Home It's All Mental Self-Sabotage, Internal Dialogue, Motivation And Focusing On Your Goals

Self-Sabotage, Internal Dialogue, Motivation And Focusing On Your Goals

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I wrote yesterday about my goal tree, I knew that it wouldn’t resonate with a ton of people because we’re so used to being told that having “lose x weight by x date” kinds of goals are the way to succeed. We’re fed, daily, the idea that we should go in, go hard, hustle, give 300%, and try to lose as much as we can as fast as we can… and that’s the only “path to success” to at we willingly embrace.

I’d said a long time ago that this doesn’t resonate well with me, especially since it’s not sustainable – who can give 300% forever without eventually becoming resentful and burning out? – but also because it’s unrealistic. If the end goal is for it a part of my every day life to be active, then I need to introduce that in ways that are flexible. Can’t get to the gym? What do I do?

My goal tree is much more about markers for success, because I strive to keep my goals in mind at all times. Every move I make, I make it with my goals in mind. It’s not in an obsessive fashion, it’s in a mindful fashion – every step I take has to move me closer to my goals, and if it would impede my progress in any way, it simply has to be set aside. It’s not a matter of deprivation when you simply understand that there are goals you want to achieve more than you want to eat that doughnut or skip that gym.

But how do you satisfactorily convince yourself that you don’t want that doughnut more than you want to achieve your goals? My personal belief – at least, this is how I approach it – is that whenever I intentionally do something that might get in the way of me achieving my goals, even though I know I want to make progress and I want to go to the gym instead of hide in my bedroom, I’m sabotaging myself. Plain and simple. And, while it’s easy to handle external sources of sabotage, how do you deal with sabotage that comes from within yourself? Not like you can divorce yourself, put yourself out of your house, stop taking your own phone calls…. you can’t do any of that. But what can you do?

The almost-hubby sent me this article, as a means of supporting me through getting beyond my own struggle, but I think it’s valuable to have, here:

This morning I stepped out of bed and into the view of a mirror. I thought, “Oh my God, I’m so fat” and then threw on some clothes thinking, “Hide it. Hide.” Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror a second time stopped the negative talk. My face struck me as sad, fearful, and ashamed. It shocked me. I don’t normally think of myself as sad, fearful or ashamed, and yet there it was, evident as the written word all over my frowning face.

Wow. First thing in the morning and my brain is writing horror stories. I wonder why I still feel trapped in judgment and negativity. I left my abuser almost two years ago. Will this cycle of hating/liking myself ever end?

According to neuroscience, the answer to that question is entirely within my control. Hallelujah! Yes, the abusive cycle recurring in my own mind will end.

In class, we’re learning that neurons in the brain do not have to die, nor do we cease the ability to grow new neurons with age. This is important because the neurons in our brains create information hubs of a sort. Thoughts (encoded as electrical impulses) travel from neuron to neuron depending on our memories (where they’re located) and how we’ve thought in the past (what paths are currently available). The great thing about growing new neurons is that, if we practice, we can reroute our old thinking pathways into entirely new ways of thinking.

In short, by forcing myself to think in new ways, my brain will form new thinking paths and use them instead of the old, negative and abusive ones I’m using today.

If you think I’m wrong, consider the person who had a stroke three years ago, losing all control over his right arm. He considered amputating his arm because it only got in his way. Then he heard that it may be possible to re-learn how to use that arm and decided to participate in the therapy offered. A year later, he can use his right arm completely.

According to PBS’s show “The Secret Life of the Brain”, that man created new neural pathways to allow his recovery. He sweated and concentrated on using his arm, and, over time, his brain responded by growing new neurons and creating new pathways for thought.

If a formerly paralyzed stroke victim can grow new ways to think and affect his physical movement, then I can grow new ways to think and affect my mental and emotional condition.

First, I’ll believe that I can change my thinking patterns. Belief is possibly the best predictor of success. Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” If I can think it and believe it, then I can do it. If I only think it then neglect to believe it, there’s no success.

Second, I’ll picture new pathways forming in my brain where there were none before. I’ll imagine them growing and connecting to positive memories and experiences. I’ll practice thinking good things about myself while picturing these pathways as they form. I’ll do this for 10 minutes every day, five in the morning and five minutes at night.

I tried picturing these new pathways for one minute just now, and it was really tough. I swear, I began to feel sweaty. But a stroke victim in the PBS video sweated as he flipped dominoes because he was thinking so hard, so I’ll take the perspiration as a sign that I’m on the right track.

