As the final installment of “Women’s Rules for Fitness”, I wanted to write something of real substance that most other Coaches don’t talk about. It’s unpopular because it hits you where it hurts. The act of self-betrayal. It applies to both women & men.

Self-betrayal is one of the dirty little things that no one wants to talk about because, to some degree, we are all guilty of it. Exploring the act of self-betrayal is one of the many avenues of self-discovery utilized in modern psychotherapy. An unadulterated exploration to the truth of oneself. It can be a very painful process that is almost always experienced as an insult to our own ego.

Case in point

You make the decision to start training at a gym. You change your diet. You start seeing results pretty quickly. You are showing up consistently, you’re working hard, and everything is falling into place.

Then one day, you wake up and decide you don’t feel like going. You had a bad day at work. Your menstrual cycle is about to start. You forgot your gym bag at home. You didn’t get enough sleep the night before. And the list can go on and on. We’ve all been there right? What’s wrong with that? Life sometimes gets in the way of things.

Yes. Sometimes life gets in the way. But this is where the self-betrayal begins. The problem isn’t with life getting in your way. It’s the very small, seemingly insignificant subtleness of your decision making that may lead to your act of self-betrayal. It’s called rationalizing your decision making process.  

The next day something else comes up. You didn’t make lunch so you go out to eat. You feel bad for not training and decide you should reward yourself with a little comfort food. You skip the gym again and feel even worse now. Now the ice cream starts calling out to you from the fridge. Eat me, eat me, you’re depressed and I can help you feel better. And on it goes. Sound familiar yet?

When we make commitments to ourselves, we set the ground rules for which our personal character develops. If we fail to uphold those commitments, those little lies we tell ourselves to ‘feel’ better only fuel further compromises. Sooner or later, lying to oneself has become a habit to satisfy the discomfort with our poor decision making process. We are now entering the realm of self-deception & self-betrayal.

Here’s where the painful process begins. No one likes to be called a liar, but looking back on this scenario can you see that you may have been dishonest with yourself about some of your own commitments? That you created a false sense of rationalization to satisfy the lie? Of course you have.

Here’s the good news. You can be helped. Yes, it’s going to hurt your ego. You made a promise. You broke the promise. Then you broke it again, and again, and again. Like I said, it all begins with such subtlety that we don’t usually even realize it until we look in the mirror and see the damage we’ve caused. We’ve gained back the weight we’ve lost. We’re afraid of going back to the gym. What will others say? What will they think?

~I don’t fit in my clothes now. I can’t possibly go back looking like this.

Damn it! Where’s the ice cream?

Self-deception, the act of lying to one self, begins to permeate into every aspect of your life. We begin to convince ourselves that being untruthful to oneself is ok, if only we don’t lie to others. In reality, how can we be honest with anyone else if we are not first honest with ourselves?

Is this becoming painful yet? It should. The fact that this article might be causing some degree of discomfort is welcoming. It might mean that your attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors (internal) are in disagreement with your actions (external). It’s a very unpleasant experience to know that what you’re doing is unacceptable, but you do it anyway. Yo-Yo dieting is a good example of this. You lose, you gain, you lose, you gain. Despite your efforts, you are so disappointed with yourself that you seek to reduce those feelings by reducing or eliminating the disagreeable beliefs (internal) feelings from your external actions. When that happens, you downplay your disagreeable feelings by justifying or rationalizing your external actions to provide agreement with your internal conflict.

Did I mention ice cream already? Keep rationalizing.

Minimizing the degree to which you betray yourself and further travel down the rabbit hole of discomfort results in an attempt to restore balance. But like any scale, balance may be positive or negative. Think of it this way:

When faced with two avenues of choice, losing weight by cutting out foods you thoroughly enjoy (but are inherently very bad for you) OR continual weight gain by eating anything you want that you find pleasurable, you find yourself in a disagreement. Do you make the sacrifice in the hopes that you will live a longer healthier life? Or do you live for today and engorge your pleasures. What a dilemma!

So what can you do to find a positive resolution to balancing the disagreeable equation and ending your misery?

You can do one of three things:

  1. Change your attitude or eliminate the chosen behavior (decide for or against your decision)
  2. Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting internal belief (rationalize that your condition is not that bad and therefore reduce the conflict). How many of us have done that?
  3. Justify our behavior by adding new beliefs (dismiss the importance of long-term health altogether for living by the seat of our pants).

What’s the common thread here? Life is filled with decisions and decisions as a general rule arouse decisive dilemmas. All of those methods lead to further dilemma and don’t sound very promising. Here is what I suggest to resolve the dilemma. It’s called spreading apart the alternatives.

When faced with making a decision between two different alternatives (i.e., losing weight vs gaining weight), try to create distance between the two decisions.

  1. Be brutally honest with yourself no matter how much it hurts
  2. Seek the advice of someone you trust to be honest with you and give them permission to do so
  3. Listen and set aside your ego
  4. When you have the unadulterated truth of your situation, you can now begin to educate yourself with the alternative choices
  5. Learn all you can about the benefits of weight loss, strength gains, mobility improvements, and conditioning enhancements to your cardiovascular system. The positive physical and mental effects. Returning your hormones to normal function. Reduction or elimination of medications. Improvements in sex drive. Improvements in confidence, attitude, and appearance.
  6. Likewise, learn all you can about gaining weight. The reduction in life expectancy. The slow destruction of your organs. The unsightly appearance of being obese. The painful reality of not being able to accomplish simple physical tasks. The increase and dependency upon medications. The increased costs of maintaining your health care.

Is this making sense yet? Spreading apart the alternatives, the honest “if this-then that”, applied to your life weekly, daily, and sometimes hourly if needed, will serve you well in reducing your self-deception. Honesty, being personally accountable to yourself first and then to others, will eventually lead you away from the self-betrayal that causes such internal disagreement and will help you find the healthy and balanced choice you seek.

Instead of trying to seek perfection, seek internal and external agreement with your beliefs and actions. Being honest about both will always lead you there.