6 Effective Ways to Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success

One of the most freeing lessons to learn in your life is that you are the only person responsible for your own success. It can, however, be terrifying to face the truth that you alone have the power to either move forward or stay stagnant. Because this freedom is so scary, many of us choose to just eliminate the possibility of success before we’ve even made much headway on our goals. That way, we can give up before we ever run the risk of failure.

This is the definition of self-sabotage, when we don’t even give ourselves the chance to succeed. The driving emotion behind self-sabotage is fear – the worry that you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals or the belief that maybe you don’t even deserve success because you’re not “good enough.” Fortunately, once you learn how to identify your negative behavior patterns, you can begin to replace them with positive actions that will allow you to make progress despite your fears.

Here are six strategies you can use to get out of your own way and stop blocking your own success. Do you see yourself falling into any of these self-sabotage traps in your own life?

1. Stop Using the Word “Can’t”

Let’s say your big dream is to travel the world before you die. Although you really want to achieve this goal, it seems so unrealistic to you that you come up with all sorts of reasons why you “can’t” do it. Why you “can’t” save the money or take off time from work. But the truth is, barring an actual physical or mental limitation, there really is no such thing as “can’t.” There is: “I’m scared to do this” or “I’m not willing to take action” or “I will not do what it takes to make it happen.” But there is no “can’t.” You have the ability to take actions that will lead you closer to your goals. The only question is how bad you want something and how hard you’re willing to work to get it. (Read: Do You Use Limiting Words or Possibility Words?)

2. Stop Promising Yourself “Someday”

When you’re afraid of taking action, it’s easy to procrastinate and tell yourself that “someday” you will pursue your big goals. Not today, maybe tomorrow. But tomorrow is not promised to any one of us, no matter how much we try to trick ourselves into believing that it is. We carry that calendar, cell phone, laptop and iPad as a crutch to ensure that we’re so busy there has to be a tomorrow. But the reality is that for all of us, there will be one day that tomorrow will not come. There will be one day when we do not roll over in the bed to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. There will be one day when we will not wake up to greet the golden sky. So, stop putting off your dreams until “someday.” You deserve to be happy TODAY. (Read: You Don’t Have to Find Out You’re Dying to Start Living)

3. Stop “Getting Ready” to Take Action

Your lizard brain will try to convince you that you’re not ready yet. That you don’t know enough. That you need to do more “research” before you make a decision. This leads to analysis paralysis, where you research and read and think about your options so much that you become mentally paralyzed and unable to decide upon any course of action at all. I personally know people who have been “about to” launch their business or start looking for a better job for years now. You’d be surprised at how time flies when you’re using excuses to avoid putting in the work to pursue your goals! There are only so many books you can read, degrees you can earn, classes you can take and advice you can get before your attempts to “get ready” become a mask for your own fear, not to mention a ridiculous waste of time. At some point, you have to stop taking workshops and start doing the work. (Read: You Don’t Need Any More Advice)

4. Stop Saying You Don’t Have the Time

You might swear up and down to anyone who will listen that your ultimate goal is to quit your job and run your own business doing what you love. Yet, every night, instead of working on your dream, you sit in front of the TV to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta or waste time on Twitter. The result: you end up perpetuating the lie that you don’t have any “extra time”  to make progress on your business ideas. Then, when opportunities do come up, you don’t feel ready or prepared to take advantage of them. It becomes a vicious cycle and you never get anything accomplished. You can always MAKE time for the things you really want to do. Of course, this means you will have to prioritize your goals over other activities in the meantime. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible. (Read: 4 Ways to Find the Extra Time to Work on Your Passion)

5. Stop Surrounding Yourself with Negative People

It’s absolutely true that misery loves company. Some of your friends may be miserable because they’re not living their ideal lives, so they will have nothing constructive to say about your ambitions. Just try to ask a friend who’s been dogged out by her last boyfriend for relationship advice. She will heap her cynicism about love onto you and discourage you from showing up as your best self in your dating journey. A friend who just got laid off might push you to “take what you can get” in the job market and not hold out for what you’re worth. Although you may call these negative people your friends, it’s important to remember that they might project their attitudes onto you when you ask them for help. In fact, when someone is not happy with their own life, they often find it difficult to fully support others who are on the road to success. This is why it’s important to distance yourself from negative people as you pursue your goals. Or at least find some new friends and colleagues who have a positive outlook and are committed to creating their ideal lives. (Read: The Price of Snark)

6. Stop Buying Stuff You Don’t Need

Many people use the excuse of not having any money to get from where they are to where they want to be. Yet, some of those same people will go to the mall and get a new outfit this weekend instead of using that money to save for their dream vacation or pay for a business license or sign up for a gym membership. You may not earn much money in your job or in your business right now, but you can still use the income you DO have in a way that honors your goals. Instead of spending your paycheck on random stuff, you can decide to only buy what you need and put the rest toward your big dream. It might take some time, but you can fund any goal you want if you simply stop purchasing frivolous things that don’t get you any closer to living your ideal life. (Read: 7 Strategies to Help You Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need)

When you eliminate the behaviors that no longer serve you, you send a message to the universe that you’re ready for a better life. By putting these six strategies into action, you also give yourself permission to walk the bright path to your own happiness.

