What is self sabotaging your health? Ever wondered why you just can’t seem to that new diet, exercise regime or self-care plan? Have you set yourself hundreds of goals for your health. Then just when you seem to be on the right track you do something to mess it up? Do you find yourself falling into the same patterns of destructive behaviour again and again? This is called self sabotaging. And it might just be the thing that is getting in the way of you reaching your health goals!
What is self sabotaging?
Self sabotaging patterns include procrastination from healthy habits. It can also be any form of addictive behaviour such as binge eating, substance abuse or over-using social media. It is defined as behaviour that deliberately causes you harm and gets in the way of you reaching your long term goals. Self sabotage is YOU preventing YOU from becoming the person you want to be. I say deliberate meaning that the behaviours are often things you know aren’t good for you but you do them anyway.
Often the thoughts that drive self sabotaging are unconscious meaning we aren’t even aware that we are having them. All we know is that one minute we were enthusiastic and motivated to reach our goals. Then the next we have given up and are back to square one.
What is self sabotaging caused by?
Psychology research says that self sabotaging is a pretty common phenomenon. We all have that critical inner voice that develops during our childhood. For some this voice is harsher and louder than for others. The voice might say that you are lazy, that you are unworthy of success. Or that you’ll never reach your goals so you might as well give up. Whatever it is for you, we all have a dark, destructive aspect of our psyche that just wants to destroy things.
This was labelled by psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud as the “death drive”. It is that part of us that doesn’t seem to want happiness and seeks to disrupt anything that seems good. You might be thinking why would I ever destroy my own health and happiness?! But so many of us do it. Think of all the times you have stopped doing something that made you feel great. Or when you have carried on with bad habits that you know don’t make you feel your best.
As humans we like the familiar, things that we know and understand. Our brains are wired to think and act in a certain way in the world. Our neural connections get stronger with repetition like thousands of hikers walking the same pathway across a field until a deep muddy path forms. So when we want to change our habits and develop ourselves, it takes work to form a new pathway!
What is self sabotaging and fleeing from health?
When we start out, it’s very easy to fall back into the groove of our old ways. Most of our actions during the day are done on auto-pilot without us even thinking about it. It takes much more energy to make decisions about our behaviour and take conscious action. Our brains are energy conserving machines and they like to take the easiest route. So it’s totally understandable that we will slip up more than once when we are trying to change our behaviour.
I recently watched a video by Irene Lyons, a nervous system expert talking about “fleeing from health”. This was her term for repeating the same unhealthy behaviours again and again. She explains that procrastination and self-sabotage and is even more common in those who have had a traumatic or stressful childhood. Because this feeling of stress or lack of safety has become a normal state of mind, anything else feels alien. Then the unconscious mind acts quickly to disrupt things.
She says that the origin of self-sabotage is stored trauma or trapped survival stress in the body. To overcome self sabotaging, this needs to be processed and released.
How to eliminate self sabotaging and reach your health goals
I don’t think it’s possible to fully eliminate self-sabotaging behaviour. We aren’t robots and we can’t expect ourselves to behave logically and rationally 24/7 according to the rules we set for ourselves. But there are ways we can try to minimise self-sabotaging. We can definitely make it easier for us to work towards our goals.
Being aware of your destructive thought patterns and self-sabotaging behaviour is the first step to overcoming them. Depending on how severe a problem this is for you, you might need the support of a therapist. But you can always start by spending some time in silence and solitude each day, without the distraction of technology, to tune into your inner world. Listen to the repetitive thoughts and observe the feelings that come up and reflect on how these could be contributing to your self-sabotaging behaviour.
Forget about setting yourself a massive goal to go from couch to marathon in 6 months. This is ok as a long-term vision but you also need to set smaller more manageable goals. See my previous post on how to set health goals. If there is a huge gap between your current self and your goal, it can feel intimidating and overwhelming. You will be much more likely to give up and sabotage any progress you have made. It’s better to focus on the actions rather than the end goal. For example, “meditate for 5 minutes every day” than “be able to meditate for an hour”. Start small and over time gradually increase the time that you practice. Make your goals achievable so that you can be boosted by your success. Instead of falling into patterns of critisising yourself for not reaching the high standards you have set for yourself.
Plan for failure
First, accept that self-sabotage is a normal part of behaviour change. You can then start to plan for those occasions when we are likely to fall into the unconscious self destruct trap. Think of this as the “if, then” approach. You can think of situations which are likely to trip you up. Or common scenarios that occur when you are trying to create healthy habits. Then create an “if, then” strategy. For example, if I binge eat at night then the next morning I will have a healthy breakfast and go for a walk. If I forget my running shoes for my lunchtime jog, I will go for a walk instead. If I skip my morning yoga and meditation practice I will have a gentle stretch before bed instead. Or if I arrive home hungry after a stressful day at work, I will order a healthy stir fry rather than eat a whole pizza.
This goes along with planning for failure. Learn to expect yourself to fall back into old behaviours rather than expecting perfection. When slip ups inevitably do happen show yourself kindness and understanding rather than beating yourself up over it. This way you avoid the inner critic running the show. This only keeps you stuck in negative thought loops and self-sabotaging behaviour. We can see self-sabotage as a normal part of the process. See it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the funny ways your brain works. Learn from every slip up and use it to make your healthy lifestyle more robust and personalised to YOU.
Relax into health
Stress and living in an anxious, fear based mindset is going to make you more likely to sabotage yourself and fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms. This includes stress from putting pressure on yourself to take certain actions or reach your goals. To reduce self-sabotage, it’s important to try to relax and allow your nervous system to move out of flight or flight mode. This could be through a dedicated meditation practice. Or by simply taking breaks during the day to focus on your breath and consciously relax tension that has built up in your body. The key is to not make relaxation another task that you have to do. Rather a way to come back to the relaxed inner state that you want to feel.
Today’s challenge: What is self sabotaging and how does it show up in your life?
Your challenge for today is to take a few moments to reflect your own behaviour. Observe whether self sabotaging is a common pattern for you whenever you are trying to improve your health. Try to identify any repetitive thoughts and feelings that could at the root of your self-sabotaging behaviour. Then this week but these 5 strategies to reduce self sabotage into place!
Over to you…
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