Third, I will post sticky notes around my house. This is an old trick that maybe you’ve tried with affirmations in the past. (I did, then ended up letting the notes fall to the floor because I was so tired of sensing they did not work for me!) But these sticky notes will be simple pictures that look similar to this:

When I see this picture, I will think of one positive thing. It can be about me or someone I love or about the weather…doesn’t matter so long as its positive and I believe it. Then I will imagine that thought traveling through my brain in the most efficient path possible. I will spend maybe two seconds imagining the positive thought’s path, then go about my business. [source]

(Sounds real “The Secret-y,” doesn’t it?) But this is how things like vision boards work. This is how things like goal trees work. Any visual representation of your goals…

I think this article, in relation to the internal dialogue that leads us to act for the moment (skipping the gym or eating unnecessarily) instead of being focused on our goals, is important. In my own case, I have to make new, fresh connections to being out and about on my own in a new body. Hell, the body I have is still pretty new… but that’s beside the point.

When I shared, a few months ago, that motivation is something that can only be achieved on the inside – inspiration can compel you to feel inspired, but you still have to find that motivation to move even when the inspiration is long gone and forgotten – people were dumbfounded.

I clicked on this hoping to be, inspired. I wasn’t. Read more of the same. Its in you. You have to do it. Your health, better you. And I’m still not motivated or driven to do better. […] People talk about getting over it like it just comes overnight. It doesn’t. I know. I’ve tried and failed…so now what. What’s the motivation to eat a carrot stick, celery and water when the body, like an addict’s, is screaming, begging and pushing to eat/drink sugar, salt and so on. What suggestions are there for the drive to combat that? [source]

Motivation is an active choice within you to get up and get it done. Motivation is entirely mental, and I think this idea of needing to create new pathways that connect the action and activity to the achievements we desire is important. Addressing the self sabotage by developing a new internal dialogue which allows for the motivation that can let us make decisions that focus more on our goals? That’s how you do it.

I said, before, that you can’t wait to feel motivated to do what you know you’ve got to do…but I now realize that I should add to that. I still believe you have to move regardless of how you feel about it, but if you don’t feel that compulsion to contribute to your goals, you should ask yourself why. Asking myself why is how I came to the conclusion that I did about myself and my eating habits, and it’s also how I was able to devote so much effort to overcoming that.

I believe this was a huge part of how I stay on top of my game with my former emotional eating habit. I’m constantly reinforcing for myself that, no matter how stressed out or sad I may be, nothing is ever solved with a cookie. That has made it easier for me to turn down sweets, snacks and anything else. I don’t connect the junk food to anything beneficial to me other than an enjoyable taste, and even then, thanks to clean eating, I’ve learned that most of these things taste like crap, anyway. It’s far easier to turn down something you see as merely “an enjoyable taste” as opposed to seeing it as “something vital and necessary for the betterment of my well being before I go and cut my boss.”

Defeating emotional eating is, in a lot of ways, all about this process. Defeating sabotaging behavior in general is all about this process. When you figure out what the problem is, you start to devise your solution… and it takes a lot of self-affirmation, a lot of self-awareness and a lot of self-care. There are lots of people in the world who go into weight loss like a diver into the water – nose first, focused, driven, determined to get to the end. Those of us who aren’t, more often than not have to go through this process of breaking down the negative connotations we’ve associated with doing what we need to do to succeed, as well as make new connections that help us put our goals and our fit-minded selves into perspective.

Lots of people cringe at the thought of “constant” awareness, but I believe it gets easier as you make your way through this process. At least, it did for me before, and I’m betting it will for me again, moving forward.


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Eddie April 10, 2012 - 2:24 PM

True, its hard to get motivated today. A trick i learned from Brian Tracy is keeping a goal journal. I have set weekly, monthly and yearly goals. I read it every day before i go to sleep and after i wake up in the morning. Its hard to keep up with the goals, but after a while i realised that i dont get distracted so easily as before and my days are now more productive as ever. There are hundreds more ways to achieve your goals luckily i found one that works for me.

Kait April 10, 2012 - 3:26 PM

“Lots of people cringe at the thought of ‘constant awareness, but I believe it gets easier as you make your way through this process. At least, it did for me before, and I’m betting it will for me again, moving forward.”

That is good to know because, for me, “cringe” is an understatement! Some days it downright pisses me off! I go into that place of, “no one else cares so why should i?” and “jeez, i’m such a fricking diva!” etc. Other days I’m totally with it. My biggest issue is when I’m in a group…I enjoy eating out at “clean” and all or mostly-veg restaurants but that isn’t always in my control. Or when I visit friends and they’ve cooked or its the holidays. I’ve taken to bringing my own food with me everywhere but even that, at times, feels extreme. I’m glad to know that, like most things, it gets easier in time as my neurons start to pay attention!

Erika Nicole Kendall April 11, 2012 - 1:29 PM

Yeah, it definitely gets easier. Instead of agonizing over the fact that you’re about to pass up this opportunity, you eventually just start shrugging it off. What’s more… you let enough time pass, and if you DO indulge, you wonder what the big deal was in the first place.