Are you sabotaging your own success in any area of your life right now? I’d love to hear which behaviors you struggle with the most or how you’ve been able to overcome any of them. Please leave a comment below and join the conversation – our HBW Community is becoming a great place to connect with like-minded ladies, ask questions and get support :)


Rosetta Thurman is the Founder of Happy Black Woman. Follow Rosetta on Twitter.

Join thousands of women who have completed the only online course that gives you all the tools you need to get unstuck, set clear goals and rediscover who you truly are. Learn more about my 31 Days to Reset Your Life program here.



Comments & Feedback:

  1. Marlo Williams

    OMG! #4 really hit the nail on the head. I literaly felt that you were in my head…lol. I recently took a buy-out from my job with a great severance package to start my own fitness company. I constantly put it off because of fear. I say things like “I am not knowledgeable enough” or I need the “top certification.” I always come up with some excuse but the real reason is fear of failure.

  2. I am guilty of all 6 of self-sabotaging behaviors listed in this article but #1, #2, #3 takes the cake.

    I always get these amazing business ideas but then I manage to convince myself that they will never work. I always convince myself that I have tomorrow to get myself together and that I need one more book, brochure, class or seminar to get ready for my big launch. It’s going to take a bit of deprogramming and a lot of hard work to reverse these destructive mentalities I’ve adapted. Thank you for this article.

  3. I have been trying for some time to follow number 6. Stop buying stuff I don’t need. I am keeping a spending diary to make myself accountable and trying to make wise choices. Great post!

  4. Anna

    I found that I sabotage my success in all six ways you mentioned possible. I have spent the last seven years as stay-at-home mom, certified home school teacher-special education, was full-time undergraduate and graduate student, and had children’s book published but sold 30 copies to my grandma during Christmas time a few years ago. I just finished my Master’s degree in Psychology with highest honors. For the past week, I have been applying to various jobs in many different fields such as counseling, social services, HR administration, teaching assistant, and my old job in manufacturing. I keep messing up my applications and send them to people anyway. I need a job but my heart is not in it. I always wanted to be RN nurse but family have always talked me out of it. I already have a master’s degree, huge monthly student loan debt that has to be paid so going back to school and starting over is not an option, and I have INFJ Myers Brigg personality. Please help!!!

  5. Hello HBW –

    I have been an avid reader of your blog for some time now and I have participated in many of your tele-seminars. I cannot wait until you come to the NYC area! I have found that your website is a breath of fresh air, and really motivates me. This particular post really struck a nerve with me, as I have been sabotaging myself for many years and I have decided that the time has come to stop this destructive behavior and allow myself to work at my full potential. Keep up the amazing work!

  6. Ooh Rosetta, #3 made me holler out…was glad I was alone LOL! Related to this item is the intense desire for stuff to be “perfect” before or as we progress to success. That little bug has undoubtedly delayed success for me here or there, but the trade-off is learning the lesson to let perfection go for future endeavors. It’s time to be about “just do it!” Let’s go :-). ~K

  7. Hi Rosetta,

    I have been reading your blogs and this one hit home for me. I even procrastinated in reading it because I knew once I did I would have to be accountable. I am a writer, teacher, and single mother of two. I also throw events like natural hair meet-ups and things of that naure. I actuallly have one coming up on June 22, based around living a natural lifestyle! I have been writing two books for the past 4 years and neither of them is finished. This year I vowed I would finish at least one by my 40th birthday, which is about 60 days away.

    It makes me laugh when I tell my co-workers what I do when I’m not at work because they are like, “Wow! You make me feel lazy!” Its weird to me because I know I can be doing so much more if only I could figure out how to balance it all. I’ve tried to use calendars, including a meal and family calendar along with a personal schedule, but it’s been difficult the last month or two to keep up with them as things began to get more and more hectic. I thank you for your inspiration, but wonder if you could do a post on balance. As a mom of a six year old (whose kindergarten graduation I’m supposed to getting dressed for) and a seventeen year old (who graduates on Monday) sometimes things get out of hand and I am unable to balance all of my ambitions with their needs.

    Thank you,
    Tanefa Wallace

    Did I mention I have 2 (notsovery) active blogs as well?

  8. This sentence got me:
    “The driving emotion behind self-sabotage is fear – the worry that you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals or the belief that maybe you don’t even deserve success because you’re not “good enough.”

