Why we Self-Sabotage
Have you ever noticed that in our lives, we often end up sabotaging our own progress? Have you ever done something, and then thought “why on earth did I just do that”?
Consider these scenarios:
- You decide you’re going to lose weight. So you go on a ‘diet’. You start to lose the weight, and you start to make progress and maybe even get close to your target. But then, everything stalls. Or you go on a week-long blowout and before you know it, weeks have passed and you’re back where you started…
- Or, a different case. You’re training for an event, let’s say the marathon. You’re determined to beat your PB. Training goes really well – you’re well on track for beating your PB, but the day of the race, you stall and land up +/- 30 seconds of your old best.
- Or even micro-cases of self-sabotage: you hit snooze instead of waking up for your exercise class. You eat a biscuit when you’ve vowed to lose weight, etc, etc.
- Or here’s my case, which is prompting this blog post. For the last year or so since starting athletics training, I know I need to become leaner if I’m ever to become a good long jumper again. It’s a fact: 27-ish% fat is comfortable but it ain’t athletic! So for the last year I’ve been telling myself I need to lose the fat. But, every time I fall below 25%, I stall, and go back to eating American snacks and the weight goes back up again… Despite having the knowledge, motivation and resources to do better, I haven’t nailed it.
So why, do we keep self-sabotaging our progress?
The answer is, it’s in your head.
Specifically, the reason is that this change causes a conflict between who you are now and who you want to be.
Because everything you have achieved in your life so far is a consequence of who you are in this moment. So if we want to achieve something different, our internal representation of our self (our identity) needs to change.
“To achieve something you have never achieved before, you must become someone you have never been before…”
You need to change identity.
The problem though, is that change is uncomfortable: the stakes are high, the uncertainty is high. You need to become invested in the change, but the more invested you get, the harder the fall, the bigger the risk… And as humans we crave the exact opposite: comfort, certainty and safety…
What often happens is that we change (or try to change) our behaviours before our identity changes. By going to the gym, eating greens, stopping all junk food, etc. This is good, of course, don’t get me wrong. But by doing so without also working to change our identity means our internal representation and our external behaviours are out of synch with each other.
Because changing our identity is hard. It causes internal conflict between the old you and the wanna be you. It causes discomfort, uncertainty: will I actually manage to lose weight and keep it off? Will I run my fastest ever time? Can I still jump to a good standard?
So what often happens is that we change our behaviours back to where we used to be i.e. self sabotage… Internal conflict and discomfort subsides and we’re back to ‘normal’…
So, back to me (because it’s the case I know best). Until very recently I hadn’t been talking much about athletics or competitions. If someone asked me why I was training, I would say vaguely that I’m doing athletics after a 15 year absence (emphasis on the absence), without any specific plans. In my head, I was a lapsed athlete, rather than an athlete.
It’s only in recent weeks that I’ve spoken (quite a lot) about wanting to compete, the targets I’ve set myself, and where I rank as an athlete. It’s not a coincidence. I’m working to change my identity to who I want to be. I want to be a top 5 Masters Long Jumper. So I’m telling myself (and anyone who is forced to listen!) that I’m a long jumper. To do that, I need to become the type of person who is obsessive about training, nutrition and body composition.
How can you upgrade your identity to support the person you want to become?
This is something I discuss in great depth with my mums in the Nutrition Programme. Many of them have created mantras aimed to change their identity to support the person they want to become. Here’s some examples that they’ve come up with:
- I’m the type of person who frequently enjoys a fresh healthy salad.
- I’m the type of person who walks wherever I can.
- I love waking up feeling fresh and energetic.
- I’m the type of mum who looks forward to spending an active weekend with my family.
- I love going to bed early with a book rather than watching crap TV, for the sake of it!
It doesn’t happen overnight, but by practising these mantras we help our future self take on a new identity. One that supports the type of person that we want to be…