Self Concept and Self
Sabotage by Tom Venuto -
Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
The Hidden Reason Why You Sabotage Your
Diet and Fitness Efforts Just When the Going Gets Good (and What to Do About
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
and it starts working! But the minute you begin getting results,
you fall off the wagon. You binge, you skip workouts, you cheat. Whats
most perplexing (and upsetting) is that you know what you should do
no matter how hard you try, you cant get yourself to do it! Its as
if some unseen force is sabotaging you and controlling your behavior like you
were a puppet on a string.
If this scenario sounds all
too familiar, then the answer to your frustrations might lie deep within your
subconscious mind in something called your SELF CONCEPT.
Unfortunately, the average person, at the mere mention of self concept, self
worth or self image usually cries, Oh no, not another one of these cheesy
Whenever I mention self
concept to a client who has never been exposed to the idea before, their eyes
glaze over and they get a distant look as if they were saying, okay Tom,
Ill be out here in la-la land daydreaming for a while
pinch me when
you start talking about the good stuff like thermogenic supplements, split
routines, killer ab workouts and interval training, ok?
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 youll always sabotage yourself in the long run
if you dont understand what your self image is, how it controls your
behavior, and how to change it.
First, lets 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. For example:
I am shy
I am not a good
I am fat
I am uncoordinated
I am sexy
I am an F student
I am an A student
I am wealthy
am a failure
I am accident-prone
I am a great conversationalist
I earn $25,000 per year
I could never earn $250,000 per year
My body will always be shaped like a pear I'm not very athletic
As you can see from the
list, you have a mini self-concept for every area of your life
including your relationships, your ability to attract wealth, your talent in
writing, math, art or music and your body image, just to name a few.
Your self-concept was first
formed in early childhood, largely from the influence of your parents and the
authority figures in your life. When you were an infant and a small child, the
"lid" on your mind was wide open. One hundred percent of the information and
suggestions given to you at this young age went straight into your subconscious
where they were accepted as true, even if they werent true. Your mind was
like a lump of soft, pliable clay.
When you reached
adolescence, it was like the lid on your mind slammed shut with all
the early childhood programming locked inside. 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 Ill never be able to look
like those people in the magazines.
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! Why money? Well, as I
mentioned before, most people not only dont understand the self-concept,
theyre bored to death at the slightest mention of it.
Id hate to see you
doze off before you get to the really juicy stuff later in this article, and
since money is seldom a subject that bores anyone and its a common
denominator between all people, let me explain the relationship between money
and self-concept first. Once you see how self-concept affects how much money
you earn, youll easily understand how it affects what kind of shape
youre in. Youll 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, youd do everything possible to get rid of your new-found
wealth. Youd make bad business decisions. Youd be unsuccessful in
sales. Youd 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
theyd like more money, thats 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 isnt 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 thats 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 its losing fat or
earning more money, it will stir up resistance inside you because youre
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, youll 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
To be lean, healthy and
fat-free, 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,
youll NEVER be a lean, fat-free person until you see yourself as a lean,
Just when you start to see
results and become happy with how you look
. all of a sudden, youll
get the irresistible urge to sleep in and blow off your 6 a.m. workouts.
Youll get uncontrollable cravings for Ben and Jerrys Chunky Monkey
ice cream at 11:30 p.m. Youll lose your motivation. You wont
feel like working out. These self-sabotaging behaviors are all
symptoms of a self-concept thats inconsistent with your present
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
societys 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 persons behavior
stays the same.
Emerson once wrote, Of
what use to make heroic vows of amendment if the same old lawbreaker is to keep
them? Jesus taught us that it is folly to put new wine into old bottles or a
patch of new material on an old garment. People who dont 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
its 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 behabior. 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
theyre hard-wired into every cell of your body. The unseen
forces are now working for you instead of against you.
So, lets suppose you have
the self-image of an unfit or overweight person
How the heck do you
change it if its so deeply embedded in your mind from years of
conditioning? There are four simple steps:
STEP 1: CREATE YOUR NEW
The first step is to choose
your new self-image. You could say this is goal setting, but your self-image is
not as much a goal as it is a PICTURE IN YOUR MIND. I was on a
conference call with success coach Bob Proctor last night and one of the
participants said her goal was to lose weight. Bob said something to her that
really struck me. He said, Have you ever noticed how people are always
losing weight and gaining it back? Well, its because if you lose
something, your subconscious mind will immediately begin looking for it.
Instead, you have to release it and be at your perfect weight. And your perfect
weight is a not just a goal, its a picture.
So what you have to do first
is decide what would you really like to look like if you could have any body
you wanted. See the picture in your mind. Make it clear, vivid and dynamic.
Dream. Fantasize. Youve been endowed with an amazing creative faculty
called imagination. Use it - its the starting point of a new self-image
and all lasting changes.
Many people get scared at
this step and ask only for what they think they can get, not what they
really want. Its okay if this scares you a little. In fact, if your goal
isnt scary and exciting at the same time, then youre not thinking big enough.
Dont sell yourself short. Ask for what you really WANT. Ignore anyone who tells
you to be realistic. Take that "lid" off your mind and DREAM!
STEP 2: CREATE A WRITTEN
DESCRIPTION OF YOUR NEW IMAGE
Once youve got the
picture in mind, the second step is to put a description of your new image in
writing. The act of writing what you want on paper is an intermediary step in
going from the ethereal, untouchable state of thought (imagination &
dreams) to the concrete, tangible state of form. Once on paper (or a goal card
you carry with you), your image has in essence, begun the transformation from
mental to physical. 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). Dont worry
if its not perfect. Just sit down and write, write, write. You can always go
back and edit, change or update it later. Just start.
