How to Break the Self-Sabotage Cycle
“I don’t get why I can stick to my goals for a few weeks and then I go off the rails.”
“I know what it takes to stay healthy and I want to do those things…I just can’t get myself to actually do them.”
“Why do I self-sabotage when things are going well?”
Self-sabotage is something we all deal with. Luckily, understanding what it is and where it comes from is the key to overcoming it.
Your Self-Sabotage Story
What is the story you tell yourself?
About who you are?
About what you can achieve?
About your body?
About your ability to build and stick to the habits you work hard to build?
This story dictates the decisions you make, the goals you set and ultimately, what you choose to do with your life.
The thing is, many of us have stories we’ve been telling ourselves for so long we no longer recognize that they’re stories in the first place.
We take them at face value and consider them truth. And, the more we act based on this “truth”, the more we reinforce it.
I can tell you exactly where I was and who I was with when my story (and my resulting identity) was initially ingrained. I was in 6th grade and a boy in my class told one of my friends that my crush didn’t like me because I was bigger than the other girls. He even said “I don’t want to be mean but…”
I did believe he wasn’t trying to be mean. He wasn’t a mean kid.
I also began to believe that I wasn’t worthy of love (or, “like like” at that point) because of the way I looked.
I hold nothing against him. We were all young and none of us knew the damage we could cause with a few words.
To be completely honest that Instant Messenger conversation (throwback, anyone? LOL) could have ACTUALLY gone down much differently than it did in my memory. But either way, that was my moment. And this was the identity I carried with me for so long.
Not sure what I mean? Ask yourself “what does my self-talk sound like?”
That voice in your head – that’s your narrator (inner hater?). And, it is likely perpetuating your story. I’m here to let you in on a little secret – you are an unreliable narrator (where are my other English major, book nerds at?!) and you don’t have to believe everything you think.
If you can’t identify the story you created for yourself ask yourself if there was someone else who told you that story or reinforced an identity that you still carry with you (I shared mine above).
Knowing the story you tell yourself about your body, your habits and/or your abilities is important for one major reason:
Your decisions are ultimately driven by who you believe you are and what you believe you can achieve. And, the story you tell yourself about your identity strengthens the more you tell it through words and actions.
Clearly naming and claiming your story allows you to take control of who you are on a fundamental level and begin to distinguish between the lies of your inner hater and the truth of who you really are or WANT to be.
How Does Self-Sabotage Play Into This?
Self-sabotage happens when there is an inconsistency between your story and your actions.
That second serving of snack food when you’re already full, the choice to skip the gym or short yourself on recovery, the little voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough, strong enough, lean enough, smart enough, successful enough…EVERYTHING you think and do is driven by your story.
So, when you hop on any kind of nutrition plan, set a goal, make a New Year’s resolution or any time motivation is really high, you are able to sustain it for a little while.
Then, your story starts to come back and the identity you’ve created for yourself begins to take over.
Need an Example?
Your reality: You make a commitment to improving your health so you hire a nutrition coach, begin to eat more whole foods, hit the gym on the reg and feel strong, empowered and confident.
This reality actually goes against your story, right? They’re at odds with one another and that is where the problem starts if we’re not aware of it.
You may be able to buy into your new reality for a few weeks or maybe even a month. But, when life throws you a curveball or you’re out of your comfort zone your mind and subsequent actions will revert back to the story it is SO used to hearing – “I let my emotions dictate my food decisions!”
Maybe you head to a friend’s birthday party with tons of snacks and cake around. Maybe you have a stressful week at work or a big fight with a loved one. If you listen to your story you’ll likely be left with feelings like…
- I’m out of control
- I’m not good enough
- I can’t stick with my healthy goals
- I am right – I always let my emotions dictate my food decisions.
Instead, what if you had the ability to identify when this story was trying to play out and choose a different ending?
The Power of Choice
KNOWING your story (or stories*) allows you to have power over your reality.
When you can pinpoint your story and the subsequent identity you’ve created and perpetuated, you give yourself the chance to stop in those moments of self-sabotage and remember that your story doesn’t have to be true. You can REWRITE it.
So, maybe your story changes from “I am an emotional eater and let my feelings dictate my food decisions” to “I am someone who sticks to my health goals, even when I have a rough day.”
You can change your identity based on what you believe about yourself and what you deem true about your ability to grow and learn. The more you consciously choose to honor yourself, the more you’ll subconsciously do so as it becomes your new story.
*It is important to note that you can have different stories in different areas of your life. For example, the story I shared above typically impacts me most in terms of my nutrition and health. I have an ENTIRELY different story stemming from when I was much younger that impacts my confidence and tendencies when making and caring for friendships.
Grab a piece of paper, your journal or open a note on your phone and answer these questions:
1. How do I identify myself? What is my story?
If you’re not quite sure what your story is, ask yourself…
- When do I “self-sabotage”?
- In these moments, what do I tell myself/what does my self-talk sound like?
2. Where and when did this story start? Who told me this story in the first place?
3. Where are 2-3 areas I see this story playing out in my life right now?
4. How can I rewrite this story to be more in- line with my goals?
5. How can I remind myself to come back to my new story next time I’m about to self-sabotage?
Here are some examples…
- Pick the PLACE I am most likely to take self-sabotaging actions and put a visual reminder of my goals in this location (ex: on your fridge if you’re an “emotional eater”)
- Set an inspirational quote or a copy of my new story as the background on my phone or computer
- Enroll a friend, family member or partner and text them when you need a little extra love or a reminder that you’re strong enough to stick to your goals.
- Identify 2-3 calming actions you can take INSTEAD of your self-sabotaging behavior like going for a walk, journaling, calling a friend or cleaning (ha – cleaning is one of my favorite things to do!) PRO TIP: Pick something PRODUCTIVE that votes in favor of your goals to prove to yourself that you can do it – even when it is tough.
- Share your answers to these questions with the people who matter most to you!
- Repeat a NEW identity mantra over and over again when you need a reminder. Ex: I have choice in this moment.
You have more agency and STRENGTH than you give yourself credit for. The key to breaking the self-sabotage cycle is taking the time to really dig into your story, getting honest with yourself and showing yourself grace as you actively choose a new identity. The more you prove to yourself that you can do it, the easier and easier it will get.