Surprising Saboteurs Part 2
In Part 1, we discussed the irony that often our loved ones hinder us in our grandest goals and highest aspirations. We saw how the road to self improvement is not always supported because of its impact on our loved ones and how these changes – real or perceived – may affect the relationship.
Today we’ll learn to recognize the forms this sabotage can take, and conclude by discussing actionable steps we might take to prevent alienation and hopefully, foster even stronger bonds as we continue forward… together.
The Hows of Sabotage
It can be really hard when the very people who should be pillars of support prove to be the opposite. For many, the knowledge that their spouse, partner, family or friends don’t support their goal is so discouraging that they give up. There’s an old saying “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
Some people do not even realise that this sabotage is being played out, so let’s see how we can recognize this.
I think of sabotage as belonging to two broad categories: active or passive.
Active sabotage is where there is a direct resistance to your stated goal.
Examples of active sabotage include
- direct opposition to your efforts: persuading you to eat that chocolate cake, choosing unhealthy choices for food outings, coming up with ‘emergencies’ at a time they know you need to be at the gym or working on your goals
- disapproval: expressing unhappiness or hostility to your goals, negative tonality and facial expressions and behaviour when you make choices pertinent to your goal, such as choosing a healthier restaurant or leaving the house to go to the gym
- disparagement: belittling your efforts, saying it won’t work, reminding you it’s uphill all the way, constantly saying the factors against you are just too many and too great
Passive sabotage manifests in behaviours may not target your goal, but nevertheless affect it indirectly, often through how they impact on your mood, attitude and ability to focus.
Examples of passive sabotage include
- manipulative behaviour and guilt tripping: showing excitement at trying out a new (but unhealthy) restaurant with you, telling you don’t be so hard on yourself, “Once in a while can lah!”, spending a whole day cooking a tasty but unhealthy meal making you obligated to eat it
- creating seemingly unrelated yet unpleasant situations that make it difficult for you to work on your goals: arguments which drain your mental energy, broken record interrogations that emotionally deplete you, and general unpleasant behaviour that render you unable to focus on already difficult tasks like sticking to a food plan or exercise regime
- threatening distance from you by spending more time with people who share their unhealthy habits, which gives them vindication, but subtly threatens you with fear of abandonment
These are some of the most common signs of sabotage, and you should be alert to them any time you have a major self improvement goal that threatens to disrupt a status quo of some sort.
Which begs the question, what to do next?
What do Do About Sabotage
First, don’t be quick to judge and villainize a loved one for their action if they have so far been there for you and proven themselves as pillars of support. Instead, consider how your decision has affected them.
Think about it from their point of view. Imagine what it’d be like if the relationships you are used to suddenly change. Maybe your buddy who could always be there for you got into a relationship and now has to prioritize building it. Maybe the friend you bonded with by having a Starbucks frappucino every fortnight now can’t do that because he has to attend a gym class. How would that affect you? It would be like your world has changed and if you don’t adapt, you’ll be up the creek without a paddle.
Understanding this is a good starting point because you begin first with compassion and understanding, not reacting with rebelliousness and hostility.
True love is supportive and empowering. If you don’t get that from someone who loves you, check if there is understanding first… About what you are doing, why you are doing it, what benefits do you expect.
When someone who loves you is reassured that your new quest is going to be good for you, it’s only half the battle. The other half is assurance that it will not be bad for them, nor hurt the relationship you have in any way.
If you have both these things, the resistance usually melts away.
You may not always get buy-in however. That’s when it might be time to re-evaluate your goals and decide if it is worth it.
Underpinning everything is the importance of honesty. Your goals, be they health, business, finances or self improvement, are very important to you, but you will need support, and you must ask for it in order to increase your chances of success.
It’s natural to expect support your loved ones. But you need to be fair.
If your new goal is likely to be a lifetime commitment, such as eating healthy, exercising and financial freedom, you need to let them know these aren’t one-off, one-shots. There is no timeline to look forward to “when it’s going to end”. The earlier your loved ones understand that this is a long-term, commitment, the fairer it can be to them too, since they can make a decision if this is something they can live with.
I have had clients whose partners or spouses are supportive of their weight loss efforts because they see it a period to bear with or tahan for a while.
For instance, children may hope that daddy loses weight enough in six months so that they can stop the vegges and resume weekly trips to McDonald’s or KFC.