I know that we guilt ourselves a lot of times with the “I am such a _____” thing, but I’ma need us to start following it up with “I am such a _____ right now…and that is perfectly fine. I’m stillllll not gonna _______.” ROFL

I’ve brought my own food to pot lucks at the holidays, but that’s mostly because I want to contribute, but also because I need to avoid eating a mass of other people’s identifiably processed food. ROFL

LaQueshia Jeffries April 11, 2012 - 12:52 PM

I so believe in “new connections” being made. When I started running last year I felt like I was dying every few meters. I couldn’t complete a mile, let alone the marathon I had signed up for! Then my husband was like, “Babe, shut up and run”.

So one Sunday I told myself if I could birth 3 boys with no drugs surely I could run 1 mile. And man, after I finally saw I could run a mile I knew the marathon was doable.

Why? Because I just had to talk to myself. “Girl you got this.” “What’s 5mi when you’ve already ran 3mi?”

And on and on during my training. Maybe mid-way through it I still wasn’t ready, but I didn’t tell myself that. All I told myself was to run, run, run.

And I’ve noticed that the same can-do voice is not limited to my training schedule. She’ll tell me to ‘gone with my bad self’ when I have to wake up after too little sleep. Or when I have to re-take a dreaded math test.

Or when my kids are driving me nuts. She just keeps on making connections towards greater endurance and perseverance.

Any way, you’re going to overcome this, Erika. :o) One connection at a time.

Annette April 11, 2012 - 1:11 PM

My motivation was feeling well healthy and having more energy. Just making gradual changes to my diet, no fried food, then, more steamed greens. It seems such a big goal and a lot of stress for me to just focus on weight loss.

Then someone suggested that I make a food journal. I started to write down everything I ate. The weight just started to come off, I wasn’t focusing so much on the weight but what I eat and the portions. I started to feel better, add different vegetable to my diet. Tried different recipes.

I enjoyed my food it tasted really good, with the different herbs and spices.

Also gradually decreased my portions. Then I got a scale my mistake because I only weighted myself at my doctors office. I became so obsessed, I was up and down. So now I only weight myself once every three months. I eat more nuts as snacks unsalted and a handful then full up with water/water with lemon.

The most trouble is the emotional hunger, now that I am not stuffing myself with food I am bringing up a lot of anger and hurt, and pain. I am working on that doing deep breathing and allowing myself to cry without shaming myself. Just cry feel the emotion and let it go. Sometimes I just get in my room and rage, then when I am done feel better and move on.

I do 10 repetitions of really easy leg lifts, light core exercise and visit the YMCA for some aqua fun…cause to work out when you are so heavy is a lot on joints. It makes a lot. I am just working on loving and totally accepting me where I am, and eating what is best for my body.

A little at a time brown rice instead or white rice, sweet potato baked wedges instead of french fries. Baked chicken, for those who like cereal..flax cereal. Oatmeal, with fruit..Nuts, pumpkin seeds..But most important write it down and look at it. Makes a bit difference.

Andrea June 7, 2012 - 9:37 PM

Motivation. That’s an interesting, and accurate, word choice. It seems like I can envision myself exercising, eating better, and being happier but when it comes down to me actually putting those thoughts to action I come up short. It didn’t occur to me how much I get in my own way–not only in weight loss, but in every other aspect of my life. Before I can even enjoy something new, I begin to second-guess myself…on EVERYTHING! After reading this post and the comments that followed, I realized that if this workout thing is going to work, I’m going to have to recondition how I think, how I act, and how I see myself and the world around me.

Emily April 27, 2013 - 10:26 AM

Erika, I cannot even begin to express how much I needed to see this right now. I have struggled with self-sabotaging behaviors in my health for SO long & have many times felt so helpless/hopeless about the idea of change. I am amazed at how much this makes sense! I always appreciate each one of your posts. You are truly an inspiration to me. Thank you for being so REAL & breaking it down for us ladies. I am in this for the long haul & am desperate for a change. I am focusing on slow & steady instead of instant & unrealistic. Now I’m off to draft my goals & maybe a few hundred sticky notes… 😉

AshBash June 24, 2013 - 11:32 PM

It’s funny because when I was a little girl I would do this thing where if I thought something enough then it became true or my truth and whatever I was struggling with became easier each day. One day I decided it was stupid even though it had always led to positive results. I am definatly going to get back into this practice. I feel motivated to get back into my healthy lifestyle as well as other goals. Big sincere thanks Erika.

Briana November 25, 2013 - 2:24 AM

I’ve noticed this when I’m working out. I’ll be running and in my mind I’ll think “aren’t you tired” or “aren’t you sore” and then I’ll start walking. I’ve also witnessed the reverse, when I’m on the elliptical tired as hell and I become my own cheerleader. “You’ve got this! Only 10 more minutes to go! Think how awesome you’re going to feel when you finish!” For a long time, I was looking for motivation from others: my husband, family, friends. But even with their motivation, my self-sabotage was the victor. So now that I’m back in the gym, trying to get in at least 3 workouts/week, I’m focusing on positive internal dialogue. Also self-forgiveness if/when I don’t make it, because bashing myself just sends me back to the couch.

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