I have been thinking about this topic of self-sabotage a lot lately because it seems to be something that I run across with my weight-loss clients and athletes often. I have even done this to myself. Self-sabotage can be defined as something that you do to yourself that prevents you from achieving your best in something. I believe it is generated in our minds from our self-concept. It can range from negative self-talk to down right getting in your own way. Self- imposed limits can hamper your ability to perform and can happen for various reasons. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re worthy or deserve to perform well, it’s out of your comfort zone; Maybe you’re feeling guilty for something in the past that you have to punish yourself for. Or maybe you can’t handle the expectation that would be created if you did everything perfectly right. As a perfectionist I can tell you that can be dangerous thinking. The beginning of every year I purposely eat something bad the first day of the year so I don’t put the pressure on myself for the entire year to eat perfectly every day. This may sound silly but it works for me. Some of us may have high expectations for ourselves and when we feel like we can’t meet them we give up completely.
Do you beat yourself up when you didn’t do it perfectly? Being more forgiving of yourself can help you regain control and keep you from throwing in the towel or your hands in the air and going off the deep end. As I’ve grown older and wiser I’ve realized that everything doesn’t turn out perfect and it’s not healthy to live extremes. All-or-none thinking can be dangerous and can lead to a lot of self- sabotage. Not everything is black-and-white and most people tend to live in the gray area. So this is why I teach principles like the 90/10 rule. 90% of the time you’re eating for fuel and 10% you’re eating for fun. I don’t expect myself to be perfect 100% of the time nor should anyone. The fact is no one is perfect. For me to have a little something “unhealthy” on the first day of the year is my way of reminding myself that it’s okay to not be perfect. We all make mistakes but our response to these mistakes is often what leads to a positive or negative outcome.
What about negative self-talk? This is probably by far the most common way people sabotage themselves. Most people constantly have a stream of communication going on in their head with themselves. What they say to themselves repeatedly is usually what translates to how they behave. If they are constantly telling themselves they’re not good enough and they’re not smart enough and they are a loser it’s going to reflect in their actions. Some of you may recall several SNL daily affirmation sketches with Stuart Smalley. Although entertaining I believe they have some value.
As an athlete I have read a lot of material on mental strength and how to perform better using mental techniques. I have found a common thread. Positive self-talk and visualizing yourself as being successful is what leads to success. The more often you practice positive thinking, the more success you will have. This may seem cliché or simple but it really works. No matter how thin you slice it there is always two sides to any situation. You could always look for the positive or you can look for the negative. The choice is yours. But look at those people in your life that are most successful. Are they positive or negative people?
Don’t get trapped in a comfort zone. Often we self-sabotage because we are afraid of the unknown or to go into unfamiliar territory. If we’ve always seen ourselves as unsuccessful and then we start being successful that could be uncomfortable. Those fears can cause us to self- sabotage so we can return to our comfort zone. But to create a new you, you have to let loose of the old you. It’s different and it’s going to feel different. Embrace it. I’ve always like to tell people; You have to go out on the limb because that’s where the fruit is. Don’t be afraid to define a new you. Undoubtedly there will be resistant at first from yourself and others but you can except a new you.
What about the power of suggestion? I often believe that negative comments from others sometimes can become our thoughts about ourselves. If someone tells you, “You are no good, weak or are a selfish.” Do you believe them? What do you say back to that in your head? Do you echo it and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy or do you find other words to replace it like, “I’m worth it, I am strong, and generous” etc… I’ve had my fair share of damaging and abusive insults in my life time but I’ve always tried to find a way to negate them. Sometimes it takes time to convince ourselves and others of the qualities that we have. But just like the great sculptor Michelangelo viewed a piece of granite; he simply brought out something that already existed in it. So can we. We all have greatness in us. We may have to use that power of suggestion on ourselves. Tell yourself what you want to see in yourself and you might find that you’ll start seeing more of that. Often we find what we are looking for.
When it comes right down to it, it’s what we are saying to ourselves that determines the outcome of a race. The winner of the race is usually the person that believes that they could win not the person that called himself a loser. True, it may not be in our capability range to win a race but what you say to yourself is still important. What do you say to yourself when someone passes you in a race? “Great job, look at them go” or “I am so slow” or “My friends or family are going to be so disappointed in me.” Sometimes we become overly consumed with what others might be thinking of us; I know I am guilty of this, but the person opinion that matters most is ourselves. The best thing to do is just worry about what we can control and doing the best we can. I have found a lot of joy from living in the moment and enjoy the process of what I am doing at the time and searching for the positive. I guess you could say I take time to smell the roses. Show gratitude for the things that you enjoy every day and concern yourself less with things you have no control over like the future. When you do this you are too busy to self-sabotage. Focus on the process, live in the moment and enjoying every moment of every experience. If you messed up, forgive yourself and resolve to get back on track and be the best you.
Learn more about Mental Prep for a race View the video clip