3 Ways to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Writing

I’ve perhaps saved the biggest issue for last, for, honestly, we are our own worst enemies, and I believe self-sabotage, more than anything else, keeps us from being super-productive writers.

We’ve taken a look at a lot of attitude topics and discussed ways to think positively, boost ourselves with uplifting self-talk, and use mental hacks to adjust our attitudes.

But even if you correct all your bad habits, optimize your writing time, and adjust your schedule to fit your biology, if you have a tendency to self-sabotage, all your good effort may be for naught.

So we’re going to take a look at some of the reasons and ways we self-sabotage and consider some remedies to help us thwart those destructive attitudes and behaviors.

The Long-Term Effects 

Some studies have shown that self-sabotage leads to cycles of negative motivation. Meaning, the more you engage in self-sabotage, the less motivated you are to get something done. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that will prevent you from ever being truly productive.

Each time you fail, you prove to yourself that you just can’t accomplish your task. If you sit down to write and tell yourself it’s going to suck or you’ll never get the scene written, you’ll fulfill your own prophecy. And the next time you sit down, all you have to do is pull out the proof from previous attempts to discourage you from trying again. And when you do finally push through to write, the results are pathetic, due to the pressure you are heaping on your head.

Self-Sabotage Cycles

Many of us fall into the trap of self-sabotage cycles, which pushes us to underperform. We know how tenacious habits are and how difficult they are to change. In order to break free from self-sabotage cycles, we will have to be determined and stalwart, like the heroes in our novels.

Simply stated, self-sabotage is any behavior, mind-set, emotion, or action that holds you back from getting or doing what you want, and it’s usually subconscious. Because of our past, we opt for these habits because they act as a safety mechanism to keep us from suffering disappointment or depression. Our brains are doing what they are supposed to: protecting us from harm and keeping us comfortable.

If every time we jumped up out of our bunk bed we hit our head on a low ceiling, our brain would start warning us before we threw off the covers each morning. We would develop a habit rather quickly of pausing and carefully extricating ourselves from the bed instead of leaping upward. Our brain has our best interests in mind (does that sound as weird to you as it does to me?).

But, ultimately, our brain is not doing us any favors.

We find ourselves at times intentionally impeding our own progress when we’re trying to get writing done. This isn’t just about those moments when we stop writing to sweep the floor. There’s a difference between hacking through distractions or inner resistance to writing and actually self-sabotaging—which is more entrenched and virulent.

Self-sabotage has deep roots in feelings of low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. I would venture to say we all struggle with these attitudes at various times and on various levels. What makes them so challenging to thwart is they have developed over years of life, and every time we’ve failed and been ridiculed or someone has made us feel “less than,” those negative self-feelings hardened just a little more.

Now we have a concrete wall in front of us that we have to sledge-hammer through, and it’s not an easy task.

Types of Self-Sabotage

We each have concocted a unique cocktail of self-sabotage, which might be made up of some of the following ingredients:

  • Fear of taking risks
  • Fear of making mistakes
  • Fear of failing
  • Inability to say no
  • Inability to make firm plans
  • Inability to listen well
  • Inability to consider the consequences of our actions
  • Inability to think clearly when trying to make a decision
  • Inability to admit mistakes
  • Tendency to complain about others or blame them
  • Tendency to worry excessively
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Tendency to have unrealistic expectations
  • Tendency to judge others harshly
  • Expecting ourselves to be perfect
  • Excessive time spent daydreaming or engaged in wishful thinking
  • Tendency to compare ourselves with others

These components that contribute to self-sabotage manifest in thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “This will never work.”

Here are three helpful ways to interrupt the cycle of self-sabotage:

  1. Identify the bad behavior. The first step in beating self-sabotage is catching ourselves doing it. Stop and sit down, pick up pen and paper, and begin listing the inner dialogue—those statements we make and those tendencies we have that are preventing us from being productive.

Try to pinpoint specific triggers that launch these behaviors. They could be people, objects, situations, places, or even times of day. Sometimes we can remove the triggers. For instance, if we tend to self-sabotage when we sit down to write at the kitchen table—because we give in to distractions as excuses not to write—we can pack up our laptop and head to the public library. Other times, we can’t remove the triggers, so in those instances we need to understand how they’re functioning.

