Self Sabotage Behaviour - 7 Ways Your Own Expectations Can Cause Self Sabotage

by Catherine Pratt

Self sabotage behaviour can start for a number of reasons but a particularly sneaky one happens when things don’t turn out as you expect.

You think you’re going to get certain results from your efforts and when they don’t happen exactly that way, it’s at that point that you may begin to self sabotage yourself. You forget about your original goal and start to dwell on how you feel about your expectations not being met.

When this happens you can very quickly embark on a downward spiral of ever increasing self sabotage. Continuing to focus on what you don’t want in your life or what went wrong can take over your thoughts and prevent you from ever truly achieving your goal or may even cause you to completely give up on your dream.

So, let’s take a look at this and see exactly when the self sabotage behaviour starts and how do you get back on track?

You Expect Certain Results

Let’s start with the concept that you expect certain results from your actions. The expected results are why you do anything in the first place. You have a drink of water because you feel thirsty. You expect the water to quench your thirst. Or you might think, "I’ll lose weight if I start to walk an hour per day". The only reason you’re going to go for that walk every single day is to solve your problem of excess weight. Basically, if you don’t expect something in return then you don’t even think about taking certain actions. You behave in a certain way in order to receive a particular result.

There’s nothing wrong with having expectations. They’re actually good things to have but the “gotcha” to watch out for is when you get too attached to a specific outcome.

If you’re too attached to the expected results then as soon as it doesn’t happen that way, you may start to experience a 7 step emotional spiral which can lead you deeper and deeper into self sabotage behavior. It goes something like this:

You expect to get certain results and if the outcome isn't as you planned then:

1. you feel you deserve the results you expected. You tell yourself that you should get something in return for your efforts. For example, you exercised every day so you should have lost weight.

2. you feel angry and bitter for not getting what you feel you rightfully deserve

3. you feel like a failure

4. you feel like it’s not your fault. Someone or something else is to blame for why you didn’t get what you want.

5. you feel powerless because things didn’t go as planned

6. you feel tired and frustrated waiting for the results to happen so you quit

7. you feel confused so you keep trying to analyze how you got where you are. Where did things go wrong?

The end result is that you’re trapped exactly where you don’t want to be with no clear way forwards. You’re also now too frustrated to even think about going after your goal. You simply give up. Your self sabotage behaviour has won.

Let’s take a look at these emotions and the process in closer detail.

1. You feel like you deserve the results you expect

Just because you expect a certain result from your actions doesn't mean it will happen exactly that way. The problem that happens is that you think it “should” or that you deserve those results. “I did this so I should get that” kind of thinking.

But, in reality, it might happen, it might not. Expectations are meant to be more guidelines so you know what to expect from your actions. You try something and if it doesn't happen the way you think it will, you take the knowledge and use it to keep moving towards what you do want. You make adjustments when you realize it didn't end up exactly the way you thought it would. One glass of water didn’t quench your thirst. This meant you realized you were so thirsty that you needed two glasses.

The problem happens when instead of a "try and see" attitude, you end up with a "must happen the way I expect" attitude.

Here’s an example. When I graduated from university, my expectation was that I would get a good paying job. That’s why I went to university in the first place. I'd been told so many times, “If you don’t go to university you can’t get a good paying job”. So off I went with the full expectation that life would be great when I graduated. Unfortunately, the year I graduated happened also to be a recession. No one was hiring for anything. People were being laid off more than they were being hired. But, I’d gotten my degree and I felt like I deserved to get a good paying job no matter what was happening with the economy.

The trick is that you can't think you deserve those expected results. That’s what leads you into self sabotage behaviour.

When you end up you believing, "I deserved to have this happen because I did this" then, you suddenly lose focus with your goal and you're off thinking about how you didn’t get what you deserved. So, what happens when you don’t get what you feel you rightfully deserve? You start to feel angry, bitter, or maybe even ripped off. Right? This leads to the next step.

2. You feel angry and bitter for not getting what you deserve

Continuing with my university example, when I didn’t get the good paying job I felt I deserved, I felt terribly angry. I was furious in fact. I'd done exactly what I'd been told to do. I went to school, got good grades, sacrificed a lot in order to get this degree, and in return I was supposed to get a good paying job. That was the whole reason for going to university. I felt I deserved to be hired because I'd done everything I was supposed to and followed all the rules. But, of course, it didn't mean that at all. I couldn't get hired anywhere no matter how many gazillion resumes I sent out. I felt that all these people had lied to me. I'd kept up my side of the bargain and they hadn’t.

