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Book Summary: Stop Self-Sabotage – Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way

Stop Self-Sabotage (2019) outlines a six-step guide to identifying and overcoming behaviors that counteract people’s ability to reach goals of all kinds. The clinically proven process includes exercises, practical advice, and real-life examples of how people have used the method to change their lives.

Introduction: Stop self-defeating habits to finally reach your goals.

How many times have you begun a new year with a resolution to change something in your life, only to realize it’s fallen by the wayside in no time? You may have found yourself setting the same goal year after year. “I’m really doing it this time,” you think.

Time passes, and instead of keeping up healthy eating habits or saving money you promised yourself you would, you find yourself indulging in junk food several times a week or blowing cash on an impulse buy.

Now what?

Well, to begin it’s important to look at the whys behind the pesky habits that keep popping up as roadblocks between you and your goals. First, self-sabotage is usually rooted in two key survival skills: attaining rewards and avoiding threats. Both of these drives help keep you alive and cause reactions in your brain that feel good. The trouble is when they get out of balance.

But don’t worry, no matter the desire that’s eluded you so far, you can begin pursuing it right now with Dr. Judy Ho’s six-step method in our summary to Stop Self-Sabotage. You’ll learn how to think differently, act accordingly, and reach goals successfully. The method brings together Ho’s many years of clinical experience and scientific research along with several exercises for each step. In this summary, we’ll get you started by covering all of the steps and at least one exercise for each.

Some of the toughest problems require a custom solution, and that’s what you’re working toward starting right now.

Book Summary: Stop Self-Sabotage - Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way

Step 1: tune into your thinking

There are six types of troublesome thinking, or triggers, that cause people to self-sabotage. To address them, you need to first identify them. We’ll do a quick exercise for that, but first, you’ll need to remember these terms and what they mean.

Overgeneralizing/catastrophizing means taking one fact and jumping to conclusions, usually bad ones. For example, have you ever thought a friend was upset with you simply because they hadn’t returned a text?

Shoulds-based thinking means relying too much on your own rules and expectations about how things should go. Like that friend you texted should have gotten back to you by now, regardless of what they may have going on.

Black-and-white thinking allows for only two possibilities and no in-between. Perhaps a colleague passed you in the hallway without greeting you, so you firmly conclude they’re a rude person.

Mind reading is simply thinking you actually know the thoughts or intentions of others. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion and you think that’s because your boss doesn’t care about your efforts.

Discounting the positive usually plays out in downplaying what’s good about yourself or things you’ve done. For instance, have you ever turned down a compliment instead of just giving a simple “Thank you?”

Personalization refers to any thinking in which you measure yourself against other people. In other words, when was the last time you scrolled social media?

Okay, we know that’s a lot of causes of self-sabotage, so here’s the exercise we promised you:

Break up your next 24 waking hours into four equally spaced blocks of time and set an alert for each. When the alarm sounds, grab a pen and jot down what’s on your mind. After you complete the fourth note, look back at all you wrote. Consider each thought within the context of the six types of thinking we just covered. Do any of your thoughts align with them? You can do this exercise over several days to spot triggers and look for repeat offenders to see which ones are affecting you the most.

Now you know what’s impacting your own life, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: shutting down triggering thoughts

Let’s revisit that example of the unreturned text message. That was the center of a conflict for Alice, whose insecurity about dating and relationships goes all the way back to childhood. When Alice’s boyfriend took longer than usual to reply to a text, she jumped to conclusions and peppered him with questions about whether he was seeing other people or wanted to break up. Eventually, he did, after getting tired of these interrogations.

That story kept playing out for Alice until she learned how to look at it as a sequence and then do her part to change the outcome.

So what’s the sequence? Well, events lead to thoughts, which produce feelings, which drive actions. If you can make yourself pause just after something has happened – the event – you can choose to think differently, improve your feelings, and become far less likely to self-sabotage.

