Many years ago, I noticed something unpleasant about myself. I’ve also observed this trait in other people. You might recognize it in yourself.
I tend to get in my own way. I start working towards a goal, and I get excited about the progress I begin to see. Success finally seems within my reach, and then…something happens. I lose my motivation and go back to my old ways. This drives me crazy, so I started doing some research to find out WHY I do this to myself. During that process, I came across an intriguing article. I still haven’t forgotten its message, and still refer back to it when I feel myself slipping. And, I still actively study the concepts I learned from it – and from the related book, Psycho-Cybernetics.
The article (which is no longer available online) is called Self Concept and Self Sabotage: The Hidden Reason Why You Sabotage Your Diet and Fitness Efforts Just When the Going Gets Good (and What to Do About It).
It was written by Tom Venuto, who is a very well-known and respected fitness expert.
Here’s an excerpt:
Tell me if this has ever happened to you: You decide you want to improve your body and live a healthier lifestyle. You read all the books, gather all the information, map out a nutritional strategy, design your own workout schedule (or have a trainer do it for you), and you embark on the journey to a leaner, more muscular physique…and it starts working! But the minute you begin getting results, you fall off the wagon. You binge, you skip workouts, you cheat. What’s most perplexing (and upsetting) is that you know what you should do… but no matter how hard you try, you can’t get yourself to do it! It’s as if some unseen force is sabotaging you and controlling your behavior like you were a puppet on a string.
He goes on:
You may not understand or appreciate this “self concept” and “self image” stuff yet. However, if you choose to ignore this information, you would be making a grave error. You can be on the most perfect nutrition program and the best training routine in the world, but you’ll always sabotage yourself in the long run if you don’t understand what your self image is, how it controls your behavior, and how to change it.
First, let’s talk about your SELF-CONCEPT: This is the total bundle of beliefs you have about yourself, including all the names and labels you put on yourself and the way you see yourself. If you really want to know what your true self-concept is, write down the words “I AM ______________” and fill in the blanks with everything you can think of.
What beliefs do YOU hold about yourself? How do you label yourself?
Make a list. Be honest – write down words and phrases you think describe yourself.
Now, look over your list.
The words and phrases you wrote are good indicators of your self-concept.
Your self-concept started forming in early childhood. Your parents, your peers, and authority figures largely influenced its development. All of the information and suggestions you gathered from those sources was stored in your subconscious mind – and were accepted as true, even if they weren’t.
As an adult, your self-concept has solidified, but it slowly continues to be molded and reinforced by your successes, failures, triumphs, humiliations and everything you experience, see, hear, read and think. For example, if you go on a diet or exercise program and you fail, this goes into your subconscious memory bank and reinforces a negative self-concept: ‘See, I told you I’ll never be able to look like those people in the magazines.
And I love this analogy Venuto uses to explain self-concept:
Although your self-concept is deeply entrenched from years of conditioning, it CAN be changed. Before I explain the four steps to making the change, I want to explain self-concept using an analogy everyone can relate to – MONEY!
Money is seldom a subject that bores anyone and it’s a common denominator between all people, so let me explain the relationship between money and self-concept first. Once you see how self-concept affects how much money you earn, you’ll easily understand how it affects what kind of shape you’re in. You’ll then have enough awareness to begin changing your self-concept – and your body – for the better.
Question: If you won a large sum of money, or if your annual income suddenly became your monthly income, how would you feel about it?
‘That would be AWESOME!’ is what most people blurt out initially. I have news for you: As bizarre as this may sound, I guarantee that if your old self-concept was still locked in place, you’d do everything possible to get rid of your new-found wealth. You’d make bad business decisions. You’d be unsuccessful in sales. You’d have an uncontrollable urge to go out and spend the money, splurge on things you didn’t need, invest in things you knew nothing about, lend to people who wouldn’t give it back or even flat out lose it! Just look at what happens to most lottery winners.
Even though everyone SAYS they’d like more money, that’s only on the conscious, surface level. The problem is, your behavior is NOT controlled by your conscious mind; your behavior is controlled on a deeper level – from your subconscious mind where your self-concept is located. If having a lot of money isn’t consistent with your self-concept, it will sooner or later lead to some form of sabotaging behavior to bring you back down to your comfort level.
Most people stay inside a comfort zone that’s consistent with the concept and image they hold of themselves. They rarely rise above it or allow themselves to fall below it. Any time you try to make a change in your life, whether it’s losing fat or earning more money, it will stir up resistance inside you because you’re attempting to move beyond the safe, familiar and comfortable.