When you feel angry about not getting what you feel you “should” then you’ll most likely get caught up in that emotion. You stop focusing on what you ultimately want to achieve. In my example of university, I stopped sending out resumes for awhile because all I could think about was my anger. So, you stop trying or you stop listening to good advice. You feel like it’s no use. You get so caught up in the negative emotions.

Or think about the last time you tried to lose weight, you did all sorts of things like eating less, eating better, exercising more and the weight still didn't come off. Didn't you feel like after going to all that effort that you should see some results? And, when you didn't, didn't you feel like, "Why bother then? I might as well eat whatever I want as it doesn't work when I starve myself."

The next step that you’ll go through is that you then start to wonder if you’re a failure or destined to always be ripped off.

3. You feel like a failure for not achieving the expectations

When, you don’t get what you expect, you may start thinking you’re a failure. You didn't get what you were supposed to or what you expected, so you instantly think you failed. Also, that this failure is a reflection on you.

It's not a reflection on you at all. The result just wasn't what you expected. The key thing to remember is that it doesn't change who you are. You are not your goal. Whether you achieve it or not, does not change who are at your core. You have the same beliefs and values. You also have the same dreams. A goal is something you work towards. It does not define you.

Another temptation you might have during this stage is to start looking at all the other times that you failed at something. This will make you feel even more depressed and disillusioned with yourself and your ability to succeed at anything.

When the outcomes aren't as expected, all it really means is that you need to take a look at the results and see what adjustments you need to make rather than associating them with you.

Not reaching your goals simply means that you have more work to do or you need to try something different. It doesn’t mean that you, yourself, are a failure.

But, after you’ve gone through the thought process of feeling like a failure, your next thoughts will be that of denial and that it’s not your fault. Someone else is to blame for what happened to you.

4. You feel like it’s not your fault – someone or something else is to blame

Next, you tell yourself you’re not a failure. It’s someone else’s fault for why this happened to you. It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get hired. People had lied to me. It was the recession’s fault or politicians or corporations. Anyone but me.

So, am I focused on achieving my goal of getting a job? No, I’m focused on blaming others which means I can’t do anything but stew about that. If you insist on blaming someone or something for your circumstances then you remain powerless to make changes and you can’t move forwards.

5. You feel tired of trying as well as discouraged and you feel you’ve tried enough

After you've gone through the thought process that it's someone else's fault, then you'll get to the point where you feel like there’s nothing you can do. The world is against you. You were born under bad luck stars or you’re just an unlucky person or everyone is out to get you. You just give up because you think, "What’s the use?" It feels like someone else is in control of your fate. You probably also feel very tired at this point and feel that "enough is enough".

As soon as you feel there's nothing you can do then you give away your power which leads us to #6.

6. You feel powerless because things didn’t go the way you planned

When you start blaming someone else for why you didn't get what you wanted, that's the moment where you give away all your power. You feel like there's nothing you can do. But, it comes back to "What are you thinking about?" You're thinking about what you were supposed to get in return for your hard work but didn't.

You instantly take your power back the moment you decide to take the knowledge you've learned along the way and continue on towards what you do want to achieve.

You discovered that walking an hour every day didn't make you lose the weight. That's what you learned from your actions. Now, that you know that, you need to determine what would make you lose the weight. Maybe different exercise, changing your diet slightly, or maybe not even focusing on the amount of weight lost but instead look for ways to get a healthier, more toned body.

The mindset when you do this is very different. You're no longer expecting a reward and being frustrated by not getting what you expected. Instead, you're using the knowledge you've gained to keep you moving towards success with your goal.

You let go of the result having to end up the way you expect. You have to look at it as being willing to try something to see what will happen. You don't expect a definite result for your efforts.

I have a friend who’s trying to get a catering business off the ground but so far all he’s gotten is a lot of rejection from different places. Instead of figuring out why they reject his business proposal, he’s becoming very bitter about it all. He feels because he put together his plan and made appointments with banks that he deserves to get his funding. He's focused on "I deserve this" and "I did what I was supposed to and now I'm supposed to get this in return". Because he didn't get what he thinks he's entitled to, he's now completely focused on that. He's mad at the people he feels have denied him what should be his. He's also angry at himself for not doing it right or not being good enough. But that's what he's focused on, what he thinks he deserves for his effort.