Ask yourself questions:

  • What am I believing about this situation that is sabotaging me?
  • What is this causing me to believe about myself and my abilities?
  • How did this belief trigger my self-sabotage pattern?
  • How is this belief ridiculous and self-destructive?
  • What is a healthier, kinder perspective I could adopt?
  1. Create Healthy Alternate Behavior. Hey, we’re writers—we should be able to come up with some creative alternatives to bad behavior. In order to eliminate the bad, we need to replace it with the good. With behavior that’s helpful and encouraging. We can’t always avoid people, situations, or objects that cause us to react in detrimental ways. So we need to list things that answer these questions:
  • What’s a better and more appropriate way I could respond to this trigger that would help me break out of this self-sabotage cycle?
  • How will I benefit from responding this way instead of the former way?
  • What is the key advantage for changing this behavior?
  1. Practice Makes Better. Or, better said: practice turns into habit. Every time your triggers fire and you begin to self-sabotage, stop and run through your challenging questions, reminding yourself of why and how you want to change the reaction to that trigger. The more you stop yourself and replace the old attitude with the new, the sooner that new behavior will be a habit. This goes beyond the self-talk we discussed in the early posts on this topic—because habits of self-sabotage are so deeply ingrained.

Sure, this will take work and time, but every little victory is a step forward and away from the debilitating habits of self-sabotage.

Take time each day to reflect on your progress, to learn from your mistakes. Look at the big goal of a lifestyle and attitude change that will stretch over the course of your life. It takes courage to expand our perspective, to get out of our small ruts and limited thinking. But it’s worth it.

If possible, enlist others to help you. It’s no fun at all to have someone point out to you those moments you slip into self-sabotage, but if you can keep from getting defensive, this can help so much. We often can’t spot our own destructive attitudes and behavior. Ask your family members or friends to speak up in kindness and love, not criticism. Or you could come up with a signal of some sort to imply “you are doing it again.” Maybe make a goofy face or give a gesture like pulling your hair out. If it can make you laugh instead of get angry, that’s going to motivate you more to change the bad behavior.

I like the idea of rewarding yourself when you spot and stop a trigger. If you make this “seek and destroy” activity a fun and challenging one, it may make it easier to replace and turn the bad into good habits. Chocolate, anyone?

Do you tend to self-sabotage? What helps you break through it? Have you tried any of these methods? Share in the comments.

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  1. I have bee told that I am the queen of self-sabotage, not just in my writing but my life in general. It is like when I am close to succeeding, BOOM!, I throw it all away. I also tend to blame others for not succeeding. Whenever I get down on myself, I blame my family and others. I always say, If it was not for my kids and husband and kids, I would be a famous writer. I say, I can’t write today because my kids are sick, or my husband wants to spend time with me, or I have to clean the house, etc. I claim I can’t concentrate on my writing because have kids in my house and responsibilities.

    I got an idea, if you did not do this, do a series on writing when you have family. Maybe talk about the struggle to balance home life and writing. And the guilt people have when they take time to write.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Family responsibilities take up a lot of time! That’s why so many successful writers burn the candle nights and weekends to accomplish their writing goals. It’s not easy. I have had a few guest blog posts on the topic, and I did write a number of novels when I was raising my kids, but I welcome guest posts on the topic!

  2. This is scary, I think I’ve got at least half of these problems! I have one entire novel finished and professionally edited. I’m about 1/2 of the way through a second and have already outlined a third. But I just can’t seem to force myself to put that first book out there. I’ve already decided to self-publish, so it’s not fear if rejection. I think I’m afraid of messing up on the business end of it.

  3. I am guilty of self-sabotage. It gets so bad at times that I won’t pick up paper and pen for months at a time. The root of my self-sabotage is comparing myself to others, thinking I’ll never get to the point where I will even be considered being published.

    There are a couple of things that help quell the destructive behavior. One, reminding myself that I have a strong support system. I have friends and family that encourage me to write my stories. And two, reminding myself that my journey is unique. I may not write novels, but perhaps that’s not my calling. And that’s okay.

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