We’ve all heard that we are our own worst enemies, and we also believe we are pretty good at sabotaging ourselves when it comes to our goals. We usually acknowledge when these things happen: the cookies are too tempting; the cheesecake looks amazing; we’re tired and Taco Bell is right there. Most of us will acknowledge we gave in, even if we do try to shift the blame to someone or something else.
The real problems come when we are sabotaging ourselves and don’t know we are doing it. I know there are fitness coaches who don’t like the word ‘sabotage.’ The internet defines it as “deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage. Synonyms: vandalize, wreck, damage, destroy, cripple, impair, incapacitate.” I think that pretty much covers it!
Some of these coaches say that sabotage is the wrong word because we really want our goals and we aren’t trying to destroy, damage or obstruct ourselves, nor are we trying to impair, cripple or incapacitate ourselves. I think that’s a gross generalization. I believe while on one level we really think we want our goals, on a deeper level, we may not.
I don’t mean to say that we have some kind of split personality or that we really hate ourselves and want to be fat or unhealthy, but there’s often a sense of safety in the devil you know. You can’t fail if you don’t try, and when you leave the safety of what you know, who knows what’s out there? Many of us are familiar with the Tolkien quote: “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door.” While most of us don’t live in Middle Earth and have to worry about trolls and orcs, we do tend to worry about eating the wrong things or even too much of the right things. We worry about making mistakes or failure, and we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to be perfect, because for most of us, imperfection equals failure.
I’m reminded of a scene from The Simpsons, where Homer is giving Bart some ‘fatherly advice’ about trying and not succeeding. When he’s done, Bart quips: “Can’t win- don’t try! Got it!” This is what a lot of us have internalized, whether we’re aware of it or not. I know I did: “I’d have to lose about 300 lbs to get anywhere near a normal weight! There’s no way I can do that!” Can’t win- don’t try! Don’t try- can’t fail! It’s the same philosophy: “I’m not a failure because you have to attempt it in order to fail. I’m staying in my safe fat comfort zone. I know what it’s like being fat and if I’m not happy with it, at least it’s the devil I know. Losing weight is too much hard work and I know I’ll never be perfect at it.”
But perfection is not required for health, fitness or weight loss: improvement is all that is needed. When we hold ourselves to impossible standards, even though we may think we are working towards our goals, we are actually getting in our own way and essentially sabotaging ourselves. We plan out a ‘perfect week’: this is what I’m eating, these are the workouts I’m doing, I’m going to drink this much water and get this much sleep,’ and so on and so on. We have all our little ducks nose to tail when we go to bed Sunday night! But on Monday morning, Real Life happens and somewhere along the line, our little ducks start wandering everywhere they are not supposed to be. Our beautiful plan goes out the window and we begin beating ourselves up because “we failed!”
Seriously, though, we haven’t failed. A few weeks ago, I did a post about community and how we are all connected to everyone else in our lives. We have a similar connection with everything else that goes on in our lives because we don’t live in a vacuum. We can make all the plans we want, but unless they account for everything that can possibly happen (work meetings, school functions, family celebrations, etc), there are going to be adjustments to those wonderful Sunday night plans. This is why improvement is all that’s required and not perfection! We can plan to make dinner and even have all the groceries ready at home, but then there’s an emergency at work and by the time we get home, our choices are making the dinner we planned and eating at 10:00 p.m. or we can get something already made and eat earlier. This is where we make an improvement (getting rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad) or we give up (get fast food). The chicken and salad might not be the wonderfully healthy dinner you had planned, but is it still an improvement over what you used to eat? Even if the answer is no, it’s still an improvement over the fast food. You make the better choice and you still win!
This is why so many of us don’t want to try. We want to be healthy, but we don’t know what’s out there and because our perfect plans can never be executed without adjustments, we tacitly accept ‘not trying’ or giving up repeatedly. We think we don’t know how to do it, and rather than admit we don’t know what we’re doing or even that we’re just plain scared of failing/ screwing up, we accept the status quo, no matter how unhappy and unhealthy we are. Change is scary. Trying something new is scary too: what happens if I don’t like it or I’m not good at it? What if I’m doing it wrong? The last one is one that comes up a lot. So many of us are afraid of ‘not doing it right,’ whatever ‘it‘ is. The truth is that there are no hard and fast rules for how to be healthier or fit or to lose weight. All we can do is the best we can, every day with every choice. That’s as close as it comes to having a rule set in stone. That’s as perfect as we can be, and as long as we keep trying every day, we’re succeeding. I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but what works for me may not work for you and what works for me now may not work two years from now. You don’t know until you try if you will like it, be good at it or succeed. However, I can guarantee you this: you will never succeed if you never try.