In part one of this article, we spoke about Sarah, our 55 year old with borderline medical issues who is overweight. She repeatedly sabotages her progress, even though she is fully aware that her health will be better if she complies and that she will feel better too. We mentioned the stages of change- precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination- and how to approach each stage in order to maximize each one so our behavioral changes take hold.
I used to wonder if it was only in the areas of exercise and good eating that people were so non-compliant. But research shows that even when it comes to following a physician’s advice on taking medications, a large percentage of people just don’t seem to do what they need to. A few years ago, Circulation Magazine from the American Heart Association reported that nearly 50-60% of people who received prescriptions for different medications after heart attacks were negligent in taking their medicine as directed and many didn’t take their prescriptions at all. There seems to be a self destructive property that is very pronounced when it comes to taking care of our health. But another area that needs examining is the link between depression, and self-destructive behaviors.
“There is a strong relationship between depression and high-risk behaviors,” says Pamela Cantor, PhD, a psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. People who exhibit self-destructive behaviors many times are reaching out for help. If you have a pattern of repeated destructive behavior, it is worth checking to see if you are clinically depressed and perhaps change the focus of your treatments (including exercise and behavioral therapy) to solve these depression issues so you can attain your health and wellness goals.
There are also those who have developed a pattern of sabotaging the possibility of obtaining what they want. This person might feel cursed, like an inevitable failure, because after trying so hard again and again, success is still unobtainable.
This kind of self-sabotage is not only in the area of health. It might include repeatedly enrolling in school only to drop out, saying exactly the wrong thing in a social situation, doing something at work that results in being fired or alienating and distancing new friends. Even in these instances when people seem to be blatantly trying to ruin anything good, they are trying in some way to protect and help themselves.
They are not consciously trying to destroy themselves—their actions result in feelings of deprivation, frustration, and disappointment, not total destruction. Their goal might be some form of self-preservation. So ask yourself if you do anything you think is self-destructive. Drill down into what this behavior might be related to and see if you can find a positive intention.
Sarah did fail a number of times but once we worked on her thinking, we were able to slowly change both her habits and expectations and success prevailed. She came to understand that although no one was looking for perfection, constantly falling back into her old patterns was not going to help her cause. She began to accept losing weight more slowly, but steadily and even when one aspect of her program went bad, she still kept up the others. Just because she occasionally had a bad day in terms of eating, she still did her exercise assignment and if her schedule didn’t allow her to do her full regimen of exercise, she tried to do whatever she could. Over the course of the following 9 months, Sarah lost 8.5 kilo (18.5 pounds) and with exercise, she was able to avoid medications that might have had side effects. She is still patient and persistent and slowly improving her health every day.
Changing old habits to enhance your health and well-being is never easy. Trying to do it all at once is almost always a recipe for long-term failure, even if you are successful at first. Like anything else, most people need proper guidance and education in order to succeed. Pay attention to different strategies according to the stage of change you are in and seek professional help if needed. Make sure that it isn’t a state of depression that is causing your failures. When you find yourself about to push the self destruct button, push the re-start button instead and reactivate the stages of change that will help you finally succeed and will “add hours to their days, days to their years, and years to their lives.”