Managing Self-sabotage

Chiara Mansfield, Be Strong’s very own Sports and Exercise Psychology expert, has very kindly pulled together some of her knowledge on self-sabotage and some techniques if you feel that you might be spiralling into a period of self-sabotage.

It’s a really interesting topic, and the techniques are really simple, read on, as it might just help you!

Managing self-sabotaging periods

Definition of self-sabotage

Self-sabotage occurs when a part of your personality acts in conflict with another part. It forms problems in our daily life e.g. deliberately stops us from achieving something (adopting a healthy lifestyle) or obstructs us from achieving our goals (losing 2lbs per week).

An example of how this relates to exercise and weight loss

If we engage in self-sabotaging we might comfort eat, causing us to lose track of our calories and overeat. Another example is procrastination or a lack of motivation to complete our daily exercise, such as a walk, run or a workout. Self-sabotage can lead to negative self-talk where you begin to tell yourself you can’t do something or think it’s ok I will do it tomorrow – sometimes we don’t even realise we are doing this!

Of course, this can occur and was common during the lockdown if you were struggling with a lack of routine or are experiencing negative self-talk – have a read of my previous blog post on Healthy habits and routines.

When this happens, we need to reconnect ourselves with our core values and goals.

Two main psychological components this could affect is your confidence and motivation. So, let’s look at some psychological strategies that can help you with periods of self-sabotage.

Firstly, with confidence you may self-sabotage due to a lack of self-confidence or self-sabotaging may negatively affect your confidence.

One psychological strategy could be – thought stopping

knerri61 / Pixabay

This could be used when you think your lack of confidence is influencing you to self-sabotage. This could be affecting your task performance (exercise/sticking to calories) and/or well-being.

Thought stopping is the use of mental or behavioural cues to prevent these negative thoughts. Mental cues may involve verbal cues (e.g. saying stop) or mental images (e.g. a stop sign or red traffic light) and using these straight away when a negative thought arises. Examples of behavioural cues could be pinching yourself or look at reminders on your phone.

An example of not using thought stopping:
Sally is on track to mastering a routine incorporating healthy eating habits and exercise but when it comes to her planned time to exercise she puts it off and continues watching TV instead. Sally begins to think “oh I will just do it tomorrow instead” or “I don’t want to go out on a walk today on my own”, which means she does not bother to go on her walk.

An example using thought stopping:
Sally is on track to mastering a routine incorporating healthy eating habits and exercise. She wakes up, prepares and eats her planned breakfast and then looks at her action plan of when she has planned to do her exercise for the day. Before the walk she planned, she’s feeling a bit anxious because she is not sure whether to just leave the walk until later as she starts to be self-critical. When this happens, she uses a mental verbal cue of STOP and looks at the reminder with positive self-talk cues of the walk she has planned for 11am.

Steps for using thought stopping:

1. Listen to your thoughts – these negative thoughts that distract you from exercising. Write them down and become more aware.
2. Imagine the thought – close your eyes and imagine a situation when one of these negative thoughts may arise and focus on the thought.
3. Stop the thought – set a timer for two minutes (where you can focus on the thought) and then shout STOP to stop the negative thinking. Empty your mind for 30 seconds to see if the thought arises (repeat process if needed).

Use a combination of mental and physical cues when any negative thought arises and make this a habit.  This gives the most effective results, including reducing self-sabotage.

One psychological strategy could be – Imagery/visualisation

This could be used when you think your lack of motivation is influencing self-sabotage. This could also be affecting your task performance (exercise/sticking to calories) and/or well-being.

Previous research has discovered that when you imagine yourself exercising or sticking to healthy eating habits, it increases the chance of you doing it. When you imagine yourself exercising, you may experience the same feelings and bodily sensations as if you were actually exercising. Imagery helps to increase your motivation levels.

Steps of using imagery

1. Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes.
2. Focus on your breathing to help you relax.
3. Visualise yourself exercising – this could be a walk in the park or a run around your estate.
4. Add detail to your setting – How does it make you feel? What music are you listening to? What can you see?
5. Imagine your route – enables you to become more relaxed
6. When you are halfway through your exercise and are feeling relaxed, take a few minutes to breathe slowly.
7. Be mindful and aware of all your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations during this visualisation process.
8. Open your eyes.

An example without imagery:

Sally has looked at her action plan for the week and is feeling very optimistic and motivated for the week ahead. However, having planned to complete a 5k walk on Monday morning, she wakes up and feels very unmotivated and decides not to do the walk.

An example with imagery:

Sally has looked at her action plan for the week and is feeling very optimistic and motivated for the week ahead. She has planned to complete a 5k walk on Monday morning, but she wakes up and feels very unmotivated. Sally decides to use some imagery to help and goes through each of the steps, imagining herself on the 5k walk and how satisfied she will feel after the walk. This process helps Sally to increase her motivation and she gets up and goes on her walk.

When to use imagery:

Imagery can be used whenever you feel a lack or decrease in your motivation levels, so before completing a specific task like exercise or eating a planned meal to help stick to your calories. This psychological technique will help you to deviate away from this negative self-sabotage and move towards a more healthy, enjoyable lifestyle!

Give it a go!

Adopt these psychological strategies within your action plan and daily routine to help increase and maintain your confidence and motivation levels.

Leave a Reply