You exercise after work, and then you go out and drink too many cocktails. You join a gym only to let your abandoned membership expire. You download a popular workout app, but immediately decide it’s too hard. If you can relate to any of these scenarios, you’ve been self-sabotaging your fitness goals.
Self-sabotage — a self-inflicted behavior that prevents one from reaching a goal — isn’t always a conscious behavior, but we’re all guilty of it.
“Self-sabotage is a survival skill dating back to caveman days, when people had to retain negative information in order to stay safe and alive,” says Jonathan Alpert, a New York City psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.” In modern-day terms, that means if you’re not in the mood to exercise, you may focus on the fact that it’s too hot to go outside or that you don’t like your Spin instructor, rather than the feel-good payoff of a workout.
You may feel relief in the moment because you’ve rationalized an afternoon on the couch, but make excuses long enough and you’ll start to establish a pattern of defeat. “For many people exercise isn’t a fun activity, and it’s easier for the brain to find reasons to avoid it than it is to just do it,” says Alpert.
And while you should absolutely listen to your body if a workout is too intense or you need downtime, pinpointing the cause of your reluctance — anxiety, vulnerability or fear of the unknown — is key. Avoiding exercise because you’re tired or injured? Legit. Because you’re “not an exercise person?” Not so much.
Here are five ways to avoid self-sabotage in order to reach your fitness goals.
1. Believe your willpower is endless.
There’s an often-quoted theory called “ego depletion,” which means willpower is a finite resource. In other words, if you use lots of self-control during the day resisting snacks, you won’t feel motivated to exercise after work.
But recent research has challenged that theory, finding “no evidence” of ego depletion. And per another study, those who believe they have a never-ending supply of willpower are happier and more likely to set personal goals.
2. Don’t buy into “fitspiration.”
Your Instagram feed may be filled with toned, tight bodies and inspirational fitness quotes, but don’t let so-called perfection mess with your motivation. Those images seem aspirational, but research shows they (unsurprisingly) make people feel crappy about themselves.
If you’re aiming to be fit, focus on what progress looks like on your own body. There’s no need to compare yourself to a fitness model.
3. Set realistic goals.
According to Gail Saltz, a New York City psychiatrist, people often self-sabotage in subtle ways. “For example, if you’re a morning person, that’s the best time for you to exercise,” she says. “But if you delay your workout until the evening, you probably won’t do it.”
If you feel self-conscious when you work out, joining a trendy gym with diehard fitness buffs is probably not a place for you to thrive. “Make decisions you genuinely feel comfortable with and you’ll be more likely to stick to your goals,” says Saltz.
4. Be aware of your stress triggers.
Exercise does wonders for lowering stress by increasing the production of feel-good endorphins and improving sleep quality and cognitive function. But, ironically, people are less likely to exercise when they’re dealing with stress, according to research conducted by Yale University. And another study showed that stress causes people to consume unhealthy foods in pursuit of instant gratification.
The takeaway: Make sure you’re eating as cleanly as possible and getting enough sleep so you’re more likely to sweat out your stress after a hard day.
5. Reframe your fears.
If you haven’t switched up your form of exercise in forever (say, you run the same route at the same pace each day), you’re sabotaging your physical results. Not only does repetition up the odds you’ll quit exercising out of boredom, your muscles need to be worked in different ways in order to produce results.
There’s also a mental advantage to busting out of a rut. One study found that people who believed their capabilities were fixed were likelier to become anxious and perform poorly when faced with a challenge compared to those who believed their skills were flexible.
So if you find yourself saying, “I’m a runner, not a yogi,” you’re stunting your potential. Instead of thinking, “that’s not for me” or “I won’t be good at it,” tell yourself, “I’m up for an adventure.”
What Do YOU Think?
How have your sabotaged your success in the past? Do you feel like fears are holding you back? How did you relate to this advice? Let us know your thoughts and your advice for other readers below.