10 Tips to Stop Self-Defeating Behavior

worried woman looking at her laptop
The Metta Psychology Group defines “self-defeating behavior” as any behavior that takes you in the opposite direction of your goals.

As you can imagine, self-defeating behavior takes many forms. It requires a significant amount of introspection to overcome.

That said, there are some ways that you can combat it in general.

1. Set manageable daily goals

At the beginning of each day, set a goal for yourself that follows the S.M.A.R.T. principles. This will keep you on track and give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.

S.M.A.R.T. goals encompass the following characteristics:

Specific: Defines exactly what the task is.

Measurable: Has a way to track progress.

Achievable: Manageable within the confines of your skills and resources.

Relevant: Relates to your overall vision.

Time-Bound: Has a specific deadline.

2. Keep impulse triggers to a minimum

Many self-defeating behaviors come down to shear impulsivity. To combat this, keep your impulsive habits and items out of reach.

For example, if you tend to stress eat, keep the unhealthy snacks out of the house. The same principle works for any of your bad habits, such as drinking alcohol, overspending, etc.

3. Reframe your mindset

Changing your language and how you think about things works well to increase your motivation for positive behaviors.

For instance, change “I have to do this” to “I get to do this”. In addition, instead of viewing outcomes as positive or negative, view them all as a learning opportunity.

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When things work out in your favor, think about ways to repeat it in the future. When they don’t, simply consider what you could do differently next time.

4. Be willing to accept outside support

This could refer to either informal or formal supports. For some people, overcoming self-defeating behavior is as simple as confiding in friends and family.

For others, seeking professional therapy may be necessary to overcome underlying issues that cause self-defeating behavior.

5. Reward yourself for accomplishments

Rewards are useful in long-term behavior modification because they use our brain dopamine reward system to increase motivation.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. When we receive rewards for behaviors, we feel good about it and are more likely to do that behavior again.

So, when you accomplish goals and ignore self-defeating behaviors, reward yourself to keep the progress going.

6. Practice mindfulness exercises throughout your day

Mindfulness is helpful in combatting self-defeating thoughts and maintaining emotional balance.

It allows you to stay within the present moment rather than sending your mind down a rabbit hole of negativity.

Examples of mindfulness exercises include:

Positive self-affirmation


Body scan

Breathing exercises

Mindful eating

Thought observation

Mindful physical activity

7. Set yourself up for success

Preparation is key when you know to tend to gravitate toward self-defeating behaviors.

Set yourself up for a task in a way that minimizes distractions, procrastination, and obstacles.

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Have a game plan going into any task. Reduce physical distractions where possible and be prepared to pass by self-defeating or distracting thoughts.

8. Create a coping skills toolbox

These toolboxes are helpful for everyone but especially those that struggle with self-defeating thoughts.

Coping skills toolboxes include any item or activity that helps you process negative thoughts and behaviors in a healthy manner.

Some examples include:

Music playlists


Art supplies


Positive affirmations

Guided meditations

9. Make necessary tasks fun

Many of us encounter self-defeating behaviors when we have to complete tasks that we don’t necessarily view as entertaining.

However, you can turn even the most undesirable tasks into something fun if you’re creative about it.

For example, clean the house with music playing in the background.

Or, if you have a goal to exercise more but don’t follow through with a good workout routine, join a sports team instead of simply hitting the treadmill.

10. Manage your material resources

Just as people tend to overindulge in unhealthy habits, people also tend to engage in self-defeating behavior when it comes to utilizing material resources.

Money is the most common example. Let’s say your goal is to save money but you find yourself impulse buying snacks from a vending machine.

Find ways to save your money such as giving yourself a weekly allowance or taking snacks with you.

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Creating a budget for household finances is also a great way to understand how much you’re able to spend each week.

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