family at dinner table with woman laughing

Anyone who has ever been on a diet can tell you about times when they’ve sabotaged themselves. It’s a common trait that all of us share. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about coaches, members, or a practiced dieter who has been around the block more than a few times. Self-sabotaging ourselves while working towards some kind of dietary goal is something that we can all relate to because it’s something we’ve all experienced.

No matter what the scenario, we’ve all been there. We’ve all seen it happen, and typically in cycles. We see the signs, and most of us are pretty good at recognizing them because we’ve done the exact same things over and over again. We’ve all had times where we’ve gone off plan for a day, a weekend, or even a week. It’s a story as old as dieting itself. 

  1. Someone starts a plan and they’re fired up 
  2. Someone sticks to the plan for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks 
  3. Life starts to throw all kinds of curveballs and before they know it, they are unsure of what their diet even was

When us coaches see these sorts of things happening, we want to start asking questions and uncover what is going on. We want to troubleshoot the situation and help our members figure out a strategy to handle similar challenges in the future. But here’s the kicker about when most of us go off plan and sabotage ourselves: we don’t always know why we did it. We know what we did, we know what we consumed, and we even might know what triggered us to head down that road. But more often than not, going off the plan looks a lot like waking back up at the bottom of a bucket of KFC, wondering just how in the world we got there, and then beating ourselves up for failing on our plan.

This is a truism of being a person. We’re messy animals who have a whole host of issues we’ve got to try and work through. And, we are human — and we make mistakes. We have work obligations, family obligations, friendships to navigate, projects, hobbies, and the list goes on and on. There’s a lot that’s required of us and our brains to process on a daily basis.

Our brains allow us to become the apex of animal development in the world as we know it. Sure, we can’t run fast like a cheetah and we can’t dive down to the depths of a blue whale, But our brains allow us to build gigantic machinery, travel into space and edit dog videos that go viral on Facebook.

However, as awesome as they may be, our brains aren’t perfect. They also come with a whole host of issues, and those issues manifest primarily in the tricks that our brains play on us. We can call those tricks cognitive dissonance, and that cognitive dissonance has one primary function: stay the same.

See, we as humans don’t enjoy change. It means no longer doing things the way we’ve always done them, and that means discomfort. So, even when we enter into a new program and want to do things that are going to be better for us, we inevitably find ways to screw it up by doing something that goes against this. Or put another way, we find ways to self-sabotage.

This is a core tenet of behavior change. It’s not always fun and we will mess it up sometimes, but if we stick with it, it is rewarding.

You can sign up for a Stronger U session and be given all of the tools necessary to make that change. But signing up alone isn’t going to do it. You’re still going to have to change key aspects of yourself and only you can do that: not your coach and not the community. You still have to embrace the idea that you’re now going to have to do things differently than you used to.

Change isn’t easy. In fact, there are a lot of days where you’ll feel like you’re having to drag yourself, kicking and screaming, on the way to the new you. That can be exhausting, and it’s where having a coach to help guide you along can be incredibly helpful. But even having a coach doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the exhaustion of trying to change your lifestyle hits a breaking point. And it is at that breaking point where self-sabotage tends to rear its ugly head.

Why? Because it’s a callback to the old you and the way you used to live your life. It’s something you know and that you’re comfortable with and most likely, is easier. You had been white-knuckling your way through something difficult like changing your entire lifestyle for so long that you couldn’t bear it any longer, and subconsciously, or consciously, you decided that you needed some time to just let it all out.

So you did. 

And that’s how we find ourselves sitting in the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A fully ready to order two different #3 12-count nugget meals with a large fry and double the Chick-Fil-A sauce. And yes, in case any of you are wondering at home, I’ve been there with that exact meal. 

My Chick-Fil-A order aside, you know what I think is one of the most valuable skills you can develop for yourself when you self-sabotage? The ability to congratulate yourself. 

Yep. I said it. I want you to congratulate yourself. Sure, we could talk about how we could alter our environment a bit so that we’re not feeling like we have to white-knuckle our way through the day. We could talk about the importance of planning and getting out in front of the day. And make no mistake, I want you to talk with your coach about all of those things. But before that, I want you to congratulate yourself.

