How to Maintain Healthy Habits and Stop Sabotaging Yourself

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

About two years go, I felt horrible about myself and where I was in my life: single, struggling to lose weight, miserable in my job (and no clue what to do about it), and unfulfilled in general.

I kept trying to bully myself in order to be the person I wanted to be and have the things I wanted to have.

I kept saying to myself, “I can’t believe you said/ate/did that. There’s something wrong with you” and giving myself strict rules to follow, only to break them with the same self-sabotaging behavior sometimes minutes later.

I thought the only way to get myself where I wanted to go was to strong-arm myself there. But that only made me rebel against myself more. I waffled between overindulging and being stingy with myself emotionally, physically, and financially.

One day I came across a picture of myself at five years old. I looked at that sweet little girl and realized no parent would allow someone to treat her the way I was treating myself—or allow her to do the things I was letting myself get away with.

I looked at how I was living and saw how broken my relationship was with myself.

I was permitting myself to do things no sane parent would allow their child to do while simultaneously yelling at myself for “being bad,” which any parent or child knows is the most ineffective form of motivation or cause for behavior change.

This caused me to wonder: why do we allow ourselves to have the unhealthy habits we don’t allow in children? Why do we find it easier to make rules for ourselves than it is to follow them?

I finally learned how to heal this relationship with myself and begin “parenting” myself in a healthy way.

By honing your self-parenting skills and doing this out of love and affection, you’ll be able to overcome these self-sabotaging behaviors and stop the self-bashing, creating a loving relationship with yourself that supports you to achieve your desires.

1. Identify your behaviors and habits.

Take a moment. Listen to the ways you speak to yourself, the way you feed yourself, your hygiene and sleep habits. Which of your habits and behaviors would you not allow your (inner) child to do?

Here were a few of mine:

  • Speaking meanly to myself
  • Thinking mean thoughts about others
  • Eating candy before healthy food
  • Staying up late when I’m tired
  • Having bad table manners—eating while staring at a computer screen or watching TV

Often, the mean thoughts and the behavior are tied together. We identify these habits and behaviors as “self-sabotage” and then mentally beat ourselves up for it.

If you catch yourself in the vicious cycle of doing something that deep down you know you shouldn’t and then mentally berating yourself for it, it’s indicator that something big is going on below the surface.

2. Identify the repercussions of the behavior.

You’ll probably notice that these behaviors and habits take you away from attaining the things you deeply desire, like having a body you love, a job that fulfills you, and a great relationship.

In every moment, we are taking action that either moves us toward or away from the person we want to be and the life we want to have. The very behaviors you keep permitting yourself to do are the ones that are keeping you from what you want most.

Get clear on how the actions you’re taking and the thoughts you’re thinking are in direct conflict with your happiness.

3. Understand why you developed these habits.

Look closely and see if the behavior or thought pattern originated as a way to take care of you in some way. It might be counter-intuitive or irrational, but that doesn’t matter.

For example, one of my self-sabotaging habits was eating chocolate at ten in the morning. I thought it was just about the sugar rush, but the overwhelming need to eat it every day pointed to something deeper.

When I really looked at it, I saw that by mid-morning, the realization that I had a full day ahead of me, doing work I didn’t want to do in a place I didn’t want to be in, made my heart sink with sadness.

I reached for the chocolate for a jolt of pleasure, a way to escape the reality.

The intention was positive; I was trying to take care of myself by giving myself comfort and some joy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the healthiest way to give myself those things, and it came with the undesired effects of weight gain and sugar crashes and deepened a cycle of self-bashing.

As adults, we know the consequences of engaging in a particular thought or pattern, but often do it anyway. The motivation is always moving away from pain or increasing pleasure.

It can be hedonistic—many unhealthy behaviors feel good in the short-term (the sugar rush, the comfort, the satisfaction) but have long-term detrimental effects. It can also be rebellious—there’s a thrill to “breaking the rules.”

Identifying where you get pleasure in engaging in self-sabotage can be immensely helpful in overcoming it.

Realize that there is no self-sabotage, only self-preservation. Acknowledge that this action was a way to keep you safe, happy, and loved in some way, even if it was misguided or currently no longer serves you.

This was an unconscious way of parenting yourself, and now that you recognize it, you can begin to consciously parent yourself in a way that supports the person you want to be now.

4. Create “house rules.”

Parents make rules because they can see the consequences that the child doesn’t have the perspective for yet.

Looking back at my childhood, there were a lot of things that were non-negotiable that ultimately created healthy habits.

One example is that we sat down as a family for dinner, every night. I never thought there was another way, and subsequently the habit of sitting down to dinner was ingrained.

Think back at your childhood and the “house rules” that guided your behavior. Would it be helpful to reintroduce some of them into your life? Should you adopt some of the “house rules” you have for your children?

If you have a particularly hard habit to break that you know is detrimental to your well-being, consider making it a “house rule.” When something is non-negotiable it removes the inner dialogue where we bargain with ourselves and makes it a lot easier to stick with it.

Be sure to create your “rules” out of loving affection, not meanness or to punish yourself. Add a “because.” Even as kids, “because I told you to” was not a valid excuse.

So look back at what you identified as the repercussions of your behavior to inform why the rule is in place and the desires you want to move toward.

For example, one of my “house rules” became not eating candy before lunch. Whenever a chocolate craving hit, I told myself, “You don’t eat chocolate before lunch because it will make you feel icky and makes you feel bad about your body. Have chamomile tea instead.”

5. Hone your self-parenting skills.

Look back at your relationship with your parents and your children and identify the parenting techniques that worked the best for you. I’ll bet it was a mix of being strong and consistent in enforcing the “rules” while also being kind, patient, and understanding.

Use the good  techniques you identified to make sure you stick to your rules. In addition to making them non-negotiable and adding a “because,” be sure to reward yourself when you’ve resisted temptation and followed your own rules.

Be infinitely patient with yourself, as you would be with a child. If you slip up once, instead of throwing everything out the window, have a conversation with yourself.

Understand why you did what you did. What did you need in that moment? Figure out how to give it to yourself and reinforce why it is so important to follow the “rules.”

What are your new “house rules”? How can you parent yourself in a way that is supportive and nurturing?

About Martine Holston

Martine Holston left her dream job to "retire" at 30 and build her dream life, and now teaches people how to do the same (Do this free exercise to take the first step).  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter to see what “retired” life looks like.

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