10 Self-Defeating Behaviours You Need to Avoid

Stuck in a cycle of self-defeating behaviours? Discover why they occur and how to break free. From procrastination to negative self-talk, we've all been there. But there's hope. Become a healthier, happier you.

People self-destructively obsessing over things that only bring themselves more harm.

Imagine standing at the edge of a precipice. You're ready to take a leap towards your dreams and aspirations. But just as you gather the courage to jump, something pulls you back. This stumbling block is none other than self-defeating behaviours. They lurk in our thoughts, emotions, and actions. They silently undermine our efforts and sabotage our chances of realising our goals. We might not always be aware of it, but these destructive behaviours can become habitual.

In this blog post, we will explore the concept of self-defeating behaviours. We'll then uncover 10 common self-defeating behaviours you need to steer clear of. Not to worry, though! We'll also provide practical tips on how to overcome them, so you can start your journey towards a healthier mindset and lifestyle.

What is self-defeating behaviour?

Self-defeating behaviour refers to actions, thoughts, or patterns that work against us. They undermine our own progress, happiness, and ability to achieve goals. We may intentionally or subconsciously engage in them. They can become so deep-rooted that they prevent us from reaching our full potential.

These behaviours can manifest in various forms and harm different aspects of our lives. They arise from a combination of psychological, emotional, and social factors. Understanding these behaviours is crucial for self-awareness and initiating positive change.

Think about the person who wants to lose weight, but eats unhealthy food late at night. Or the student who dreams of earning straight A's, but ends up procrastinating on their studies. These are examples of self-defeating behaviour.

What causes self-defeating behaviour?

Self-defeating behaviours do not arise out of thin air. They arise from self-destructive patterns. There are root causes behind their rise and persistence. These reinforce the path leading to negative outcomes.

Past experiences and conditioning

Our past experiences play a significant role in shaping our behaviours and beliefs. Trauma, hurtful events, or failures can cause emotional pain, which develops self-destructive behaviours. We also learn these behaviours through conditioning and observation.

Self-criticism, pessimism, or avoidance in childhood can carry into adulthood. Toxic environments prime our minds with self-defeating thoughts. We're then more likely to develop negative coping mechanisms and engage in self-harm.

Low self-esteem and self-worth

Having a low self-esteem or a diminished sense of self-worth leaves us more prone to developing self-defeating habits [1]. Negative thoughts and beliefs can lead to self-sabotage and a fear of taking risks. As our inner voices of self-doubt become louder, they fuel feelings of unworthiness.

A boy isolates himself from his peers feeling unsure of himself and having low self-esteem.

Fear of failure or success

Fear plays a significant role. Both the fear of failure and the fear of success can contribute to self-destructive tendencies. The fear of failure often leads to avoidance, procrastination, and an unwillingness to take risks. People who expect negative outcomes prefer the safety of inaction.

Similarly, fear of success can arouse anxiety about the unknown. We undermine our own progress when we fearfully anticipate more responsibilities or changes in relationships.

Types of Self-Defeating Behaviours

These harmful behaviours manifest in various forms. They harm different aspects of our lives - physical and mental health, relationships, and career prospects. We have to acknowledge them. We can then gain insights into our own self-destructive patterns. This opens our doors to transformation.

You may recognise these familiar patterns in your own life. You're not alone. Everyone experiences forms of self-destructive behaviour. You didn't come here to dwell on our shortcomings. You're here to empower yourself with the knowledge and awareness to act.

Addressing them can bring about positive change. We'll now delve into 10 self-defeating behaviours and what to do about them.

1. Procrastination: The Art of Postponing Success

Time is wasted on procrastination instead of productive tasks.

Everyone procrastinates from time-to-time. It's the sneaky habit of delaying important tasks and obligations. Looming tasks and deadlines provoke stress and anxiety. Rushing work or failing to complete any can damage one's performance and reputation. Chronic procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy and lower self-esteem.

Procrastination is often driven by underlying emotional or cognitive factors. This includes the fear of failure, perfectionism, and low self-efficacy (belief in our ability to perform). The temporal motivation theory explains procrastination well. It suggests that our motivation to complete a task is influenced by [2]:

  1. Expectancy: Our confidence in completing the task.
  2. Value: The perceived reward or amount of satisfaction we'd receive.
  3. Immediacy: How soon we need to complete the task.

We're more likely to procrastinate when the task is difficult, unenjoyable, and not-urgent.

Overcoming procrastination involves recognizing the behaviour and understanding its root causes. Are you avoiding the task because it's difficult or unenjoyable? Or is there a fear of failure or perfectionism at play? Current research shows that procrastination is the product of poor self-regulation and time management [3].

