Stuck in a negative cycle of self-sabotage? Here’s how to turn bad habits good once and for all

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We can all be our own worst enemy at the best of times. Whether it’s low confidence or beating ourselves up for that thing we said or mistake we made over and over again, old (unhelpful) habits die hard and a cycle of self-sabotage can prove incredibly hard to break.

While specific to the individual, the one thing we share is that we all suffer from them. Cultivating habits can of course be a good thing, but when do they cross the line from the realms of the productive to the unproductive? According to author, intuitive coach and hypnotherapist Annie Ashdown , such common unhelpful habits include:

• Not speaking up

• Saying yes when you mean no

• Self-criticism

• People pleasing

• Complaining

• Focusing on what’s going wrong and what hasn’t yet happened

• Taking everything personally

• Comparing and despairing

“These are all self- defeating behaviours which are ways of thinking and acting that we have practised,” she says. “What we practise, we become. In the course of time, these habits have become who we are. And who we are has become deep-rooted in our subconscious and we then automatically act out these behavioural patterns whether we are aware of them or not. 98% of what we do is the result of habit, not choice.”

How to incite change - the starting blocks

The thought of overcoming unhelpful habits can feel overwhelming. Life’s busy enough without the stress of having to exert both the physical and mental energy required to adjust our mindsets. To help it become less of a mountain to climb, we asked Annie for her top tips for silencing your inner critic and breaking the task down into manageable chunks.

1) Keep it simple: Just because you’re hoping to change something, it doesn’t mean you have to change everything. “It’s imperative to keep your eye on the goal,” says Annie. “Often in the fight to change a habit, we become so overwhelmed we lose sight of the goal and what we will gain and we get despondent and we quit.” She adds, “The specific habit needs to be identified. What exactly is it you want to change and why?”

2) Set daily reminders: Enlist the help of technology and other people - phone, apps, close ensure the busyness of life doesn’t get in the way. “Every day we must call to mind the reason we are looking to change these habits and stay focused on the payoff,” says Annie.

3) Celebrate every single success and don’t beat yourself up for any blips. “The more we devalue ourselves by telling ourselves we are not progressing very far, the more we crush our self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect and then, we lose our enthusiasm,” cautions Annie.

4) You have to be consistent: “Habits are formed by repeated behaviours until they become strong enough to have a life of their own,” explains Annie. “Practised consistently, the new habit will become who we are.” She adds, “Half measures avail us nothing. We form all new behavioural patterns by jumping in 100% and practising faithfully.”

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Annie Ashdown’s daily planner for changing habits

Next up, if you prefer writing your goals down as a valuable way to chronicle your successes and setbacks, create a daily planner for changing habits like Annie’s example below.

Daily ritual: What, when
Evaluation: How, when
Super self-care: How, when
Celebrate your successes: What, when


Daily rituals: “These are crucial because we are talking about changing habits and the way we think is a crucial element in the structure of our habits. You can change habits effectively by taking a moment each morning to ask yourself, ‘What new habit do I choose to create today?’ Then at night time ask yourself, ‘What old habit did I let go of today?’ Daily rituals take us forward, take us backwards or keep us stuck. What book will you read? What inspirational tape will you listen to? Which positive person who champions you will you call? What upbeat music will you play? Change it as much as you like, but get very clear on what it is. What kind of ritual will be most critical for you daily to change old habits? Write it down and commit to it.”

Evaluation: “Write out 6 negative habits on an index card and take a photo on your phone and put it on its screen. Every night before going to sleep ask yourself, ‘How did I do with these today?’ Focus your evaluations on the ones that keep tripping you up and keep coming back to haunt you. If your daily evaluation tells you that twice today you people pleased or felt jealous or compared and despaired, maybe you can consider what you can do each time this happens? Write out some affirmations to say to yourself, call a friend at lunchtime who is a champion of yours, breathe deeply; if at work, go to the loo and affirm 100 times how amazing you are. Evaluation is critical to progress when changing habits.”

Super self-care: “How, when and where do you take care of yourself? The more you take care of yourself, the more you will increase self-confidence and self-esteem. What do you do for fun? Do you do any yoga, meditation or Pilates to keep your stress levels down? Is your diet healthy? Do you get enough sleep? Are you practising mindfulness? Do you drink enough water? Old habits are not going to let you go easily, so the more you practise super self-care, the more you will want to stay focused, consistent and committed to changing old habits and the less likely you will be to want to sabotage. What do you do and when do you do it, get clear on this, very clear.”

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Celebrate your successes: “This is a crucial daily practice. Write a success log and keep updating it. If you complain, moan or make negative comments often you must learn to celebrate. Give yourself a break. Take time out to go for a massage, a pedicure, a steam, a dance class, a facial...acknowledge every time you say no when before you would have automatically said yes. Pat yourself on the back when you reframe a negative thought. Smile to yourself when you don’t jump up and offer to pay for coffee as you always used to do for everyone else and especially those who never return the favour.”

The final word

While unhelpful habits differ from person to person, the common thread among us is that we all have behaviours that we feel are holding us back and making us unhappy. However, they can be overcome, provided you’re made a priority. “It’s your planner, your life, your mind, your thoughts,” says Annie. “You deserve to be happy, to be peaceful, to change old negative habits to more positive ones and so follow this small series of behaviours and create consistent new life options.”

“All change takes place in 3 sequential steps,” she adds. Summarised they are:

“Step 1: Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones - ‘I can and I will’.

Step 2: Make a conscious choice to behave differently.

Step 3: Take action and keep your eye on the goal.”

Once these tools are mastered, there’s nothing you won’t be able to do.

Annie Ashdown is an author, intuitive coach, hypnotherapist and Ambassador for Dove UK. For more tips, visit  and check out her book,  ‘The Confidence Factor: The Seven Secrets of Successful People’ here .

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