Most people never discover their purpose in life. They’re too caught up in their self-sabotaging behaviors.
Worse even, they trick themselves into thinking that those behaviors are beneficial.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of thinking about their purpose. Many are too busy struggling to make ends meet.
But the fact that you’re here, reading this post, tells me you’re not in that group. You have your basic survival needs covered. Your next quest is to meet your soul needs — i.e. discover your purpose and live it.
Very few people live their purpose as a default. For most, it takes deliberate exploration to find it. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t encourage such exploration. Instead, it perpetuates self-sabotaging behaviors that keep you stuck in a life you don’t want.
The good news is that you can let go of these behaviors anytime. It’s like finally taking off a blindfold you’ve been wearing most of your life to see what’s right in front of you.
But first, you need to understand where these self-sabotaging behaviors come from.
What Is Self-Sabotage And Why You (Most Certainly) Do It
Self-sabotaging behaviors are those that undermine your own goals and values.
When you engage in self-sabotage, you create internal conflict. On the one hand, you say you want to discover and live your purpose. On the other, you do things that keep you from it.
The trick here is that you may not be aware of that conflict. According to psychologist and writer Nick Wignall, self-sabotaging behaviors fall into one of these two groups:
- Conscious self-sabotage. These are the actions that you know hinder your goals — but you engage in them anyway. For example, you spend time bingeing TV shows, even though you wanted to work on your side-hustle.
- Unconscious self-sabotage. This form of self-sabotage is subtler. You do it without being aware of how it undermines you. For example, you withdraw from a relationship as soon as minor problems arise — even though you want a deeper connection with that person.
The self-sabotaging behaviors that blind you to your purpose usually fall into the “unconscious” group. They’re patterns you developed in the past to deal with adversity. They may have been valid coping mechanisms years ago — but they’re no longer helpful today.
For example: If you didn’t have your emotional needs met as a child, you may have developed ways of comforting yourself — escaping into your fantasy world or bullying your peers. If you drag those behaviors into your adult life, they may distract you from exploring your purpose. That’s because they constantly reinforce your problems, instead of focusing on solutions.
This can happen completely unconsciously. Those self-sabotaging behaviors may be so deeply ingrained that you perceive them as a part of who you are. On top of that, they also serve a purpose. After all, you developed them as a way of protecting yourself from being hurt.
Some of the most common reasons behind self-sabotage (conscious or not) include:
- Shielding yourself from discomfort. When you believe that difficult feelings can “destroy” you, you take action to avoid those emotions at all cost.
- Poor self-image. If you consistently tell yourself you’re “unworthy” or “not good enough,” you’re prone to taking actions that support that image.
- Fearing failure or success. Both failure and success are a threat to the status quo and your current identity. If you’re afraid to change, your subconscious may steer your behavior to “protect” you from that change.
- Wanting to be in control. Discovering your purpose could bring a lot of unknown to your life. You may engage in self-sabotage simply to avoid losing control.
Now that you know where self-sabotaging behaviors come from, let’s look at those that may stop you from discovering your purpose.
Up until now, you may have seen these behaviors as beneficial. It’s time to open your eyes and acknowledge how they undermine you.
7 Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That Keep You Stuck
1. You trust others more than you trust yourself.
As children, we learn to rely on others for guidance. That’s all fine (and necessary!) when you’re eight years old.
But if you continue valuing opinions of others’ more than your own as an adult, you risk betraying yourself. Without realizing, you may start living someone else’s life at the cost of your purpose.
Even when the people around you mean well, they usually give advice that fits their agenda and world views. By blindly following what they say, you subscribe to their reality, instead of your own.
This way, you may never realize what’s important for you. You can’t tell the opinions of others from your personal values. As a result, you remain blind to your purpose.
2. You focus on threats more than opportunities.
The human brain is wired for negativity. It’s in our DNA to spot threats before opportunities and ensure physical survival before anything else.
But this mode of operating is mostly useless in the modern world. Once you have your survival needs granted, the next step is to turn towards your soul needs — that is, to discover and live your purpose.
For this to happen, you need to learn how to turn your attention away from threats — and towards opportunities. This may entail letting go of security. You need to accept that you won’t be able to control everything.
Giving up security is often the price you pay if you want to live in alignment with your soul. But remember: Forsaking your purpose in the name of security also has a price tag attached to it. That price tag may be your happiness.
3. You avoid stillness at all cost.
In our society, few people see the value of stillness. Our education and work culture perpetuate the idea that if you want to be happy, you need to do more.
So, you end up always chasing the next achievement that holds the shiny promise: Once you get there, life will finally feel good.
