Do you find yourself repeating the same unproductive behavior which you swear you’ll stop the day before with every darn good intention within your very being?

You’re not alone.

I’m not talking about the unwise choices and subsequent fallout, even regrets you face because of less than good decisions when facing the normal kind of challenges in life.

I’m referring to behaviors you engage in repeatedly that are self-sabotaging, that take you away from what you want, or distract you from reaching your goals, living your dream and passions. These are self-defeating behaviors which include internal feelings and attitudes, recurring thoughts, and outward behaviors.

Self-defeating behaviors can include:

  • procrastination
  • fidgeting
  • overspending
  • nail-biting
  • overeating
  • eating too many crappy foods
  • not eating enough
  • lateness
  • working all the time
  • playing when you need to work
  • making decisions too slowly or too quickly
  • always saying “yes” when you need to say “no”
  • saying “no” when you need to say “yes”
  • avoiding timely billing
  • stubbornness: needing to always be right
  • people pleasing: at the cost of your own happiness or health
  • overthinking
  • obsessing about perfection
  • blaming: inability to accept responsibility for your own mistakes
  • inability or refusing to ask for help
  • fear of taking healthy risks
  • negative self talk
  • self-guilt and feeling undeserving of good things in life
  • fill in the blank.

So, you may ask:

How do you say “NO” to self-defeating behaviors once and for all?

Answer: Build better habits which you regularly practice and have a hard time giving up. Yep, you’re going to want to keep these habits!

Any self-defeating behavior can be the target of a new habit.

In this article, you’ll get the five steps to building a better habit so you can say NO to any self-defeating behavior once and for all. 

Have you chosen a self-defeating behavior yet? Let’s start building one habit at a time and triumph over defeating behaviors.

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1 — Understand the HABIT loop.

According to Charles Duhigg, there is a loop to every habit: a cue, routine, and reward. For example, the TV program ends at 10pm (cue), you shut off all the electronics (routine) and go to bed to read (reward).

So, every habit you design needs a cue, routine, and reward.

Step 2 — Determine your cue.

The “cue” is the reminder that automatically triggers the positive behavior contained in the habit.

What easier cue is there than first thing in the morning quietness before most of your household is up and about? And with your first cup of coffee — a winner for sure!

Setting a timer for 20 minutes is another cue to help you focus on the new, positive habit. Press the START button and go for 20 minutes. When the ding goes off and the 20 minutes is up you can choose to extend the time another 15 minutes — or stop.

It’s also a way to conquer the dread (if there is dread) to something you hate doing by limiting the habit to 20 minutes.And here’s the deal: Just show up and start if the dread you’re feeling is heavy — just 2 minutes at a time. See what happens.

Step 3 — Build a routine and put it in writing.

Be intentional about your routine with a specific activity, amount of time AND put it in writing!

Here’s a quick summary of an interesting research study on getting people to exercise and the power of intention:


STUDY: People interested in exercising were divided into three groups and told:

Group 1 — Just keep track of your exercise habit for two weeks. No other directions.
Group 2 — Keep track of your exercise habit over two weeks and watch a video which identifies the benefits to exercise, (ie why exercise is healthy and important, etc.)
Group 3 — Keep track of your exercise over two weeks, watch a video about the benefits of exercise AND fill out the sentence: I will do (the chosen exercise like: weight lifting, walking, running, swimming) on (this day) at (this time) in (this place).


==> Can you guess which group stuck to their exercise habit at a 90% rate?

==> Group 1 was told to just keep track of their exercise. 31% kept up with the exercise habit.

==> Group 2 was told to keep track of their exercise and watch a motivational video. 31% kept up with their exercise habit.

==> Group 3 had all the same directions as Groups 1 and 2 plus the pre-commitment writing assignment to describe what/when/and where the exercise will happen. No guess work. The routine was scheduled so a pattern was possible. 90% kept up with the habit. S U C C E S S !


Convinced? Ready to write? Fill out this sentence: I will (habit) on (day) at (time) in (place).

Example: I will (bill every morning for 20 minutes) starting (June 20) at (6:30 am) at (my laptop in my home office) with my first cup of coffee (a little extra bonus).

Be intentional about your habit routine with specific activity, day, time and location. No guess work. It’s a done deal.

Step 4 — Choose a reward.

Fun! Choices, choices.

Naturally, there is joy in completion by itself! Yet, a physical reward amplifies your success. Ideas?

The daily reward could be a 30-minute walk with your favorite music. It could be a yummy protein bar. Or lunch with a friend to celebrate.

Fun always needs to be a part of any habit creation. Don’t you agree?

Step 5 — Write an identity statement which captures your resolve.

This is the best part. Create the desired identity you want.

Example: I am someone who respects her work by keeping up daily with billing activities.

Whoa! Smiles all over the place. It’s a statement that can be in your head when you wake up. It’s a natural activity you’re doing with your first cup of coffee. Sweet.

Say your positive identity aloud. Read it. Post it. Type it. So powerful. Looks so good on you!

Be intentional about saying NO to self-defeating behaviors once and for all by practicing new habits.

By the way, if you want better communication, pick up your copy of the Say No Checklist and learn how to peacefully talk to others while making space in your life for your dreams.

Will you do it?

I’d love to know: What new habit are you intentional about these beautiful fun-filled days?


Mary Franz LCSW, PCC  is a couple’s therapist, critical incident responder, and personal strategy coach. Need to talk about a personal or business relationship challenge? Visit her website and ask for a complimentary strategy session.