One way to work with a triggering thought is with a practice called deemphasizing, which helps in situations where you simply just need a breather. You can calm yourself down, especially until more facts are clear. To do this, shift your focus away from the thing that happened and put it more on being an objective observer. Use statements that begin with “I am having the thought that …” and “I notice that …” before completing the sentence with your initial thought.

So let’s say you’re Alice and thinking “My boyfriend is cheating.” You can change that to, “I am having the thought that my boyfriend is cheating.” Then, you can add another layer of separation with, “I notice I am having the thought that my boyfriend is cheating.”

Doing this creates degrees of separation, takes your mind off the unknowns, and brings you back to what you can control – your own thoughts and actions.

Step 3: changing your old ways

Now that you’ve done some work on how you think, let’s look more closely at what you do, or as Ho calls it, “learning your ABCs.” The A stands for antecedents, or events that happen before you act. The B comes from behaviors, or actions themselves. And finally, the C is for the consequences that follow.

Let’s see how it works with an example. Take Ho’s client Janie, who struggled to overcome a long history of procrastinating on work projects. She’d fill her time with other things, sometimes even productive ones like household chores or paying bills, and others not so much, like binge-watching a show. Even though Janie didn’t like the consequences of having to work all night and usually turn in work she knew wasn’t so great, she’d still somehow justify her process.

Are you a procrastinator like Janie? Have you ever said, “I do some of my best work in a pinch” while knowing that’s really not true?

To see where you can stop this kind of madness, use the ABC approach to examine your situation in separate parts, much like you did with the sequence in step two. Start with the long-term consequences you don’t like and the obvious behaviors associated with them. Look closer to find the behaviors that bring satisfaction only for the moment, like eating one more cookie or binge-watching a show.

Then move to the antecedents. What’s happening for you before you do these things? What thoughts are you having? In most cases, you can either change the situation or remove it altogether, like stop keeping cookies in your house. In one instance, Janie discovered she was putting off work because she’d received criticism from her boss a week prior, and avoiding doing work was helping her avoid the stress of those thoughts in the short term. Meanwhile, she was setting herself up for more negative feedback at the same time. Acknowledging that was a first step in her addressing her behavior and finding workarounds, literally.

Once you’ve created a list of ways you can adjust or kick your old habits like Janie, you’re ready to supercharge your efforts with new ones.

Step 4: going for the goal

You’ve identified exactly how and why you’ve been blocking your success. Even better, you have the tools for navigating around or removing those obstacles. Now it’s time to refocus your eyes on the prize, assess the path, and create a guide to stay on it. To do that, two things are essential: motivation and willpower. Ho offers exercises based on a method that combines two established psychology techniques, mental contrasting and implementation intentions, or MCII.

The first part, mental contrasting, works by taking a hard look at where you stand now in relation to your future goal, including anything between it and you. This helps you form manageable expectations to get you started and makes it less likely you’ll get frustrated and stop. Start with your goal and rate how much you believe you can achieve it, with 10 being most likely and 1 being not at all. Then, consider every potential challenge. Once you’ve done that, go back and reconsider the rating. If it’s below a 7, adjust your goal. You can change the timing or the outcome or even break your goal down into smaller steps.

Next, draft your plan with specific instructions about how you’ll get around tough challenges as they arise. Think of anything that could derail you, including that list you made as you looked at your ABCs in step three. Then write out what you’ll do in every situation. Get super specific, and you’ll be glad you did when you put it to use. You’ll have a handy guide for when your brain is tired and your willpower is low.

These resources will light the fire and fan the flames, and next, you’ll learn how to keep it burning as long as you need to reach the goal you want.

Step 5: maintaining your focus

Even with a fresh mindset, new tools, and a solid plan, it’s inevitable that there will be unexpected struggles that threaten to blow you off course as you pursue your goal. You may even start down your path and begin to feel like something is off and start to wonder if your original goal is even worth pursuing any longer. No need to feel lost in these situations, you can replace any confusion with clarity by reminding yourself about your values and what matters most to you.

