I have a friend who is bright, funny, kind, independent, hard-working, attractive. She is also over-weight and that really bothers her. She says it causes negative self-talk, mean thoughts about others, and self-loathing. Over the years she has tried many, many different diet and exercise programs – and succeeded - for a time. Just when she’s thrilled with the way she looks and feels, she stops working out, starts overeating, and the cycle begins all over again.
I was concerned about my friend’s struggle, so I did some research about self-sabotage. Here’s what I learned:
People fail when they set long-term goals because, deep inside, they know reaching the goal is not going to make them happy. There is something else going on: the REAL problem.
Some people hate their jobs, some are lonely, some have deep, unresolved issues from the past. They think losing weight, getting that degree, completing that marathon, or buying that house will make them happy. They set goals, make an action plan, and go full steam ahead. At some point, the realization comes, often sub-consciously: reaching this goal is not going to make me happy. After remaining unhappy for a time, they set another goal and the cycle begins again.
The key is to identify the REAL problem. If I train hard for the marathon, but the real problem is I feel stuck in a job I hate because I need to support the family, training is just a temporary distraction. If I feel stuck in a loveless marriage, buying a new house won’t help. If I reach that goal weight, but am desperately lonely, I’ll soon find a way to fill the emptiness again.
Identifying the real problem requires, well, getting real with yourself. It requires shutting off devices, investing in some quiet time, and listening to the sound of your inner voice. Martha Beck suggests making a list of all the activities you do on a given day and asking yourself:
· In a perfect world, would I do this at all?
· What can I change to make it more enjoyable?
· What would I rather do?
Having an honest conversation with a trusted mentor, coach, or mental health professional can be helpful.
An exercise I do with my own clients is creating a vision. I ask them not to hold back. Create a vision of the life you'd most like to live. Put everything on the table including the perfect job, partner, home, leisure, health/fitness level, etc. Very often, in doing this exercise, the real problem, is revealed. Rarely is there an easy fix, but at least we now know what we’re dealing with. We pull back and see what we can tweak in their current lives to create, baby-step by baby-step, something closer to their heart’s desire.
If you get real with yourself, keep making small adjustments, and working your way toward a life that is more enjoyable and in keeping with your deepest desires, you can finally put an end to self-sabotage.