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3 Common Self-Defeating Thoughts And How To Overcome Them

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Before I am who I am today, I admit I have fallen into the traps of self-defeating thoughts more in the past. I still do occasionally, but thankfully, the confidence in me will quickly beat the crap out of these pointless thoughts into nothingness.

And I must say, self-defeating thoughts are not only a waste of time but they are also a waste of youth and talents, a misuse of the brain, and a terribly annoying plague on the mind if you will. I totally hate the crippling sensation that kind of negativity can give you, and if not careful you may suffer from severe depression, panic attacks and anxiety disorders.

At first, it may seem like a harmless little thought but left to its own device, you will find yourself having a hard time dealing with that pesky monster hiding in your mind.

What Are Self-Defeating Thoughts?

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Self-defeating thoughts are the one negativity you don’t need in life. Photo by Darius Bashar

According to the definition by VeryWellMind, self-defeating thoughts are “any negative views you hold about yourself and the world around you. Also known as mistaken or faulty beliefs, these views impact your self-esteem, the feelings you carry about your personal abilities, and your relationships with others.“.

In simple words, self-defeating thoughts are negative, distorted thoughts formed by you about things. They happen mainly because of little self-confidence, your love for assuming things are like this and that, your need to achieve something impulsively, and always waiting on others’ approval.

Generally, self-defeating thoughts can be categorized into three self-defeating behaviors or types:-

Self-Doubt

Initially, you have good feelings about say, a project. You’ve worked hard enough to finish whatever tasks needed to make it a success and now you’re approaching the finishing line.

Then you suddenly have moments of doubt. No, this isn’t it, you thought. What if this fails? What if the client doesn’t like it and wants me to change everything? What if my colleagues think this is a stupid idea?

Chill, you. You don’t need to get others’ approval every single time.

I used to be like that you see. I can totally relate.

I was always thinking about what others would think about how I carry myself in society, how I dress, how I speak, talk, act, how I eat, how I work on my ideas – will they laugh and think it silly?, the list goes on.

I knew I hated that feeling of self-doubt, yet I didn’t think enough to come to a realization that, hey, these are just intangible thoughts, why do you let those doubts control your life and everything you do?

Perhaps it was my poor condition of living that made me harbor those negative thoughts – you know when you aren’t financially well off yet your friends are having the time of their lives partying, going places, shopping and stuff, you tend to feel left out among your peers. This is also the perfect time for self-doubt to pop up, further causing your self-esteem levels to drop like crazy.

Except dear reader, know that it is NOT the condition of living that should affect how you think, but it is your MINDSET that can make a difference in your self-defeating life.

Being Scared Of Failures

Growing up in an Asian family, I think all Asians are able to relate – the fear of failures is REAL. I’m glad that my parents are considered the more understanding type who knows their daughter’s talents and limits, and allow me to live life my own way, but not many are as lucky as I am.

Most Asian parents would always want you to do well, but no, it doesn’t just stop there – they want you to be EXCELLENT. (Disclaimer: This of course, isn’t limited to just Asian parents.)

Straight A+s for all your subjects. Great at sports. Brilliant leadership through taking up roles like being a school prefect or a class monitor. Graduate with First Class Honors from university. Land a stable yet high paying 9-5 job. Get a wonderful loving partner who is equally smart to start a family.

You get the idea – it’s just a bunch of endless stress and high expectations.

I wouldn’t say that you cannot achieve any of those goals or expectations, but as one of the mediocre performing people, it’s common knowledge that each individual is different, hence not everyone is cut out to excel in the same thing, the same way, the same path.

And because of this kind of perfectionism ingrained in our minds since young, you grow up not wanting to take anything less than perfect – which is like a double-edged sword. Good because it pushes you to do more and do better; Bad because you may develop self-defeating thoughts from the pressures of perfectionism.

You become scared of failures, or rather, there’s NO room for failures.

You end up beating yourself badly for any mistakes made, you treat yourself harsher than anyone else. And that isn’t right.

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Making Assumptions

Over the years, I came up with a life catchphrase of my own: Assumption kills.

Well, I think that’s true.

Making assumptions is like you trying so hard to mind-read others and conveniently jump to a conclusion, without actually verifying the facts of the situation.

Oftentimes, you make assumptions because 1) it’s easier to conclude things that way; 2) you’re afraid to ask others; 3) you blindly believe whatever is presented in front of you and think there’s no need for further research or clarification.

Except if your assumptions are correct then congratulations your mind-reading has worked! (sarcasm intended); otherwise, you are just beating around the bush mentally with your guesses and this can lead to misunderstandings and self-defeating thoughts like, Did I antagonize that person? Am I not good enough for the person? Does he or she likes me? Is my boss displeased because of my work?

There are better ways of dealing with life situations than assuming things happen because of this or this, so always remember my life advice: Assumption kills.

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How To Overcome Self-Defeating Thoughts? The 5 Ways You Can Start To Apply Today

Before I move on to the ways you can use to defeat self-defeating thoughts (unintentional pun?), I have to say, I’m no expert here. However, these are the tips I find helpful to gradually lift you out of that self-defeating pit hole that you’ve dug for yourself over the years.

