Until recently, a family member of mine (let’s call her Ursula) had been on and off a weight-loss diet for about 40 years. Not always the same diet – there’ve been the low-fat, low-carb varieties, the high-fat, low-carb varieties and the outright starvation ones akin to an act of torture. Each time Ursula set out to diet; she would be rabidly determined to reach her goal weight.
She would motivate herself with magazines filled with skinny ladies in slinky clothes and thoughts of summer holidays in sexy bathing suits. She would vociferously exclaim that her diet of the moment was ‘the way!’ in the manner a passionate preacher may preach the Gospel at his Sunday service.
For a week or two (sometimes longer) Ursula would stick to her diet plan. Ursula would possibly take up exercising and she would drink her eight glasses of water a day come hell or high…ahem, water.
But then something quite strange would happen. Ursula would start baking. Not for herself, she would assure the family, but for ‘them’. Ursula would convince herself that baking was simply a pastime she loved to indulge in and nothing more. As one might expect, this was the beginning of the end for Ursula and she would soon break her diet.
We’ve all been Ursula in some shape or form at different times in our lives and for different reasons. Our own behavioral patterns (whether conscious or unconscious) can get in our way, leading us away from the success of achieving our goals and to feelings of failure.
What is self-sabotage and why do we do it?
Self-sabotaging behavior can present itself following the internal war waged within you between your logical, conscious mind that knows what’s best for you, and your subconscious mind - that inner voice that whispers to you that just one more cigarette can’t really hurt, right?
When we self-sabotage, we think and behave in ways that cause us to do exactly the opposite of what would help us to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
People will self-sabotage for a variety of reasons. For example, some will do so out of a fear of failure. Others will do so out of a fear of success, disapproval or committing to their goal.
In Ursula’s case, she subconsciously set out to make herself fail by baking and eating sweet treats whilst on diet. This usually would result in Ursula either gaining any weight she had lost or gaining more weight than she had already lost.
Signs of self-sabotaging behavior include the following: displaying addictive behaviors, procrastinating, failing to finish tasks or projects without good reason, excessively worrying, self-deprecating behavior, and destroying key relationships in our work or personal lives. Any of this sound familiar?
You’ve recognized you have a problem with self-sabotage, now what?
Step 1: Acknowledge you have a problem
The first step is to acknowledge that you have a behavioral problem. This can be a tough truth to swallow, but take heart in the fact that once you’ve identified your particular problem you can set about trying to solve it.
Step 2: Set your intention
The second step is to truly want to address the problem. In other words, you must genuinely intend to change the way you behave.
It’s not enough to simply want to change. You must be prepared to act on that intention. In other words, you must be willing to take the conscious action necessary to effect the change needed to address the behaviors holding you back from achieving your goals.
Step 3: Get help and hold yourself accountable
After 40 years of engaging in self-sabotaging behavioral patterns, Ursula felt she simply couldn’t take this challenge on, on her own. With the help of a coach, Ursula was able to identify that she did not so much fear failing at her goal of losing the weight, but rather that she feared that she did not have the ability to maintain her weight loss after she’d lost the weight.
It really helped Ursula to identify her fear, to break down the limiting belief that was holding her back and to gain a new perspective on it so she could address it. Ursula is now well on her way to reaching her goal weight; having taken the necessary steps to address her fear-based belief and to eliminate her self-sabotaging behavior which was holding her back.
Ursula’s story shows us that it’s okay to need some help. Working together with a coach, a counsellor, a friend or supportive family member who is willing to hold you accountable for your actions will help you to stick to your path. Set strict deadlines for yourself and make them known to whoever is helping you hold yourself accountable.
Step 4: Record, Re-evaluate, Repeat
It may be helpful to keep a diary of your progress. Journaling and collecting data is an excellent way to keep your goal conscious and your progress on track.
Write on what’s going well and what’s not so that you have a record of what action you have taken so far. Your record will also help you re-evaluate where things haven’t gone quite right so you can make adjustments along the way.
For example, in Ursula’s case, she keeps a weekly weigh-in and measurements record, an exercise diary and a daily food journal. Where she finds her weight loss is plateauing - and after review of her records - she has on occasion found that where she limits her carbohydrate intake, she loses more weight.
Our behavior is affected by our perceptions and past experience. Our health, our relationships, socio-economic factors, our religion, our culture, our up-bringing, our education and so forth all play a role in influencing how we behave.
Sometimes, because of our past experiences and perceptions, we can develop limiting beliefs. These can be beliefs such as we are not good enough, we are not clever enough and so forth. Like Ursula, we may engage in behavior that destroys our chances of success before we have even really begun to try.
None of these beliefs serve us. To change our self-sabotaging behavior, we first have to address the beliefs that are holding us back.
It is worth seeking the help of a coach or counsellor to firstly, assist you in identifying your limiting beliefs and to secondly, alter or expel those beliefs that are hindering your journey to success.
I leave you with this quote which may give you pause for thought:
“As I look at my life, I might ask “Who is the person that represents the greatest threat to me?” And if I happen to have a mirror around somewhere, I can rather quickly answer that question.” Craig D. Lounsbrough