Ever got in your own way despite your best intentions? Maybe you procrastinated on a project, let an opportunity slip through your fingers, or spent too much time ruminating over a mistake.

That’s self-sabotage, and it happens to the best of us. In fact, according to neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho, it happens to just about all of us.

“Self-sabotage is a universal phenomenon,” Dr. Ho says. “No matter how well you’re doing in most areas of your life, all of us trip up from time to time. When it starts to become a pattern that’s hindering your success in one area or another, that’s when you really want to take a look at it.”

Dr. Ho is a triple board-certified and licensed clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, a tenured Associate Professor at Pepperdine University, and the author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way. In a Chief-exclusive session, Dr. Ho shared her advice on understanding the four main triggers for self-sabotage, and how women can address them to transform their lives.

What Drives Self-Sabotage?

In her research, Dr. Ho has identified four underlying drivers of self-sabotage:

1. Low or shaky self-concept revolves around the idea that people have varying levels of self-esteem in different areas of their life — they may be confident in their career but not in their health and well-being, for instance. “Maybe there's an area or two where you don't feel quite as secure,” Dr. Ho says. “If that's the case, you're going to find that you'll self-sabotage more often in those areas than others.”

2. Internalized beliefs stem from what a person learned in childhood from key adults in their life, such as parents and teachers. “Oftentimes, as you’re watching their approach to life, how they solve problems, you may think you’re nothing like them,” Dr. Ho says. “But sometimes, as we grow older, we inadvertently start to adopt some of these early beliefs as our own.”

3. Fear of change or the unknown is based on the general rule that human beings tend to like consistency and the ability to control their environments, meaning they don’t adapt well to change…but certain personality types have a greater fear of change than others.

4. Excessive need for control tends to manifest itself in type A individuals, Dr. Ho says. “Sometimes that can be a double-edged sword,” she says. “The need to know exactly what’s coming can cause you to perhaps not take as many opportunities, especially those where you can’t really see the finish line.”

Dr. Ho explains that people may have one primary driver or a combination of drivers. (In her book, she provides an assessment that readers can use to identify what their drivers are.) She also notes that the first letter of each of the four drivers makes a conspicuous combination. “I joke and tell my patients, ‘Well, that’s life because these four elements spell out LIFE.’”

The Thought Patterns That Lead to Self-Sabotage

Once you’ve determined why you’re vulnerable to self-sabotage, it’s important to understand how your thoughts trigger it.

“There’s a predictable sequence to how we react to events,” Dr. Ho explains. “Generally, when an event happens, we have a thought or interpretation about it, and then that leads to feelings and behaviors.”

Dr. Ho says six thought patterns can precede self-sabotaging behaviors:

1. Overgeneralizing/catastrophizing: The feeling that one negative incident or mistake will lead to a whole host of terrible consequences, even when the chance of that happening is actually small.

2. Shoulds: Adhering to an overwhelming number of rules and benchmarks for yourself — being a better wife, daughter, colleague, etc. — and beating yourself up for not reaching them.

3. Black-and-white thinking: Believing things are either all good or all bad instead of recognizing that life comes in shades of gray.

4. Mind reading: Believing you know what other people are thinking without checking with them first.

5. Discounting the positive: Not recognizing your own successes, which can inhibit you from aiming for higher goals.

6. Personalization: Constantly comparing yourself to others and generally believing you come up short.

Transforming Your Thinking

The good news is that you don’t have to stay trapped in negative thought patterns. One strategy to free yourself is questioning your thinking. Examine whether there’s actual evidence to support your negative thought pattern and, if you’re having trouble, asking a friend for their perspective could help.

Another strategy is to play devil’s advocate: Challenge yourself to come up with an alternative explanation for what’s going on. You can also try de-emphasizing the impact of your negative thoughts by labeling them as “mental events,” Dr. Ho says. “When you add that little clause…the negative thought actually doesn’t quite feel as personal to you. It feels like something that is outside of you and something you can manage.”

Managing that negative thought could even mean taking seemingly silly measures, such as putting it to the tune of a nursery rhyme. “When you do that, it’s just a lot harder for you to be stuck on that thought,” Dr. Ho says. “In the right context, even a negative thought doesn’t have to be so serious because, again, it’s just a mental event.”

One more technique is to regularly work at creating a positive mindset, whether that’s starting each morning by recognizing three small things you’re grateful for — Dr. Ho likes to say hers out loud — or keeping a journal. “It's kind of like a workout that you do on a daily basis,” Dr. Ho says, “so that when stressful events come, these negative thoughts don't then pervade your entire consciousness…Paying attention to what’s going right in your life can be really, really helpful.”

The Power of Values-Based Living

If you’re still having trouble managing your negative thoughts, Dr. Ho recommends considering your top values — ranging from authenticity, to imagination, to power, to trust — and determining whether you’re acting consistently with them. Your goals, ultimately, should align with your values.

“Values-based decision-making, when you're caught between two decision points, is asking yourself which of these decisions is going to fulfill more of my top values,” Dr. Ho explains. “That way, you're not going to have that buyer's remorse, and you're going to feel a lot more confident moving in the direction of that decision.”

As you strive toward your goals, identify potential barriers along the way and plan for how to address them. For example, if you tend to procrastinate on a task, you could set a timer and commit to working on that task until the timer goes off. “It really does need to be that specific because most of the time, when we come upon a barrier, we get so frustrated and then it becomes a lot harder problem-solve in the moment,” Dr. Ho says. But deciding how to address a barrier ahead of time “really helps you to be able to manage these issues when they come up.”

While strategies to stop self-sabotage can provide some immediate relief, they’re more effective with consistent practice and time. Research shows it can take between 30 to 45 days to cement novel habits and for them to become normal. “You have to have a little bit of patience, knowing that it will take a bit of time to really undo these patterns and create new ones,” Dr. Ho says. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to change patterns that aren’t working and get “on the path to avoiding self-sabotage once and for all.”