Ever shoot yourself in the foot? Cut off your own nose? Dig your own grave? Yeah, me too. It’s called self-sabotage, and lots of us are quite good at it. Self-sabotage refers to any behavior (usually unconscious) that holds you back from from achieving your (conscious) goal. In researching this I noted that several psychologists suggested that our brain does this as a way of keeping us in our comfort zone and protecting us from failure. Dammit. Apparently our very own brains are not always on our side. So while we “say” we want to reach our goals our brains just want us to just conform to the norm.
“Why?” you ask, does our brain betray us so? Some suggested reasons: lack of self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence and self-belief. Oy, veh! As far as weight-loss and physical fitness goals go, other things that may play a part in why we self-sabotage include strong familial ties with food and wanting to stay in the “tribe,” a group of friends who are not supportive (again, the desire to stay in the “tribe” comes in to play,) and a history of physical or sexual abuse in childhood, which often causes body image difficulties. Yup.
Our self-sabotage manifests itself in several ways – fear of failure, fear of risk-taking, the inability to plan ahead, the inability to consider the consequences of our actions, the inability to think critically, unrealistic expectations, comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we fall short, blaming others for our failures, procrastinating, being a perfectionist, limiting beliefs. Jeez. When you look at this list it’s a wonder we ever achieve jack.
So why the article on self-sabotage? Because I am using my little blog for self-therapy, and hopefully helping a few people with similar issues along the way. This weekend my inner saboteur
(let’s call her Ingrid – doesn’t that sound like a good saboteur’s name?) reared her nasty little head and did her best to steer me off course, succeeding for several days before I figured out what the hell was happening and adjusted course. She’s a sneaky little bitch. Anyway, this weekend I had lots of work to do so I used that as an excuse to not exercise for a couple of days, and since I wasn’t exercising I justified drinking a few too many drinks and eating a lot too much. (Exercising and eating right usually go hand-in-hand for me…or not, when Ingrid has her way.) By Sunday night I realized I was feeling physically slug-like and over-satiated, and mentally disappointed in myself for falling off the wagon.
Here’s where someone not supportive would say, “Well, you have to live a little.” I agree, kind of. But I also recognize that for someone like myself, someone with a history of weight struggles and body issues, that’s a little like handing a bottle of Scotch to an alcoholic and telling him to have a good time. Give me an excuse. Go ahead. Make my day. Because for people like me, two days off course can easily become a week, which leads into a month, and before you know it you’re looking at a stack of jeans that no longer fit…and you’re probably holding a cupcake in your hand while you’re doing it. And Dear, Not Terribly Supportive Friend, I will likely blame you, and maybe the weather, or I might lay it on some holiday, or social gathering, or maybe my ankle, or my metabolism, or something else I think up. Because self-saboteurs like Ingrid go into protection mode and lay the blame elsewhere. I mean, really, who wants to admit they’ve shot themselves in the foot?
How to overcome self-sabotage? First, recognize that you have a problem, that your inner Ingrid, whatever her name, (Nikita? Margaretha? Desdemona?) exists and ask yourself why? In my case 1) I have some personal issues that make my body image a bit wonky (I will save that for a later post. Maybe. Probably not.) Also, 2) I really like to fit in. To excel, to attract too much attention, makes me nervous. I’ve been in really good shape before. And just like people judge and ostracize others when they are bigger than the social norm, the same is true if you exceed the standard fitness image. I like to be on the high end of blending. More than that and I get uncomfortable and feel out of place. Perhaps it stems from years of being mistaken for a chubby little boy. And 3) as I approach my goal, dreams and reality clash – I’m fairly thin, I’m very fit, and yet I still don’t look like Heidi Klum.
What the hell? I’ve been working my ass off. So what if I’m 5’2″ and 50 years old? I deserve to have my ass defy gravity, my bones lengthen, and my features rearrange themselves in a more symmetrical pattern, don’t I? No? Ugh. Once again I am left disappointed and saddened. Bring on the 1000 calorie drinks and a bucket of wings! This girl needs comforting! (No! NO! NOOOOO! That’s Ingrid The Bitch talking. Send those wings back to the kitchen!)
Okay, so Ingrid (or Svetlana, or whatever you choose to call your inner saboteur) exists and needs to be managed. How? Take responsibility. Banish that saboteur, alter-ego nightmare, and step up and assume the helm of your life. Stop laying blame. Make plans for success – don’t just daydream – follow through. Treat the change process like an experiment. Lay out a plan and see where it takes you. Adjust expectations when necessary. Change can be disorienting – even when the outcome is positive, it can be unsettling. Accept that your capabilities are malleable – don’t continue to define yourself as you have in the past. (I am not a chubby little boy!) You are capable and worthy of achieving your dreams. Set high goals, focus, and accept that, yes, there will be setbacks. Yes, your outcome in this little experiment called life might not end up being quite what you had predicted (be it job, relationship, or health related). But it’s always better to try and fail than to just sit on your ass wondering “What if?” Because “What if?” is no way to go through life.
So on Monday I threw off the clutches of Ingrid. I grabbed the wheel and did a u-turn to get back on track. Success. Two days lost, not a week, or a month. Progress! I accept that I will not be making an appearance on America’s Next Top Model next season.
But I will nevertheless continue to pursue my goal to be my best self, physically and emotionally, no matter what that looks like. I will try and not judge others, and I will try and not care if they judge me. I will recognize that I have some issues and I will try and not use them as an excuse to fail. When Ingrid reappears, as I am sure she will, I will be on the lookout, and I will be prepared to take offensive action.
I am in charge of my own destiny and I will not be a stupid ass who defeats myself. I will not be my own enemy.
***How about you? Have a saboteur in the closet? How do you get her to stay there, or back in once she’s out? What works for you?
Oh, and on the Fun Facts To Know And Tell list…some sources think the word “sabotage” comes from the Industrial Revolution in France. Apparently disgruntled workers threw their “sabots,” wooden shoes/clogs, into the looming machinery, disrupting the production process. No doubt they then shouted, “Sacre bleu! Now we have no shoes and no place to work!” At least they were barefoot when they kicked themselves in the ass.
Always a bright side.