Positive quote to stop self-defeating thoughts, How to overcome self-defeating thoughts - Ways to remove self-defeating thoughts - Break The Bull blog
This is a quote everybody needs to hear every now and then when they are feeling self-defeated. Photo by alex bracken

Identify self-defeating moments and behaviors

Whenever you find yourself doubting your own capabilities and stuff you’ve done, take a step back and pause for a moment instead of panicking or drowning yourself in anxiety. Identify this self-defeating behavior, and make a note of when and what causes it to happen to help you see the pattern.

You can ask yourself questions instead: Okay, I’m feeling uncertain whether I did this project right or wrong – now what makes me feel so? Is it because I’ve been slacking? Is it because I missed out details?

If you find that it’s not because of your bad performance or decisions, then it’s just your self-defeating thoughts playing pranks on you. However, if the uncertainty is justified, then it’s time to delve deeper to identify the root cause of your poor performance or decision-making.

The idea is to test your self-defeating theories to see if they are just baseless thoughts, or whether it points to something more serious. That way, you know what triggers those thoughts and you can then find a solution or workaround to it, rather than swimming helplessly in the sea of negativity.

Practice mindfulness

To tell you the truth, it’s easy to say, “practice mindfulness“, but it actually tough to put into action. This is because most of us aren’t really thinking or being mindful of what we do each day, from the moment we wake up, to the end of the day when we drop back to bed to sleep.

Sometimes, we don’t even remember what we ate for breakfast or lunch, or whether we have an appointment made.

As defined by Poh Ern Si, practicing mindfulness is about being conscious and alert of your actions so that we are able to make clear judgments and also protect ourselves from easily making unnecessary blunders, which may then lead us into that vicious cycle of self-defeat.

In other words, it’s about prevention better than cure: Mindfulness is the prevention you need so you can avoid your mind from creating self-defeating thoughts in the first place.

How to start being more mindful in life? It can be as easy as incorporating exercises, having more rests and sleeping early, and playing board games that exercise the brain such as chess and my current fave, Go. The idea is to go for activities and habits that sharpen the mind so that you have better concentration, which in turn leads to mindfulness.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg – doing correct meditation is the advanced level of gaining mindfulness, but that will be story for another day.

Stop being overly critical of yourself

An extension to identifying self-defeating behaviors, this is a reminder to stop being so harsh upon yourself.

Yes, you make mistakes. Yes, you messed up. But this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

Stop telling yourself you can’t make it, you are worthless, or [insert whatever negative remarks to yourself]. Give yourself more credit. Don’t forget, the more you repeat those negative phrases to yourself, the more it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so don’t hurt yourself this way!

We are humans after all. Failures are part and parcel of life. What is more important than berating ourselves for effing up is to identify what went wrong, what could have been done to fix the issues, what improvements to employ and what to do to avoid the same mistakes or failures from happening in future.

And I think doing so is 100 times more helpful than telling or thinking to yourself, I’m a failure for doing this or that. Give yourself a break – BREATHE, human, BREATHE!

A note though: This doesn’t mean you allow yourself to succumb to failures repeatedly without any action plan to right the wrongs. The idea here is to give yourself some allowance for potential mistakes that may happen along the way, but this doesn’t mean you should just fail since it’s okay to fail.

Give your best in whatever you do, however, if things still don’t go your way, at least you can tell yourself you’ve done what you can, no regrets, then move on.

Self-reflection by pondering and contemplation

Many people don’t realize the importance of self-reflection (myself included, I’m still working on it). No, this is not about looking into the mirror and vain-ing about how good you look – this is about sitting down at the end of each day, and reflecting on your day’s activities.

What have you done that makes you feel good? What mistakes did you make that cause you to feel down and bad for the day? What could you have done better if such an event happen again?

This may seem like a chore, but I’m sure if you allocate some time each day, say 10 minutes before bed, just recounting your day’s events and internalizing on good deeds and improvements within, you will wake up the next day with more motivation to be a better version of yourself, and break that self-defeating cycle.

Clarify things that you aren’t sure about

Remember my motto, assumption kills? So okay, since we shouldn’t assume things, then what’s the solution?

Seek clarification instead. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to know in order to get a task done well, or to understand the problem at hand. Silence is NOT golden in this case – you need solid information to make informed decisions, not random assumptions just because you think so.

This way, you get to be clear about what’s really going on and prevent yourself from riding the self-defeating merry-go-round.

You Deserve Better Than Being Self-Defeated In Life

I always feel that many people could have avoided falling into bad depression and anxiety disorders if they catch these negative thoughts early on and work on ways how to overcome self-defeating thoughts soon before these thoughts spiral out of control.

I could be wrong though, but I’d like to think I am right.

After all, there’s no smoke without fire. In the case of depression and anxiety, self-defeating thoughts are one of the culprits that can make you feel like you’re one of the worst human beings on earth.

Except these thoughts are wrong – You deserve so much better in life.

So take it from me, think about what I have just said, and start taking control of your life.

I pray for the day every one of us will be free from such self-defeating thoughts and that no matter how bleak the situation can be, may we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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