But do you have a firm idea of what your values are? While you probably have some idea, there are many exercises to help you hone in on what matters most to you. Let’s try one.

Make a list of 33 different values that are important to you. If that sounds daunting, do a quick search of the internet and you’ll find thousands of suggestions. Write each value on a separate index card and then sort them into three, equal stacks. The first should be for those most important to you, the second for those of medium importance, and the last for those that remain.

Now that you have your top eleven, whittle it down to seven for this next exercise that helps you keep your values top of mind as you go about your life. Assign a value to each day of the week and set a goal and action related to each one. Remember Alice from step two? One of her values is curiosity, so she assigned it to a day with the goal of giving someone a second chance after an unremarkable first date. Who knows? Alice’s curiosity could lead to a much better second date that leads to a lifetime of love. Intentionally taking actions that align with your values will keep pushing you toward your bigger goal.

So, are you ready for the last step?

Step 6: crafting a visual plan

For this last step, grab all your notes, a poster board, and a Sharpie. You’re going to draw what Ho calls a “blueprint for change.”

First, give it a title and then draw five boxes in a row across the top, filling them with your top five values. Below them, draw a centered, bigger box. Use it to write the specific, attainable goal you came up with in step four. Then, draw lines from the goal to your values. Do they connect in real life? You may see another opportunity for tweaks to make sure they’re in alignment.

Drop down to the very bottom and draw four circles with the letters L.I.F.E. underneath, one letter per circle. L is for low or unsteady self-esteem; I is for internalized beliefs; F is for fear of unknowns; and E is for an excessive desire to control situations. If any of these elements resonate with you, make a note in its circle so you can always see its impact on the other factors.

Between your top and bottom sections, draw a slim, vertical rectangle along the left side of the board. Be sure to leave plenty of room next to it. In the rectangle, log your notes from the first three steps about your typical thinking patterns and feelings.

To the right of this rectangle, draw four boxes with two on top and two below. In the first row and box, write your plans for getting around challenges from step four. In the box next to it, write the new consequences that come from following those plans. In those last two boxes, note your old behaviors and old consequences. Now, connect it all by drawing arrows from the slim rectangle to all four boxes.

Finally, take some satisfaction in drawing only one arrow linking your new consequences to the big goal box.

The result will tie together all the work you’ve done and give you a clear visual you can return to any time you need reinforcement.


If you struggle with self-defeating behaviors you can win the battle with yourself by following a six-step process. It begins with becoming aware of thought patterns, shutting down triggers, and changing unwanted habits by examining and adjusting the situations around them.

That makes room to create new behaviors and routines that clear the path toward your goals. Practices to build motivation and willpower ensure you stay on course to reach success. Alignment with core values and creating a visual plan will sustain that success.

About the author

Dr. Judy Ho, PhD, ABPP, ABPdN, is a tenured associate professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and a triple board-certified and licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist. She is a two-time recipient of the National Institute of Mental Health Services Research Award and completed a three-year National Institute of Mental Health–sponsored postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric (Semel) Institute. She maintains a private practice in Manhattan Beach, hosts an active clinical research program, and regularly appears as an expert psychologist on television, including The Doctors, Crime Watch Daily, CNN Newsroom, and HLN’s Dr. Drew. She is currently a cohost on CBS’s Face the Truth.


Psychology, Personal Development, Self Help, Nonfiction, Business, Mental Health, Social Science, Counseling, Popular Applied Psychology, Happiness Self-Help, Success Self-Help

Table of Contents

Preface: What’s Holding You Back? vii
Introduction: Why We Get in Our Own Way 1
Step 1 Identify Self-Sabotage Triggers 41
Step 2 Deactivate Your Triggers and Reset the Thermostat 79
Step 3 Release the Rut! Rinse and Repeat: The Basic ABCs 125
Step 4 Replacement, Not Repetition 165
Step 5 A Value a Day Keeps Self-Sabotage Away 199
Step 6 Create a Blueprint for Change 233
Conclusion: A Look Back and the View Ahead 251
Acknowledgments 255
Appendix I Blueprint for Change 257
Appendix II Self-Sabotage Busters 259
Appendix III Pleasant Activities List 267
Appendix IV Assess Your Motivating Operations Chart 269
Appendix V Values Cards 271
Notes 277
Further Reading 287


Award-winning clinical psychologist and TV personality Dr. Judy Ho helps you stop the cycle of self-sabotage, clear a path to lasting happiness, and start living your best life in this a must-have guide perfect for fans of You Are a Badass, Unf*ck Yourself, and How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t.