Why? Because showing up in the drive-thru means you’re human. Sometimes we let ourselves forget that. We forget that the plight of being human involves doing a lot of things that don’t actually help us. We tend to treat ourselves like we’re some autonomous robot that should be capable of making a perfect decision if given the opportunity, in between going to get our oil changed, picking up the dry cleaning and paying the bills. In reality, we all know that’s nowhere close to the case. We’re real people with real feelings and real problems. All of that comes together to create a perfect storm of being human, and sometimes being human means doing things like sabotaging ourselves.

I know I do that. You might as well.

That’s why recognizing our humanity can be a liberating thing. It’s nice to know that we all screw up sometimes. It’s especially nice to know that we all do a lot of things that don’t serve us or our long-term plans. But, and here’s the big but, that acceptance that self-sabotage is a normal thing doesn’t change the fact that we still have to get right back on the horse and work on ourselves if we’re serious about seeing change. So how do we do that?

Your fail-proof strategy to deal with self-sabotage and get back on track: little wins.

When it comes to getting back on track we tend to overwhelm ourselves with the idea that we need to be perfect again. That we need to 0 out our macros, plan out our food weeks in advance, walk 10,000 steps in a day, and exercise. I’m exhausted just writing that sentence. Imagine how exhausting it is to try and do all of those things when we’re just now trying to get our feet back under us? 

So when it comes to getting back on track, be a bit easier on yourself. Lower the barrier to success as much as you need, because when you’ve woken up at the bottom of a bucket of KFC, you don’t need to be perfect. You need to feel what it’s like to be successful again. So, our one job is to find little wins that move you closer towards your big goal. 

The size of the win doesn’t matter. In fact, if you’re just getting going again, it’s probably better to find the smallest win you can. Let that little win be the only thing that you think of. Don’t think about the entire day, the entire week, or anything beyond the next decision in front of you — think about that one that offers you an opportunity to pick up a little win and remember the feeling of success. What matters is you’re getting back on track, patting yourself on the back for winning, and then finding the next win.

For some people, their little win might be eating a salad at lunch. For others, it might be going on a walk during their lunch break instead of heading to the cafeteria. And for others, a little win might actually be as small as having a glass of water first thing in the morning. Like I said, the size of the win doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you find something that you can manage to accomplish, and then follow through on it. 

The magic of little wins comes into play when you’ve won once and then you win again. Maybe you picked up a little win first thing in the morning and then you picked up another one at lunch. Then you notched another win at dinner time. Before you know it, you’ve got a winning streak rolling right along and you want to do everything you can to keep it going. This is similar to Seinfeld’s idea of “never break the chain”. But since I can’t imagine everyone here is as gigantic of a fan of Seinfeld like I am, I’ll save you the research and just tell you what it is:

Seinfeld has a rule that he has to write one joke a day. It doesn’t have to be a great joke (but it’s Seinfeld, so they probably are) and it doesn’t have to be a completely finished joke. He just needs to write one single joke a day. When he does that, he puts an “X” on the calendar. The idea behind it? After a few days, you get so into the idea of seeing a bunch of “X’s” on the calendar that you want to keep that streak going. And if for whatever reason, he breaks the chain, he’s only one joke away from starting a new one.

Little wins are like your own little version of Seinfeld’s chain. They’re the tools that keep you on track when things get tough, but they’re also the tools that can bring you out of a rut. Little wins work because they’re the antidote from letting yourself get bogged down in the huge hairy idea of being perfect on all fronts. Instead of falling victim to the perfection trap, little wins keep your focus small and on the immediate decision in front of you. And that little win is enough to get us back on track and help you stay on track.

Don’t discount the power of momentum. Momentum has the power to work both ways. When we’re in the middle of a series of poor decisions that don’t serve us, it can be easy to just keep that rhythm going because getting out of that feels too difficult to even imagine. Just the same, when we’re in a groove and making great choices, that helps us move forward and keep that momentum rolling along. You have the power to shift that momentum and make it work for you.  It all just starts with finding a little win.


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