Self-sabotage: are you afraid to compete with yourself?

Every time I wanted to eat healthy, I did. I felt motivated and engaged and I felt like my “why” was strong. Strong enough to help me resist that one thing that Oscar Wilde couldn’t resist: temptation.

For a while, for a couple of weeks maybe, I was right. I ate healthy. I worked out. I took care of myself like I loved myself. And it made me happy. I felt proud of myself. I felt excited to actually be moving forward.

And then I’d “crave” junk food. Pizza, sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks, chocolate. I’d crave them all and I’d buy them all and I wouldn’t go to the gym and I’d sit in my room and watch something on YouTube while finally indulging in everything I’d been resisting.

Ah. Bliss.

Or so I thought.

Sometimes I think I’m not self-aware at all, because it feels like what I think I want is never what I actually want.

It’s like going to the gym, or whatever form of exercise you (hopefully) do. When you don’t feel like doing it, but you do it anyway, how do you feel? Good, right? You feel proud of yourself. You feel like you achieved something. It’s almost better than when you’re really motivated to do it, because you didn’t feel like doing it but you made a choice to do it anyway.

Now, what happens when you don’t feel like doing it, and you give in to that? Do you ever feel good about that? Do you feel proud of yourself? Do you feel the confidence of achieving something?

No. You don’t. You just feel bad. And then we think things like “oh, well I didn’t go today, so I won’t go tomorrow either.” Or things like “oh, well I didn’t work out, so I might as well just eat junk food, because whatever.”

Maybe that’s just me, but I suspect not.

“Self-sabotage is when part of your personality acts in conflict with another part of your personality.” — Unknown

When I read that quote — and I wish I knew who’d said it — I thought to myself, “oh my god. That’s exactly what’s going on.”

There was a part of me that wanted to be healthy, that wanted to work out, that wanted to eat the right things, that wanted to do myself justice, that wanted to live like I loved myself.

And then there was the other part. The part that was afraid of all of that. Afraid I’d fail. Afraid I’d actually succeed. Afraid that I’d never, ever be able to keep going long enough to actually change myself.

It reminds me of that Jim Carrey quote:

“You will only ever have two choices: love, or fear.”

Maybe it’s corny. Maybe there’s some truth to it.

I was giving in to fear. I was choosing fear, though I didn’t realise it until recently. Until I finally started taking some responsibility for my life.

Before that I felt powerless. I’d live healthy, and I’d feel great, and I’d be happy, and then I’d sabotage it all by doing the exact opposite of what I’d been doing.

I didn’t understand what I was doing because I wasn’t truly interested in understanding what I was doing. I wasn’t interested in the “why”. Well, maybe I was. But I didn’t want to get into it because if I knew why I was doing what I was doing then I’d really have no excuse for not doing better, and then I’d have no excuse to sabotage myself. And that scared me.

Lucky for me, I read an article by Stanley Johnson, an NBA player for the Detroit Pistons, on The Player’s Tribune. In the article he says that his Head Coach, Stan Van Gundy, asked him a question when they met at the end of the season:

“Are you afraid to compete with yourself?”

He said his impulse was to say NO. Because who wants to be afraid to compete with themselves? And what professional athlete would ever admit it if they were?

I had the same reaction. “Of course I’m not”, I thought.

But that thought was only what I wanted to think. It wasn’t what was actually going on.

The real answer was yes, I was. I was afraid to compete with myself. Because what if I couldn’t? What if I tried, and failed? What would happen then?

Deep down, I believed that if I tried to compete with myself, I’d fail. I didn’t believe I was good enough to compete with myself. And that meant I’d never get what I wanted. It meant I’d never be able to be who I wanted to be.

So that’s why I was self-sabotaging. Because I was afraid that if I tried to compete with myself, I’d lose. And so why even bother? Why even bother trying to improve? Why not just settle, and save myself the pain of my inevitable failure?

As you might be noticing, this isn’t logical. Because competing with myself a little bit, and then stopping, and then settling… it just made me unhappy. It made me not like myself. It made me ashamed of myself.

If that’s not failure, then what is?

I was afraid to fail and so I ended up failing. The irony.

I was afraid to compete with myself and so I become a worse version of myself than I already was. The irony.

The first step to stopping self-sabotage is to notice you’re doing it. Do you look for excuses to indulge in unhelpful behaviour? Do you find yourself wanting to do things that you know won’t serve you? Do you act like a person who loves themselves? And I don’t mean the “I’m so great” kind of love. I mean the kind of love where you know it’s ok to value yourself.

Obviously, to notice you’re doing it, you have to want two things: you have to want to change it, and you have to want to be honest with yourself. Changing your behaviour has to be more important to you than staying the same. Being honest with yourself has to be more important than deceiving yourself, feeling uncomfortable, and not liking what you hear.

For me, changing became more important, and being honest became more important, because I’d had enough. I was pissed off with my own bullshit. I was annoyed that I kept indulging the worst of me.

I asked myself what would happen if I kept sabotaging myself, and I was honest when I answered: I’d never get to where I wanted to be. I’d never have what I wanted to have. I’d never be the person I knew I could be.

And that was a reality that I wasn’t prepared to live in.

I haven’t sabotaged myself for the last few days, and I’m proud of myself for that. Probably because I’m more conscious of it than ever. Every time I think about sabotaging myself, in whatever way comes to mind, I’ve been asking myself the same question that Stan Van Gundy asked Stanley Johnson:

“Are you afraid to compete with yourself?”

Sometimes I get a resounding “NO.” I like that.

Sometimes I get a solid “no.” That’s good too.

Sometimes I get a “hmm, yeah, a little bit.” That’s ok. Because being a little bit afraid to compete with myself doesn’t mean that I can’t compete with myself. I still get to choose.

And that’s what it comes down to, at some point. Choice.

When you notice yourself wanting to self-sabotage, when you feel yourself wanting to self-sabotage, you can just choose not to. It might be a hard choice. It might be uncomfortable. You might really just want to give in to self-sabotage for that beautiful relief, even though you know you’ll end up feeling awful.

But you do have a choice. We always do.