Dr. Ho is the author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way, and her quiz is a series of 20 questions designed to pinpoint one of four specific factors, or elements, that fuel self-sabotaging behaviors. She says that she created the quiz to serve as a jumping off point for the ideas explored in her book because in her years of clinical practice, she’s found that self-sabotage is a widespread issue that often goes unresolved—even if people are able to spot the signs of self-sabotage, which can impede personal growth.
- Judy Ho, PhD, triple board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist
“When we look at how people talk about self-sabotage, oftentimes they'll just say, ‘Yeah, I sabotaged that,’ and they'll just kind of move on and there's no solution,” says Dr. Ho. The point of the quiz is to identify which of the four self-sabotage drivers someone may have in order to guide them toward solutions to help stop the behavior in its tracks.
The 4 ‘L.I.F.E.’ factors that may be getting in your way and contributing to self-sabotage
1. Low or shaky self-esteem
Oftentimes when we have a lower belief in ourselves to achieve positive outcomes in a specific area of our life it will lead to certain self-fulfilling prophecies," Dr. Ho explains. "You may not even commit to goals at all, and when you do, you have less belief that you're able to accomplish what you set out to do,” she says.
This feeling of low self-esteem isn't necessarily evenly distributed across all realms of someone's life, though. For example, Dr. Ho says someone who is very successful and confident at work may suffer from low or shaky self-esteem when it comes to their romantic life.
2. Internalized beliefs
According to Dr. Ho, the people who have this driver have adopted and internalized the same fears, beliefs, and insecurities as the adults they grew up around. This may happen through watching adults model behavior or being told by others what to fear. "If one of your parents was seemingly anxious about different types of risk-taking and always worried about what could happen, you may find that as an adult you adopt that very cautious mentality and pull back from dreaming bigger or putting yourself out there," she says.
This can manifest as intense self-criticism and judgement, and may prevent someone from trying new things. Another component of this L.I.F.E. factor to watch for is negative self talk, which Dr. Ho says can fuel self-sabotage. For example, you may tell yourself that you don't have the skills and drive to accomplish a goal because judgmental adults made you think you couldn't. If you hear this enough times from yourself and others, you may come to believe it.
3. Fear of change or the unknown
While change can be difficult for anyone, the people who have this as their self-sabotage trigger are especially unmoored by it. They may find comfort and calm in sticking to a routine, and any unexpected pivots have the potential to toss them off track. To prevent this, they may avoid making any changes by sticking to the same habits, places, and patterns—even if the familiar isn't going that well. According to Dr. Ho, this behavior is self-limiting because it can prevent someone from engaging in something potentially positive and rewarding because they're scared.
4. Excessive need for control
Dr. Ho says this self-sabotaging cause often plagues people who identify as Type A personalities or perfectionists. The traits that make someone a go-getter, like being ambitious, organized, and motivated, can be great for accomplishing a lot in life, for example if you want to advance at work. However, these same traits can act as a double-edged sword, Dr. Ho says, because they can hold someone back from trying if they aren't certain they'll be successful and can't guarantee their desired outcome.
This excessive need for control can be self-sabotaging and limiting. "When there is a situation where you can't control everything or see all of the steps in advance, it may actually cause you to self-sabotage because you're not able to let go, delegate, or understand that certain things are worthwhile even if you can't control everything," she explains. One way this could manifest is not advancing or taking risks in romantic relationships because you can't control the outcome and risk rejection.
Why and how to stop self-sabotaging behaviors
Unchecked, Dr. Ho says self-sabotaging behavior can make it difficult to accomplish your goals and move through the world with confidence—it can even contribute to a number of mental and physical health conditions, and can make it tougher to build and maintain social connections.
And because it’s happening in the background, or subconsciously, self-sabotage can be tough to recognize. But Dr. Ho emphasizes that it’s important to identify and surface these triggers so they don’t become repetitive. And while thinking about all the ways you harm yourself sounds stressful and upsetting, self-reflection is key to stop doing it.
“It's like the monster under the bed when you're five years old: It's scary when you don’t look, but then it’s like, there is no monster,” she says. “When we actually do the deeper work and follow up on self-assessment and go toward change, it’s never as bad as you think it is.”
"It's like the monster under the bed when you're five years old: It's scary when you don’t look, but then it’s like, there is no monster."—Judy Ho, PhD, neuropsychologist and author
You can use the results of the quiz as a beginning of your exploration. Dr. Ho says it’s important to “de-stigmatize” the idea of self-sabotage so it no longer lingers in the background. One way to do that is to chat with a trusted friend or loved one about it. Also, she advises being on the lookout during times of particular stress or major change, because that’s when these thought patterns creep up most. Another way is to use guided tools, like the ones available on Dr. Ho’s website, to work through these issues on your own.
And remember that building new habits takes time. Dr. Ho advises trying this out for at least one month before giving up.
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