    I actually felt a catch in my throat, and tears kind of crept up, but didn’t fall. I find myself self-sabotaging when I have big plans set in motion, and half way through, I get stalled, or stall myself. Then I have to talk it out, and push through. I want to sooo have self-sabtage not happen… EVER! #readyforchange! Thank you for posting about this.

  9. Great post Rosetta and so timely for my life right now. God has inspired me to start and develop two businesses You may remember that I started UBW Senior Solutions to be a life/career coach for caregivers and older adults. My vision has greatly expanded for it and I’m excited to fulfill the call to realize it. I have several naysayers that have detracted my journey, but it all worked for my good as I need that additional time to develop my business. Check out http://www.ubwseniorsolutions.info

    The new business is Blessing Buddies, A Benefit LLC that is an eco-friendly home cleaning and senior companion service agency that provides personal concierge services for caregivers.

    Now that I have the business plans written and websites up, I just need to take that step of faith and implement the vision! It is a hard step and I have been paralyzed by analysis for WAY too long. I’m delighted to share that I’m transitioning into entrepreneurship full-time on June 13, 2013! I’m exhilarated, as well as, a bundle of nerves at the same damn time, lol. I know God didn’t bring me this far to leave me now and it is for me to trust him and follow my spirit as he leads me.

    Thank you for your posts! You have been an inspiration ever since we met in 2007. Cheers to you!

  10. Hello Rosetta. It is always a pleasure to read your blogs and do the activities. My problem is I have the skills and the talent to become an aspiring entrepreneur but it seems like I get stuck in the “I Can’t” state of mind. How do a person like me who has no income, barely a support system and is a single parent…even began to get a business started?

    • One way to get moving is to focus on “I Can” statements, Ria. You may not have everything you would ideally want to have to start your business, but what DO you have? What is ONE baby step you can take today to move forward and find your first client or customer?

  11. My name is Nailah. I am a mother of two who is looking for a set routine that will help me pursue a lot of my goals. I often get stuck in the I cant do it mode, and often criticize myself. I am looking for a new positive start

    • Hi Nailah – a good place to start is my 31 Days to Reset Your Life program: http://31dayreset.com. Even if you were to only complete the first 7 exercises, you would get a lot of clarity on what you want and how you can accomplish it.

  12. Tiffany


    I am doing better about not putting pressure on myself to do anything right now. I stopped doing that when I applied for a manager position and was not given an interview. It gave me the opportunity to assess what I really wanted. At the time, I really wanted to apply to keep up with what co-workers were doing…not what I should be doing. After that eye-opening moment, I told myself to stay in the moment I’m in, gain the skills and aptitudes I need while residing in that moment, and then move.

    In my current position at work, I am not ready to move to another right now…even while my colleagues have applied to higher-level positions. My goals are to learn as much as I can in my current position and seek help to get additional skills (ex: Adobe software). I am not going to do another thing until I have acquired those skills.

    In the meantime, I am working on acquiring working knowledge of Adobe software through 30-day trials, in which I can practice and build a portfolio with these software applications being showcased. Additionally, I am improving as a workshop facilitator by doing classroom trainings and, later, webinars. I am excited about my future!! But for now, I am staying in this place so I can prepare adequately for opportunities.

  13. I’ve been stuck in “Getting Ready to Take Action Mode” for a while now! I’m slowly breaking out of that habit and taking small daily action towards my goal. I wake up each day at 5:30am to head to the coffeeshop to work before going to my job. That and writing down daily goals has helped improve my discipline. But, I still have a long way to go.

    But, the biggest help was finding an accountability partner! We push and encourage each other. We make sure the other isn’t falling down. It’s been a huge help to work with someone who has a similar goal and has got your back!

    Thanks for the post, Rosetta!

  14. I love this! I am a teacher, I am off in the summers, but I usually work somewhere just to make more money. Not this summer, I am focusing on my business 100%, some people don’t understand it and think I’m crazy, but I’ve listened to them for too long. I have to try it and see what happens! I’m happy and have no fear, like I used to it!:) Thanks so much for your encouraging posts.

    • It sounds like you’re in for a productive summer :) Do you have any specific goals for your business that you want to accomplish by the end of August?

  15. I have really bad lizard brain…I see the options there…I plan….Then action comes a bit later. I undermine my abilities and on top of the exterior voices trying to push me in various directions…I just get lost and then stressed and I haven’t even graduated from university. I think what I hate the most is the exterior voices, I feel like I can’t even here what I want.

    • Sometimes it helps to focus on one major goal at a time. Believe it or not, multi-tasking can also be a form of self-sabotage! If you’re pursuing your degree, maybe that’s enough for now. You can also plan for future goals while you’re in school without putting any pressure on yourself to do anything with them until you graduate. Peace to you on your journey.