Once you identify the cause, you can employ strategies to combat procrastination. You could try breaking the task into smaller parts and setting clear goals. A planner, to-do list, or productivity app helps you in this process. The pomodoro technique can be helpful in managing time and maintaining focus. It works by breaking down work and breaks into manageable lengths.

2. Perfectionism: Striving for the Unattainable

Striving for high standards is a noble trait. Perfectionism can become self-destructive. Are you striving for perfection to gain approval or avoid criticism? Perhaps you believe you must be perfect to be worthy or valuable. This adds stress and decreases productivity. Being a perfectionist comes with the fear of making mistakes. You might be avoiding risks or tasks you lack confidence in.

Procrastination and perfectionism, while different, can go hand-in-hand. Overwhelming expectations create cracks in the road. They leave challenges and uncertainties for us to analyse. Analysis paralysis, consuming significant amounts of time, holds us back. Fear of failure results in avoiding tasks altogether.

Making mistakes and having flaws is perfectly normal. Practising mindfulness, self-compassion and setting realistic goals can help us overcome perfectionism.

3. Overthinking: The Brain's Hamster Wheel

A man spending a long time overthinking about his life.

Overthinking involves obsessively analysing. We often worry about decisions, past events, and current situations. This habit can lead to anxiety, stress, and indecision, and it can prevent us from taking action.

Overthinking interferes with problem-solving and decision-making. It takes up a significant amount of mental energy and leaves us feeling mentally exhausted. We wouldn’t be able to focus on important tasks.

How do you stop overthinking? Practice mindfulness by focusing on the present. Stop worrying about the past or future. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help cultivate mindfulness [4]. Setting aside personal time to navigate your worries can also be beneficial.

4. Dwelling on the Past: Buried in Regret

Many of us dwell on the past. We focus on countless regrets, mistakes, and missed opportunities. What follows is sadness, guilt, and stagnation. We're unable to fully engage in the present and plan for the future. The response styles theory suggests an effect of constant rumination on mental health issues. Filling our minds with "what-ifs" and situational factors can increase our risk of depression [5].

Overcoming this behaviour involves learning to forgive yourself and accept the past. Mindfulness and self-compassion can help break this cycle. Seeking help from mental health professionals may also be helpful. They may provide strategies and tools to manage overthinking and rumination.

5. Negative Thoughts and Self-Talk: Our Inner Critic's Monologue

Negative self-talk, or the inner critic, involves harsh, critical thoughts about oneself. It has a significant effect on our sense of self-worth. Negative thoughts reinforce negative emotions and behaviours.

This behaviour can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, and it can limit our potential for success. It can also affect our relationships. Continual negative self-talk can lead us to interpret social interactions through a pessimistic lens.

To repel negative self-talk, notice them as they occur. Treat yourself with kindness. Incorporate positive affirmations, or positive statements, about yourself. Challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with more positive, realistic ones.

6. People-pleasing: Approval Over Authenticity

Wanting to make others happy is natural. People-pleasing is trying to please others at the expense of our own desires or needs. John Bowlby's attachment theory suggests that people with anxious attachment styles tend to please others to cover up their own emotions [6]. This fosters stress, resentment, and burnout.

It can prevent personal growth and fulfilment. While trying to please others, you may neglect your own interests or stand up for yourself when necessary. This can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.

Overcoming people-pleasing involves setting healthy boundaries and learning to say no. It's important to prioritise your own needs and values, and to understand that it's impossible to please everyone. Set and maintain healthy boundaries by communicating your needs and limits to others. Assertiveness training helps you express your thoughts and feelings in a respectful and effective manner.

7. Comparison: The Thief of Joy

A friend gets jealous over good news from her friend because she can't help but compare.

Comparison is the destructive behaviour of evaluating ourselves in relation to others. It's natural to notice differences. Leon Festinger's social comparison theory says we usually compare ourselves to others when there's no definite way to measure [7].

However, constant comparison will damage our mental and emotional wellbeing. We'll feel envy, resentment, and bitterness towards those we perceive more successful or better off than we are. Comparison can divert our attention from our own progress. We'd contemplate over where we "fall short" compared to others rather than work on ourselves.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude reduces the tendency to compare yourselves to others. Focus on what you are. It's okay to not be the best at everything. Compare yourself to who you were in the past. This shift in perspective helps you appreciate your own progress.

8. Self-isolation: Cutting Off Our Support Systems

Loneliness is on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally sabotaged everyone's social relationships [8]. Self-isolation is withdrawing from social interactions and relationships.

We need our alone time. However, self-isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and diminished emotional well-being. Cutting off our support systems can hinder our abilities to cope with life's challenges. We’d then be more likely to adopt poor coping skills, such as drug and alcohol abuse [9].