Have you ever had a deadline for a big work project, only to find yourself down to the wire because you spent too much time on social media? Or gotten excited about meeting someone new, only to convince yourself he isn’t really interested? How many Januarys have you resolved that this is the year you’re finally going to lose the weight, only to abandon your diet in just a few weeks? If these scenarios sound familiar, you are stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage.

At one point or another, we’ve all done something that undermines our best interests and intentions. Even the most successful people get in their own way—often without realizing it. In Stop Self-Sabotage, licensed clinical psychologist, tenured professor, and television personality Dr. Judy Ho takes a fresh look at self-sabotage to help us answer two vital questions: Why do we do it? How do we stop?

Combining therapeutically proven strategies with practical tools and self-assessments, Dr. Judy teaches you how to identify your triggers, modify your thoughts and behaviors, find your true motivation, and unlock your willpower to stop this vicious cycle in its tracks. Practical and transformative, Stop Self-Sabotage is your ultimate guide to jumpstart lasting, positive change and start living the life you want.


“People always wonder how and why they find themselves in the same situations over and over again; repetitive difficulties and bad decisions plague their lives, and self-sabotage is the most common reason people get stuck. Judy Ho provides an analysis of the sources of our sabotage and then offers practical and proven exercises for breaking this pattern. If you are interested in changing this is a must read.” — Dr. Drew Pinsky

“There are few things that make you feel worse than self-sabotaging your success and happiness, but few things will make you feel better than stopping it and Stop Self-Sabotage is just the right guide to help you do that.” — Mark Goulston, author of Get Out of Your Own Way and “Just Listen”

“Stop Self-Sabotage is the playbook for eliminating behaviors that interfere with the life that you deserve. Dr. Judy Ho guides the reader with practical action-oriented guidance that lead to long lasting fulfillment and happiness. This book is essential to those who desire lasting change” — Mike Bayer, life coach and New York Times bestselling author of Best Self

“Dr. Judy Ho has written the most amazing tool to help you on your journey to “Live Your Best Life.” This book is a must read for anyone looking to do a self-audit to dispel the things that are not working! Enjoy dawlings!” — Vivica A. Fox

“Everyday I see people stuck in negative behavior loops. In Stop Self-Sabotage, Dr. Judy Ho gives you the tools to intervene in your own life. Life is short, and everybody deserves their own intervention! Get busy getting better, with her easy to use six-step program for more meaning, purpose, and joy.” — Brad Lamm, CIP, teacher, interventionist, and author of How to Help the One You Love

”Stop Self-Sabotage is a power-packed guide for those who get tied up with self-defeating thoughts or actions. Dr. Ho uses her many years of clinical experience, research, and teaching to provide the reader with an engaging roadmap toward greater happiness and fulfillment. Applying the practical steps in this easy to read book can help transform your thinking from self sabotage to self motivation.” — Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University and author of Thriving in the Wake of Trauma

“Motivating, empowering…Stop Self-Sabotage will provide support and guidance to readers looking to overcome self-destructive habits.” — Publishers Weekly

“The rabbit hole of self-sabotage is treacherous…Stop Self-Sabotage provides a winning blend of insight, compassion, and practical advice. Ho’s writing is lively and compelling, and loaded with useful techniques. This is without a doubt the finest book on self-sabotage in the field!” — Dr. David A. Levy, Professor of Psychology and Author of Life Is a 4-Letter Word

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