Or an insecure man may tolerate his girlfriend going to the gym where there are other fitter specimens of manhood for six weeks thinking after losing weight the exercise can stop.
If something is long term, be fair to your partner because you’ll need their understanding, if not their support.
Ask for Support
Sometimes in our excitement to get started on a self-improvement project, it’s easy to get carried away and make plans in a vacuum. That starts an alienation process that creates negativity and resistance.
Instead, make your loved ones a part of the team, so they don’t feel left out. Make them realise that they are a very important part of your success.
Sometimes, they can help support you as much by not doing something as they can be actually doing anything. For example, if they are fit, and have the freedom to eat ice cream and chocolate because they’re burning it off, ask if they could eat those foods discreetly, or put it where you can’t be tempted.
When you have to overcome negativity in addition to working on your goals, it is extremely stressful and ultimately counterproductive. If you really cannot get any support, find another support network. What’s more, there may be a natural tendency to hinge your relationship on this lack of support and ignore the other things about it that may still be great. You may judge your relationship unfairly, and having another support system for this one goal only can keep things in perspective. Another support system can be friends, a mastermind group, or even a running group at work.
Do It Together
In a relationship, you build connections when you learn, grow, and change together. If you are in a relationship, do your best to enlist your partner so you can become healthy together.
There are so many opportunities for this.
Learn to cook healthy meals together – The process of cooking is fun and creative. Shopping, prepping, cooking and food presentation are mini journeys that culminate in your eating together. This skill will also benefit kids in future and teach them to make the right choices so that they don’t end up obese and at high risk of disease.
Exercise together – Exercise is a challenge for many people, and taking on challenges are a great way to forge bonds. Exercising together makes you plan your time better, mutually encourage each other when the going gets tough, or even compete on a friendly basis. These experiences will be valuable memories to draw upon the next time things get tough.
Fun things together – In addition to exercise, this could be an opportunity to do something fun without feeling guilty that it’s fun! Activities like dancing, skating, playing on the swings and even learning massage might seem like luxuries if you’re busy people, but in light of getting healthier can be justified and fully appreciated… guilt-free! Think of them as very interactive, physically exciting dates.
The best thing about doing this together is that far from a selfish journey, it becomes a mutually shared adventure.
You WILL Change
I’ve often read advice that you should tell your loved ones that having new goals won’t change the person you are. For instance, if you’re serious about losing fat and your boyfriend isn’t, assure him that this won’t change the relationship and the way you feel about him in any way.
Let me be contrarian and tell you straight out – I don’t agree!
The fact is, you will change when you start any life changing journey.
The moment you decided to get serious, your mindset already changed.
As you executed your plan, you developed more willpower.
As you made progress, you created new confidence.
As you reached your goals, you developed a taste for achievement through hard work, and a corresponding distaste for ennui and wasting the days on idle pursuits.
Tell me that isn’t going to change the person you are, how you behave, how you make choices, and the way you expect people to treat you, or the way you treat yourself.
Tell me this doesn’t disrupt a routine or a set of activities that you and your loved ones may have settled into over the years.
Tell me it won’t affect the people in your Life and put THEM out of their comfort zone when it comes to their relationship with you.
That fact is, you WILL CHANGE.
When you work and succeed on a self improvement goal that affects your Life and how you live it, you BECOME someone different.
Indeed, that’s why I love what I do. When I speak, consult, or train, I am watching people change their Lives. I have seen it replayed countless times… When they lose fat, get fit, look and feel better than they ever have, they become aware of what is possible and are no willing to settle for low levels of activity, eating unhealthy foods, and engaging in sedentary pastimes. Increased knowledge, increased confidence, and increased empowerment spill over to other areas of Life as they determine to live it more fully.
It’s tough when the people you love are seem to sabotage you and it’s a normal tendency when you’re starting something Life-changing. But when you’re talking about a healthy LIFESTYLE, it’s something that no reasonable person could really object to. This isn’t like moving house, buying a car or taking an assignment overseas, when there’s an element of being OPTIONAL. This is about your HEALTH, and ultimately your LIFE. It is the firm belief of AA35 that in this, there is NO CHOICE.
The absolutely WORST thing you could do would be to give up your dreams or stop your progress, in order to save your relationships. Your relationships – if they were truly loving – should have been made stronger and even inspired by your efforts to achieve more. Try your best, but if that can’t happen, the next steps are painful but unavoidable – seek new, positive relationships. Say good bye to your saboteurs.