Self-Sabotage vs Procrastination

Self-Sabotage vs Procrastination

Self-Sabotage vs Procrastination

Following on from the last article on procrastination. A question came up on the distinction between procrastination and self-sabotage. Take a look below as to how self-sabotage might present and how to tackle it.

Whilst self-sabotage can include procrastination, self-sabotage has a stronger intention behind it.

With self-sabotage we intentionally (albeit not necessarily with full awareness) stop, damage, or obstruct a goal, through action or inaction. We typically use excuses or blame-shifting. Most of us will have done this at some point, particularly when younger.

However, if it is a recurring theme, or has its focus in one area, it can be extremely damaging. Sabotaging a significant life, or career goal. Damaging relationships at work or at home (or our reputation at work).

Self-Sabotage Themes

As with procrastination, the behaviours manifest differently for everyone, however, here are some common recurring themes.

1. Avoiding by:

  • blaming self (i.e. I am just x)
  • blaming others (i.e. when the children grow up, if my boss had)
  • being late, forgetting a deadline/meeting, not turning up with the tools (or trainers to the gym for example)
  • not asking for clarification or help
  • keeping busy with unimportant tasks
  • setting goals that are too low or too high
  • blaming external circumstances

Often phrased as’ if x [existed/didn’t exist] then I [would/would not] y’

2. Starting the task/activity/conversation but:

  • putting in minimal effort in preparation
  • not completing the activity to the higher standard available to us
  • making an obvious mistake
  • starting an argument/controlling or micro-managing others
  • refusing to ask for help or speaking up if needed
  • staying up late the night before and being in poor form for an important meeting
  • not completing the task
  • delaying starting or completing the task to prove a point


Whatever the behaviour. It is typically driven by an unfavourable belief about ourselves, accompanied by the worry of success (everyone will hate me), or the risk of failure (the proof we were right to think poorly of ourselves).

It keeps us stuck in a cycle and we are unhappy.

Whilst we think the excuse or blame-shift provides an excuse for not doing well or doing it at all. And indeed, others may even sympathise with our ‘reasons’. Deep down we don’t believe it.
The action or inaction, including minimal effort, means we typically do not achieve the desired outcome for the activity, ourselves, or our lives. This, in turn, further erodes our self-confidence, self-assurance, and self-esteem.

To have a different outcome, we need to change the input.

5-Top Tips for Tackling Self Sabotage

1. Notice our thoughts – what unfavourable beliefs are we repeating to ourselves, including those about our worth? Take a look at the list of beliefs from the previous article. As I mentioned, the words we use have a significant impact on our beliefs and unconscious reactions.
2. Notice our themes – what are our self-sabotaging behaviours? Think about some goals, tasks, relationships, that may have been impacted. What do you do? We want to notice where our behaviours, and reactions, are out of alignment with what we say we want.
3. Notice our emotions – what is the first emotion that comes up, that might cause us to want to obstruct ourselves or others? What sits behind that, perhaps initial defensiveness, anger, a sense of worthlessness, failing.
4. Choose some small goals – find some tasks or goals that feel a bit challenging and start taking action by practising new approaches and behaviours. It may take a little time to create new thoughts and behaviours. However, these steps will help establish how we want to think, react, and behave instead. Strengthening our self-esteem.
5. Find support – find ways to safely become more self-aware, and obtain support where needed. It may be journaling, talking to your boss, a friend, a family member, a coach, or therapist. Find what also helps you from reacting in the moment. As touched on last in the procrastination article, dancing, singing, walking, moving in some way, meditation, mindfulness, or belly-breathing, can break the instant reaction.

If you notice that you have self-sabotaged in the past, don’t let time be another reason to avoid taking action. It is not too late!

p.s. remember that self-sabotage can also arise if the activity conflicts with our values in some way


About Simona Hamblet

Simona is a specialist coach & hypnotherapist, working with lawyers for the past six years helping them to create the firms & lives that they want. Simona also has over 20 years of experience as an employment solicitor & partner in a dual-office law firm (focusing on staff development & business growth).

You May Also Like