Today, cognitive health and brain expert Dr Jenny Brockis is explaining what self-sabotage is, why we do it and how to stop.
You’ve started out on a diet with your best ‘I’ve-totally-got-this’ pants on… and then before you know it, you’re giving up and resigning yourself to a lifetime of scruffy #fail sweats. We know, we’ve been there! Whether it’s having to work late and missing your exercise window or getting sucked into office drinkies and/or birthday cake on a fast day – sometimes no matter how prepared we are, we get in our own way and our good intentions crumble. Today, cognitive health and brain expert Dr Jenny Brockis is explaining what self-sabotage is, why we do it, and how to stop.
Conspiring Against Yourself
You’re feeling pumped because you’ve written down your weight loss goals, you’ve worked out ‘The Plan’ and asked your friends and family for their support. You’re so ready for this, despite past failures, because this time it’s all going to work.
Except your intention to get to the gym before work this morning didn’t happen because you overslept, and the healthy salad you prepared got left in the office fridge because you forgot it was your friend’s birthday and everyone went out for lunch down at the local Italian restaurant. Self, meet self-sabotage.
What Is Self-Sabotage?
Self-sabotage is those behaviours and actions we take that get in the way of us achieving our goals. It can make us feel really bad, but it’s as if some untoward invisible force keeps moving us towards failure.
Why? There are a number of reasons we sabotage our chances to succeed.
Fear of Success
It might sound weird, but when you’re used to failure, the thought of achieving your goals feels scary because it’s unfamiliar, we’re uncertain what that success might look or feel like, and sometimes we’re unsure about how others will react to it.
This is often linked to our self–worth. If your self-talk is all about “I don’t deserve this”, you’re telling yourself you’re not fit to succeed and so you don’t. It’s a classic example of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Despite not liking being overweight, the thought of being on a diet is often BORING, associated with perpetual hunger and sense of deprivation which leads to a severe case of procrastinitis.
Which is why we justify savouring that last box of donuts, or the family feast with extra chips and gravy because we’re going to start the diet tomorrow.
Or will it be the day after? Or should you wait until after the weekend so you can finish off the left-overs from Saturday’s party?
Each time we defer starting our new eating plan or justify why it’s OK to just have one more chocolate bar, we are making it harder for ourselves to get started and stick with our plan.
Fear of Failure
Failing sucks, but failing badly due to losing control feels worse, so we tell ourselves fairy stories about unforeseen disasters, relationship issues and other tall tales of ‘why things didn’t work out’ because it provides a semblance of control over the sinking ship of healthy eating rather than capsizing completely.
Setting the Bar Too High
It’s not much fun failing, especially when you’ve been there, done that and worn the ‘failed again’ T-shirt too many times already, but unless you are a professional pole vaulter, setting the goal too high or making it too big or complex makes that crash landing even more painful.
If self-sabotage has been your caddy for too long it’s time to ring in the changes and enhance your chance for success using a couple of new strategies
- Keep it real
- Keep it small
- Know yourself – be mindful
- Become Fail-Safe
- Celebrate all wins
Patience is a Virtue
Of course, you want to achieve your weight loss goals, and preferably by a week next Friday. The problem is that your initial enthusiasm can push you to set a course that too high, too big or totally unrealistic. Changing behaviours and patterns of eating takes time because you’re working with your neurobiology.
Crash diets don’t work and, worse still, can set you up for yo-yo dieting where you experience periods of weight loss followed by weight gain often with a little bit extra added on for good measure.
Rather than seeing your goal as a new diet, try approaching it as a new eating plan focusing on improving your overall health that will naturally lead to some weight loss. How you feel and your energy levels are a far better determinant of your overall health than reading the number on the scales.
When you find yourself thinking about what you can or can’t eat, just remember the word diet stands for ‘Do I Eat This?’ to help remove the negative connotation of deprivation and hardship.
Small is Beautiful
Scientists have shown that the path to successful change is by taking baby steps. Rather than playing “hurry up,” taking the slower route makes sticking to a small specific goal far easier.
For example, if your goal includes drinking more water, try putting a glass of water on the bedside table to drink before getting out of bed in the morning. Habits take time to embed, the average time being 66 days.
The path to success is never smooth, which is why it’s helpful to expect some days when things don’t go according to plan. Adopting a mindful approach to how you were thinking or feeling at that time can help you to understand why that day was a #fail, and what you could look to do differently to prevent it from impacting you in the same way again.
It’s because we don’t break habits, we create new ones to supersede the one we wish to replace. That’s all fine until the time you experience some extra stress or a powerful emotion that effectively hijacks your new habit and diverts your brain to the old pattern of doing.
If negative thoughts are becoming more dominant, check-in on their validity. Is that thought based on fact or opinion?
Celebrate All Wins
Weight loss is notoriously slow and that’s OK. Rather than waiting to reach your ultimate goal, you can give your motivation to continue a nice big dopamine hit by checking in to review your progress and to celebrate all wins. Psychologists agree it’s far more fun and rewarding for the brain to celebrate little and often rather than waiting for that end of year Gala Ball.
Prepare in advance to plan which rewards you can set up to enjoy. The anticipation of reward is particularly exciting for your brain.
Be Kind To Yourself
A little self-compassion and kindness can go a long way to help you stay on the path towards success. Beating yourself up for a perceived fail doesn’t help anyone, least of all you. Self-acceptance acknowledges none of us are perfect and thank heavens for that!
Perfection is an illusion, so if self-sabotage has been a game you’ve played too many times, now is a great time to celebrate all your imperfections, because that’s what makes us unique and special.
What are your experiences with self-sabotage? How did you overcome them? Please share your tips, thoughts and advice with the Super Squad by commenting below. Now – go find those awesome ‘I’ve totally got this’ pants. You’re ready to start today.