question is how we respond to it and whether or not we fight it.”
To determine if you’re sabotaging yourself, consider these traits that sound positive on the surface but may have negative implications in the long term:
1. Thriving Under Pressure
Some of us work well when we’re under the pressure of a deadline. While this can be a positive trait in an emergency, it’s a form of self-sabotage if you use it as a crutch to trigger focus. Thriving under pressure is also known as procrastination.
“People play tricks on themselves, thinking that the added pressure is helpful,” says Seti. “They convince themselves that they do their best work under a time crunch. Waiting to start action is unproductive. It sets you up to believe that you can only achieve by putting things off. But you never get ahead.”
2. Thoroughly Exploring Your Options
Gathering a lot of information can be helpful for making decisions. But someone who is an over-thinker—thinking everything to death—can sabotage the process instead of supporting it. Too much information shifts your emphasis to a negative spiral of anxious thoughts of “What if?”
“When you’re an over-thinker, you feel a need to look at every aspect and gather all of the information you may need,” says Seti. “But what you’re doing is over-focusing and creating self-doubt. You’re stripping yourself of confidence and forcing yourself to keep researching until you reach certainty. But certainty never comes.”
3. Being in Control
Staying in control and never being caught off guard sounds like someone who is good at preparation. But if always being in the driver’s seat becomes your main focus, you can easily turn into a control freak.
“Being in control and always prepared seem like positives,” says Seti. “But they can also lead to becoming fearful of situations when you’re not in control. People who feel unprepared may avoid situations, which reinforces their anxiety. As a result, they limit their exposure and engagement in their social and work life.”
4. Striving for Excellence
Wanting to do something perfectly can be a great thing. But just as craving control can turn into being a control freak, striving for perfection can lead to becoming a perfectionist.
“The perfectionist is saying, ‘Look at me. Look at the wonderful things I’m doing,'” says Seti. “But the problem is that perfection is rarely achieved in any environment. No matter what you do, you can always find ways to make something more perfect. Striving for perfection creates an impossible standard and a self-critical outlook. It’s an all-or-nothing behavior loop that lowers your self-worth.”
What to Do If You Recognize Yourself
The first step is acknowledging that you are self-sabotaging. Seti suggests monitoring your behavior and thought patterns and starting a self-sabotage log.
“Pay attention to the negative thoughts or voices in your head,” she says. “If they’re causing you to not do something, decide if it’s a helpful response or not.”
Once you identify potential negative behaviors, plan to respond accordingly. For example, Seti suggests doing the action that’s opposite to your self-sabotage. If you think you work better under pressure, for example, decide to try doing it right away to see what happens. If you need to feel in control, say “yes” to a request where you feel outside of your comfort zone.
“Pay attention to how you feel in these situations,” says Seti. “Did you do a better job with more time? Did you survive the experience where you felt unprepared? Give yourself data and evidence and facts to show you where your self-sabotaging behaviors may be steering you wrong.”
People who sabotage themselves often have self-esteem issues that could benefit from confidence building, says Seti. “It’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation,” she says. “When you have low confidence, you’re more likely to rely on behaviors that support those feelings.”
Write down a list of what makes you wonderful, special, and unique. Take time to acknowledge your efforts and what you’ve done well.
“Find ways to pat yourself on the back,” says Seti. “Focus on the positive, adopt a self-affirming mantra, and challenge those automatic thoughts of self-sabotage. Anything you can do to focus on the positive will go a long way to build confidence and shed self-sabotaging behaviors.”