STEP 3: ACT THE PART
What youve done in the
first two steps is literally to create a new role for yourself. Youve
written your own script. Be like George C Scott playing General Patton. He
didnt just act. He became Patton - he lived the part. So do all
great actors. Be an actor or actress and step into your new role.
This will feel awkward at
first. Resistance will well up inside you. People will criticize you and say
youre a crazy dreamer. It will feel like youre lying to yourself.
Continue to play the new role anyway. Fake it until you make it. Someone once
said that most people live like they were extras in their own movies. Why
settle for less when you can be the writer, producer, director and STAR of your
own movie? Create the character and write the script exactly as youd like
to be and then play the part until the part becomes real.
Take actions that are
consistent with the new image youve created. Act the part. Do something
every day that moves you closer to your goal. Get moving! Ask yourself,
What would a person with the type of body I want do in this
situation? Then do it. Act as though you were already the owner of your
ultimate dream body. A very wise person once said, Act as though I am and
I will be.
You must take action.
Im not suggesting a Pollyanna positive thinking only approach.
Affirmations are an effective part of realizing your new image, but as
motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, Affirmation without action is the
beginning of delusion. In fact, Maltz pointed out in Psycho Cybernetics
that the reason affirmations and positive thinking dont always work is
because they cannot be used as a crutch to the same old self-image. What I'm
suggesting to you is positive thinking, positive visualizing, positive action
AND the fourth and final step, positive reinforcement, in order to change your
old self image.
STEP 4: REINFORCE THE
The fourth step is to
re-program your mind by replacing the old image with the new image through
repetition, repetition, repetition. Repetition is the mother of learning and
the father of a new self-image. It took a long time for your current self-image
to develop so you cant expect it to change overnight. It takes at least
21 days of CONSISTENT effort for the roots of a new image to form and sometimes
up to 90 days before the roots shoot up through the ground and become visible
for all the world to see. Remember, there is a gestation period for everything.
Be patient and persistent.
Installing your new
self-image is achieved by visualizing, reading, thinking and writing your
written description over and over again, day after day, until the new image
becomes reality. These four methods of reinforcement and repetition will burn
the new image into your subconscious mind like data onto a CD.
especially powerful. Psychologists have known for decades that the human brain
and nervous system cant distinguish between an experience that is real and one
that is vividly imagined. When you vividly imagine yourself the way you want to
be, doing the things you want to do, these mental pictures are not only
accepted by your subconscious as real, they are accepted as commands or
instructions. Project your image onto the screen of your mind. Remember, its
your movie, so you can project anything you want. Visualizing your perfect body
image while youre in a physically relaxed state is even more powerful because
your subconscious is more impressionable when you're relaxed.
constructively also begins to dissolve the old image and solidify the new one.
Your self-concept is influenced by outside suggestions, but the greatest
influence on your mind is your own thoughts and self-talk. The conversation you
have with yourself in your head every minute of every day maintains your
current self-image and performance level, whether thats enjoying high
achievement or wallowing in the same old rut. Thoughts, like images, are
commands to your subconscious. Once you realize this, you start getting very
careful of what you think about. Watch those Ims! Change your thinking patterns
to match your new self-image. You become what you think about all day long.
Read your written
goal at least twice a day; once in the morning and once again at night. These
are the times when your subconscious mind is most impressionable. An incredibly
powerful technique is to write your written description on a goal card and
carry it with you everywhere you go. Every time you put your hand in your
pocket and touch the card, it will make you think about your new image. Every
time you get a chance, pull out your card and read it, mentally picturing
yourself as if you were already there.
written description is even more effective at impressing your new image into
your subconscious than simply reading it. Achievement expert Brian Tracy says
that if you write out your goal statement on paper every day, changes will
happen so fast, it will almost frighten you. This is an incredibly simple, yet
You may have heard of these
techniques before in self-help, goal setting or motivational programs. But
admit it - you probably ignored them because they sounded too
cheesy. My friend, the most profound truths in life are the
simplest and most obvious ones. Dont underestimate the simplicity of
these methods. Many people Ive taught these techniques to wrote them off
as trite or corny and didnt even give them a chance. Nothing changed in
their lives. Others followed these instructions to a T and
transformed their bodies and their lives beyond anything they ever
Theres 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.
I want you to read a book,
and if youve read it before, I want you to read it again (I just re-read
it for the 7th time in preparation for writing this article). Its called
and it was written by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon and expert on self image
After you read this book,
you will understand self image in great depth and how your subconscious mind
controls your behavior. You will understand why diets have failed you in the
past and why youve had such a hard time getting yourself to work out on a
consistent basis even though you know exactly what you need to do.
I recommend the original
1960 version, which is available in trade paperback for less than seven bucks.
By the way, this book has sold 33 million copies, and has never been out of
print a single day since its first release in 1960.
One last thing. Brian Tracy,
one of the worlds foremost experts on personal achievement says,
The most powerful
technique in the world for making rapid improvements in your results is
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.
Heres my question and
challenge to you
are you going to make a deliberate change or are you
going to stay the same indefinitely?
Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym
owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The
Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and
Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in
IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine,
Exercise for Men and Mens Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative
articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on
dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book,
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Copyright 2002 by Fitness
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This article originally appeared in the
November 2002 issue of Tom Venuto's Bodybuilding and Fitness Secrets (BFS)
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