He's actually lost sight of his original goal of his own catering business and is now completely absorbed by the issue of being denied funding. That's all he thinks about. If he continued to focus on his goal of opening his business, he'd listen to what the banks have advised him to change, maybe he'd improve his proposal or even think of different ways of getting funding or starting his business. Maybe he'd start smaller or find other ways to get the word out about how great of a cook he is. He'd keep working towards what he wants to create in his life, that of being his own boss and not get distracted by the obstacles along the way. He'd think, "Well, that didn't work but I learned something valuable" and maybe, "How can I make this better?" or "How can I start catering with the resources I have now?" and use that knowledge to keep moving forwards. But, right now because he can't get funding from the banks, he just wants to throw in the towel and forget about it. He's given away all his power to control his own life to the banks. He feels they're in control of his destiny, not him. It's the wrong way around. The banks are just one option. He needs to stop the self sabotage behaviour and take back control of his life.

When you can only think about how you've done all that you're supposed to but still haven't gotten what you think you deserve in return for those actions, you give away all your power. You become completely powerless to make any changes until you let go of this thought process.

So, the secret to making it through this self sabotage behavior is to maintain a combination of expectation and focus. You expect something for your efforts but if you don't get what you expect then you just need to remind yourself of your ultimate goal and figure out another solution. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in the negative thoughts.

7. You feel confused. How did this happen?

During the stage when you feel powerless, you will then start to replay events and try to figure out where they went wrong. You may also keep reliving your story as in "There’s nothing I can do because nobody is hiring right now". You give yourself an excuse of why you’re giving up.

You'll also want to figure out where did you make a wrong turn? Who did you trust when you shouldn’t have? The problem with this is again you’re focusing on the wrong thing. It really doesn’t matter how you got there. The point is how do you move forwards from where you are? How do you get to the place you want to be? What adjustments do you need to make so that you are successful with your goal?

Here’s a simple example. Your friend has just moved and you’re trying to find her new house. You get lost on the way and end up totally in the wrong neighbourhood. You stop at a gas station and ask directions and soon you’re back on track and finally find the right house. At this point, you’ll now start to replay the whole situation in your head and try to figure out where things went wrong.

- Did someone give you the wrong directions?
- Did you write down the wrong address?
- Should you have listened to your gut when it said you should have taken the turn on Maple Street?
- Should you have left earlier so you wouldn’t be late?
- Did MapQuest give you the wrong information?

On and on you’ll go trying to figure out what happened. But, the event is over now. It doesn’t really help you. It’s actually stopping you from your original goal which was to go to your friend’s house and have an enjoyable evening watching movies with her. You’re now just wasting time and energy thinking about the wrong thing.

How to avoid the self sabotage behaviour

Basically, it all comes down to paying attention to what you’re thinking about and what thoughts you’re telling yourself. Are you blaming others? Are you thinking nothing ever works for you? Are you stuck analysing the past or living with your story? Are you thinking you deserve something for your efforts? Are you frustrated because things didn’t happen like you thought they should?

You need to go back to basics and remind yourself what is your ultimate goal. Ignore the noise and focus on the direction you want to go. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How do I get there?
  • How can I achieve my goal?
  • What do I need to do?
  • What am I willing to do in order to succeed?
  • What do I need to change about the current situation in order to get what I want?
  • Do I just need to make a few adjustments?

These type of thoughts will move you forwards.

You also need to remember than not getting what you want isn't a failure. It's valuable knowledge you just gained. You're actually one step closer to achieving your goal because you've just discovered something that doesn't work. You can now be more focused on what will work.

So, whenever you're in a phase where you're feeling stuck, pay attention to your thoughts and see whether you've gotten off track by concentrating on what you don't want. Turn your thoughts back to what you ultimately want to achieve. What do you want to create in your life?

Use your thoughts to move you closer to your goal and avoid this sneaky self sabotage behaviour trap.

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Additional Resources for Self Sabotage Behaviour

3 Questions That Will Change Your Life
by me, Catherine Pratt

This little, quick-to-read book will provide you with such a simple way to handle just about anything that comes your way. It allows you to see past the initial obstacle and get right to the solution. 

It makes it so easy to deal with those negative emotions like anger, frustration, procrastination, and boredom. It gets you unstuck but it also makes your life just flow so much easier.

It's also a great little productivity tool. I'd definitely recommend checking this one out. You'll be so amazed at what a difference it will make for you in all aspects of your life.
50 pages. File format: pdf

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