Building Habits

Are You Getting in Your Own Way?

There’s no doubt about it, changing a habit is hard. Exercising more, learning a new language, altering your sleep habits, or working on better handling your stressors are all actions that can protect your brain health in the long run. Yet, they are some of the most difficult habits to change.

A common reason people are unable to make changes is called “self-sabotage.” It happens when you set a goal, but then create obstacles to prevent yourself from reaching it. Many times people self-sabotage so that they can blame the obstacle instead of themselves for not reaching the goal. No one likes to fail. Self-sabotage lets someone or something else take the blame for failure.

Do you often get in your own way? Maybe you stay up late every night and don’t achieve as much as you could at work. Perhaps you make a goal to exercise every day, then find a million things to do that are more important.

If you think you’re getting in your own way, here are 3 strategies suggested by David Chan, the director of the Behavioral Sciences Institute and professor of psychology at the Singapore Management University.

1. Be humble

When attempting to set and achieve a goal, it helps to know you don’t have all the answers. You might not be the best at what you’re setting out to accomplish. You may even need to enlist the help of others.

2. Be honest

To be honest means to be objective. You may need to check your assumptions and see if there is evidence to support them. What is the evidence that you will fail at your goal?

3. Be humane

Chan includes this third step largely to apply it to relationships, but the relationship with yourself is the most important when trying to achieve a personal goal. Being humane to yourself means showing yourself kindness, and understanding that this is a strength and not a weakness. Forgive yourself for your imperfections and acknowledge your experiences.


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  • Chan, D. (2019) Why people self-sabotage, and how to stop it. Research Collection School of Social Sciences. Paper 3079. Available at:
  • Ju, Y.-E. S., Lucey, B. P., & Holtzman, D. M. (2014). Sleep and Alzheimer disease pathology—A bidirectional relationship. _Nature Reviews. Neurology_, _10_(2), 115–119. doi:
  • Lytle, M. E., Vanderbilt, J., Pandav, R. S., Dodge, H. H., & Ganguli, M. (2004). Exercise Level and Cognitive Decline: The MoVIES Project. _Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders_, _18_(2), 57–64. doi:
  • Peavy, G. M., Jacobson, M. W., Salmon, D. P., Gamst, A. C., Patterson, T. L., Goldman, S., ... & Galasko, D. (2012). The influence of chronic stress on dementia-related diagnostic change in older adults. _Alzheimer disease and associated disorders_, _26_(3), 260.

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