To earn more money, you must see yourself as capable of earning more money and worthy of keeping it. If you see yourself as a $24,000 per YEAR person, you’ll NEVER earn and keep $24,000 per MONTH unless you see yourself as a $24,000 per month person.
Are you starting to understand how the same thing could happen when you try to change your body?
To be leaner and healthier, you must see yourself as being capable of achieving that body and worthy of maintaining it. If you see yourself as a fat, pear-shaped person, you’ll NEVER be a lean, healthy person until you see yourself as a lean, healthy person.
Just when you start to see results and become happy with how you look…. all of a sudden, you’ll get the irresistible urge to sleep in and blow off your 6 a.m. workouts. You’ll get uncontrollable cravings for Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream at 11:30 p.m. You’ll lose your motivation. You won’t “feel” like working out. These self-sabotaging behaviors are all symptoms of a self-concept that’s inconsistent with your present results.
The part of the self-concept that affects your physical condition and ability to achieve your perfect weight is called the SELF-IMAGE. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon and author of the best seller, Psycho-Cybernetics, stumbled onto the discovery of self-image with his patients. Even though he had corrected physical defects and deformities with surgery, his patients often retained their old self-image and continued to see themselves as “ugly,” “scarred,” or “deformed” even though they appeared quite beautiful by society’s standards. As a result, they continued to behave as they always had; shy, retiring, lacking in confidence.
This led Dr. Maltz to the conclusion that changing the physical image was not the real key to changes in personality and behavior. There was “something else.” That something else is the self-image. When the self-image is “reconstructed,” the person changes. If the self-image stays the same, the person’s behavior stays the same.
People who don’t understand self-image erroneously put all their attention on changing their eating and exercise behaviors, but the problem with this physical-only approach is that it’s not addressing the SOURCE or cause of the behavior. The source of your behavior is your mental self-image. You are more than just a body. You are a body, a mind and a spirit. You will always act – and can ONLY act – like the type of person you SEE yourself to be in your mind.
If you see yourself as a fat person, you will behave like a fat person. If you see yourself as a lean, fit and healthy person, you will behave like a lean, fit and healthy person. A fat person would never work out faithfully every day of the week, so why is it any surprise that someone with a “fat person” self-image would skip workouts? Their brain is programmed to skip workouts. Someone with a “fat person” self-image would never eat healthy, low fat, low sugar, low calorie meals, so why would it be surprising that they cheat on their diet and binge on junk food? After all, their brain is programmed to eat junk. Is this starting to make sense?
To make a lasting change, you must work on the physical AND the mental planes. Of course you have to change your lifestyle, exercise and nutrition habits, but the real secret is not trying to force new behaviors, but changing the self-image which controls the behavior. Put your energy on a new mental picture, and the new picture will create new behaviors. Best of all, the new behaviors that spring from a positive new self-image will come without as much effort or willpower because they’re hard-wired into every cell of your body. The “unseen forces” are now working for you instead of against you.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
So, how do you change your self-concept?
You create your desired self-image – picture it in your mind. Make it vivid and detailed. Dream, fantasize, imagine it – make it clear in your mind. Don’t just think about what you believe you CAN get – think about what you WANT. If your goal isn’t a bit scary and intimidating, it isn’t big enough!
Now, write that detailed description down on a card or paper you can carry with you in your purse, wallet, or pocket.
When you write your goal, use the three Ps: POSITIVE (what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid or get rid of), PERSONAL (use the word I) and PRESENT tense (an already-having-received attitude). Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Just sit down and write, write, write. You can always go back and edit, change or update it later. Just start.
Now you are ready to “fake it til you make it”. I’m not telling you to be phony or put on an act. I’m telling you to BECOME the part you’ve written. Live it. Step into your new role. Take actions that are consistent with your new self. Do something every day that gets you closer to your goal.
Reinforce your new self-image daily – even hourly. Repetition will help you reprogram your mind by replacing the old image with the new one. It took a long time for your original self-image to form, so don’t expect the new one to take hold immediately. It will take time, effort, and consistency.
Venuto closes with this message:
There’s immense power in mental images. The formula is simple: Decide what you want to look like, project your new image on the screen of your mind (visualize), think about the “new you” constantly, create a written description of your new image and read it at least twice per day, (write it out daily for even more impact), then follow through with actions that are consistent with your goal. Your marvelous and powerful mind will do the rest.
Your self image serves as the operating instructions of your subconscious computer and it controls everything you say, do, think and feel. In the absence of any deliberate change on your part, you will continue doing, thinking, saying and feeling very much the same things indefinitely. Here’s my question and challenge to you… are you going to make a deliberate change or are you going to stay the same indefinitely?
Change your mind, change your life!
Psycho-Cybernetics (CD audiobook)