But this approach rarely works. When you’re in constant motion, you never have the chance to ask crucial questions. Why are you doing what you’re doing? How do you feel in your current job? Are you truly satisfied — or putting a fake smile on your face every morning?
Only being still allows you to ponder such questions. If you never stop, they remain unanswered. Contrarily to what society teaches you, this is a self-sabotaging behavior that steers you away from, not towards, your purpose.
4. You deny your shadow self.
Carl Jung used the word “shadow” to describe those aspects of our personalities that we prefer not to see. We don’t want others to see them either. That’s why most people flee when their shadow self starts showing up in their relationships.
Through cultural conditioning, you were told that certain impulses, feelings and intentions are just “not okay.” So, you do your best to hide them.
But it’s your shadow self that has the most to teach you. It also shows you who you need to learn from. The people who trigger the worst in you are often your greatest teachers. They expose the areas of your life where you need to grow.
These can be incredible hints for discovering your purpose. But when you deny your shadow, you deprive yourself of a great source of wisdom.
5. You try to “understand” everything.
Emotions, intuition, impulses, gut-feeling… Most people are taught to see these as “lesser” sources of knowledge. We look at them as the savage and uncultured heritage from our ancestors that does more harm than good.
Instead, we praise our intellect as THE way to understand everything — including ourselves. However, thinking your way into your purpose rarely works.
To discover what you were put on this planet for, you need to let go of trying to understand everything. You must make room for ambiguity. You must embrace the unknown.
The way to do it often leads through listening to your feelings and intuition. If you try to intellectualize everything, your purpose will most likely remain hidden.
6. You criticize yourself more than you praise yourself.
Being overly critical towards yourself is a defense mechanism.
By giving yourself a hard time, you insure yourself against others criticizing you. Then, even if they do, it’s easier to take it — because you already beat yourself down to the ground.
Some people also see self-criticism as a way to motivate themselves. The logic here is that by being hard on yourself, you set the bar higher and perform better next time.
In reality, criticizing yourself is one of the most debilitating self-sabotaging behaviors. It undermines your identity by suggesting that you’re not capable. This prevents you from finding the courage to play big — which is usually required to align with your purpose.
7. You cling to people who undermine you.
Just as you bring yourself down with negative self-talk, other people can also undermine you. It isn’t always clear when they do. Sometimes, your best friends downplay you by what seems like innocent jokes or “being concerned about you.”
If you cling to people who see you as less than you are, you’re not helping yourself. By constantly getting feedback that says you aren’t capable, you start believing it.
Spending time with people who make you feel insecure, small or embarrassed of who you are may be a form of self-sabotage. It may hold you back from taking the steps you already know you must.
This isn’t about blaming others for your situation. Rather, it’s about assessing whether spending time with them is helpful to discover and live your purpose — or, a self-sabotaging behavior.
How To Stop Self-Sabotage And Discover Your Purpose
Most people never discover their purpose. That’s not because they don’t have one — but because they’re addicted to their self-sabotaging behaviors.
Often, we can’t see how we’re undermining ourselves. We think we do all the right things. In our minds, we protect others from our shadow self, we use intellect to analyze and solve problems, and keep ourselves busy to “become successful.”
The first step to stop self-sabotage is to recognize that this is what you’re doing. You need to understand that even though your behavior has a function (e.g. protecting you from failure), it’s not in your highest benefit.
It may have been a valid coping mechanism in the past, when you didn’t have any other way to meet your needs. But in the present, it sabotages you by keeping you from realizing your purpose.
The second step is to ask yourself how you could replace that coping mechanism with a more helpful one. Let’s say your self-sabotaging behaviors are focused around ensuring you feel worthy. For example, you won’t show your weaknesses (your shadow self) to others for the fear that they will reject you.
In this case, you may ask how you could stop relying on others for validating your self-worth. This way, you may embrace your shadow and let it guide your growth — instead of sabotaging you.
The third step is to clarify your personal values and start acting on them, instead of your fear-based beliefs. Remember, most self-sabotaging behaviors are designed to protect you from threats. However, there’s a good chance those threats don’t exist anymore.
Once you acknowledge this, you take your attention off threats — and start looking for opportunities. When you embrace these opportunities that align with your values, discovering your purpose becomes inevitable.
You naturally let go of self-sabotaging behaviors once you see that they don’t serve who you are today. You realize you don’t have to live in perpetual internal conflict. You no longer have to be driven by fear.
When you get to that point, living out your purpose becomes the only option. And sure, you’ll still run into obstacles. But it becomes much easier to deal with them once you know what you’re doing it for.
At Big Self School, we believe that outer impact starts with inner growth. To get advice and inspiration for living from the inside out, follow our Medium publication. To receive our best articles to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.