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Self-sabotage – What is it, and how do we stop it from happening?

Self-sabotage is the habit of creating self-destructive patterns that keep you from achieving your goals.

If you’ve ever said to yourself “Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep messing up?”, then read on.

It could manifest itself as a lack of motivation or procrastination by putting off a task for far too long.

It could be picking a fight with your partner for no apparent reason and seeing yourself doing it but still not stopping.

In the context of fitness and your body transformation, it could be making poor food choices while on a diet and being aware of it but continuing anyway.

For most of us, at some point, one of the above will sound familiar.

What causes it, and why do we do it?

Self-sabotage is thought to happen due to certain personality traits that we have developed in childhood. Some at one point may have served to benefit us but now serve only to sabotage us.

Self-sabotage can be down to a need for attention.

Let’s take relationships. For example, you could find yourself regularly getting upset or angry with your partner, causing arguments and creating a toxic environment where no one is happy even though you don’t know why.

This may have been due to the developmental stages of your childhood and possibly neglectful parents. Maybe, the only way you got attention from your parents or siblings was when you were angry, crying or upset.

This deep subconscious programming triggers the same antagonistic personality traits as an adult, only it’s a little less identifiable because of social and cultural norms. It’s a little more frowned upon lying on the floor crying, kicking and screaming as a grown adult.

Self-sabotage can be down to a need for control.

If you have ever experienced situations that were out of your control where you ended up getting hurt or humiliated, it may have resulted in the subconscious need to control situations as an adult.

In doing so, this helps you to influence the outcome towards one that is more favourable and carries less risk to you. This can often be an attempt to prevent being hurt again or to suffer at the mercy of others.

Now, as an adult, if you are forced to follow someone else’s guidance or instructions to achieve a certain outcome, you may find that subconsciously you rebel against it to regain control and create the feeling that you now hold the reins again, even if in doing so you sabotage yourself.

Self-sabotage can be down to a fear of loss, failure or rejection.

Finally, it can be a fear of failure or rejection. This is something that most of us suffer from at some point in our lives. Maybe as a result of overly critical parents, or having been subjected to routine humiliation or ridicule in your past, losing things you cared deeply about.

As an adult, this can mean giving up on things long before their conclusion or not taking the risk to try in the first place because deep down, you think you will fail anyway. It could be a protection mechanism in place that sabotages your relationships just as they are going well. The more you fall in love, for example, and the better things go, you start to gain awareness of the potential for pain on the other side if it ends.

In your mind, you tell yourself “This won’t last anyway. I’ll get out now before I fall any deeper, and it goes wrong anyway.

So why is it relevant to your body transformation journey?

Something I’ve seen a lot of in my career is clients self-sabotaging. Knowingly and willingly, they choose to step way outside the parameters of the program and then come to me after a weekend on the beer, eating junk and then complaining that they just can’t help themselves.

We all slip every now and then, and that’s okay. But for some others it seems like a routine. It is a habitual devil on the shoulder who seems to throw a spanner in the works just as we’re gathering some momentum.

So what can we do about it?

  1. The first step to overcoming any problem is identifying that you have a problem. I would hope that in reading this article, you have increased your awareness in some way of what could be behind your own self-sabotage and why you do it.
  2. Secondly, identify the trigger if you can. Does it happen when you are with certain people, or in certain places? Does it happen when you’re bored, or tired, or even when you really start to do well?
  3. Once you have identified the trigger you must learn to overcome it. This may mean removing certain people from your life who encourage you to sabotage your diet or do certain things. It may mean avoiding certain places where you know you will fall and lose your self-control. It could mean identifying the times when boredom sets in and you begin to reach for the sweets and filling that time with a new class, or heading out for a walk or something active. Finally, and likely the hardest of these, is removing the self-doubt and trusting in your ability to see it through to success. If you don’t try you will never know. And even if you fail, you will have learned what obstacles were in the way and you will come back stronger with more tools to succeed each time.
  4. Make sure the goal you are chasing is the right one. Ensure that it is powerful enough to pull you down the right path when everything else, including your subconscious, is trying to push you elsewhere.
  5. Use your friends, family, or a community who are going through the same things so you can share in your obstacles and successes overcoming them together. You can call upon them when you identify those moments and encourage one another to overcome or share coping mechanisms.

Ultimately there is no easy answer. It takes time. And you will make mistakes – just hopefully less of them as you become more aware of your own triggers.

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