Reaching out to a trusted friend is the first small step in having social interactions. That can gradually increase through joining clubs, groups, or online communities with shared interests. Self-care activities like reading a book or physical exercise can help you feel calm and nurtured.

9. Defensiveness: Evading Personal Accountability

It's natural to feel defensive when we perceive ourselves to be under attack. Defensiveness refers to consistently reacting with resistance to feedback or criticism. We're defensive when we make absurd excuses or blame others.

By deflecting criticism or feedback, we miss opportunities to learn, improve, and make necessary changes. This can limit our potential in various areas of life, including work and personal development.

Defensiveness can wreck our personal and professional relationships. When we consistently react defensively, it can make open, honest, and constructive communication difficult. This opens the door to misunderstanding, conflict, and resentment.

Pay attention to situations where you feel defensive. Try to identify the underlying fears or beliefs that trigger your response. Practise reflective listening. Listen to what other people are saying and reflect it back to them. This helps you understand the feedback you receive.

10. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Embodying Extremes

There appears to only be two paths - all or nothing.

All-or-nothing thinking, also known as black-and-white thinking, involves taking the "either-or" perspective. It involves viewing situations in absolute terms - all good or all bad. Everything is either a success or a complete failure. This confines our understanding of the world and limits our capacity to solve problems.

Imagine receiving a below-average grade on a test and thinking you're a failure. You feel hopeless. You're then discouraged from working on the specific areas where you could improve.

Combating all-or-nothing thinking requires a reframing of thoughts. Take on a new perspective by identifying the grey areas between the extremes. Stop thinking you're a total failure. You could think that you didn't do as well as you'd hoped. This salvages your foundation and transforms your setbacks into learning experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we've covered the 10 common self-defeating behaviours and how to overcome them, let's address some frequently asked questions.

Are self-defeating behaviours permanent?

Not at all! Self-defeating behaviours aren't permanent. We learn these behaviours. This means we can unlearn them. It just takes time, effort, and the right strategies. Professional help, such as therapy, may be necessary, especially if you have deep-seated behaviours. But with persistence and support, it is entirely possible to overcome self-defeating behaviours.

Can I overcome self-defeating behaviours?

Absolutely! Understanding the source and changing self-defeating behaviours is a process. You simply need self-awareness to start implementing strategies. Start with small, manageable changes and gradually tackle more ingrained behaviours.

Remember, progress might be slow, and there will be setbacks. Each step you take towards overcoming these behaviours is a step towards a healthier, happier you.

How can I identify self-defeating behaviours?

Identifying self-defeating behaviours involves self-reflection and honesty. Ask yourself: Are there patterns in your behaviour that seem to hold you back or cause distress? Do you repeatedly find yourself in situations that prevent you from reaching your goals? Feedback from trusted friends, family, or a therapist can also be helpful in identifying these behaviours.

Can therapy help in overcoming self-defeating behaviours?

Yes, therapy can be extremely beneficial in overcoming self-defeating behaviours. They can help identify the root causes of these behaviours, provide strategies to change them, and offer support throughout the process. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective for this. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours.

What are some ways to help myself overcome self-destructive patterns?

Besides the strategies mentioned above, self-care is crucial in overcoming self-destructive patterns. Physical care, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet, helps promote a healthier lifestyle. Stress management techniques and self-compassion practices can provide much-needed mental care. Regularly setting and reviewing personal goals can also be helpful. This provides you with motivation and a clear direction.

How long does it take to overcome self-defeating behaviours?

The timeline for overcoming self-defeating behaviours can vary from person to person. For some, changes may occur in a matter of weeks or months. It may take longer for those with deep-seated behaviours or associated mental health conditions. Remember, the journey towards overcoming self-defeating behaviours is not a race. It's about making consistent, long-term changes to improve your well-being.

Final Thoughts

Self-defeating behaviours are a common part of human experience. However, recognizing these behaviours in ourselves is the first, crucial step towards change. Understanding the roots of these behaviours and their impacts can help us become more self-aware, compassionate, and effective in navigating our lives.

The strategies to overcome these behaviours are not quick fixes. They're ongoing practices that require commitment, patience, and self-compassion. Remember, change takes time. It's okay to have setbacks. Every step you take towards understanding and changing self-defeating behaviours helps.

If you find these behaviours significantly affecting your life, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance, support, and tools to help you navigate this process.

By recognizing and addressing self-defeating behaviours, we improve our mental health and relationships. We can also unlock our true potential and lead more fulfilling lives.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration of self-defeating behaviours. Remember, we are all works in progress, continually learning and growing. Here's to your journey of growth and self-discovery!

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