Why Real Life Can Threaten Self-Care And What You Can Do About It

I’ve identified four default mental tendencies that easily disrupt our decision-making.

How do temptation, rebellion, accommodation, and perfection threaten our self-care plans? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

In my decades of work as a sustainable-behavior-change coach with clients seeking healthy eating and exercise changes, I’ve identified four default mental tendencies that easily disrupt our decision-making when we face unexpected challenges to our plans. I call them Temptation, Rebellion, Accommodation, and Perfection.

These “decision disruptors” can easily – and predictably – knock us off-course with eating, exercise, and other complex self-care behaviors we’re hoping to integrate into our daily lives. They reflect an internal dialogue that can undermine our plans, knock down our confidence, and take us off the path of lasting change.

We’re so used to them that they frequently sneak up on us outside of our conscious awareness. But they’re not totally hidden – you likely recognized their names immediately. In fact, together, the initial letters of their names spell the acronym TRAP—reflecting just how easily we fall right into them. The good news is that once we start to identify which ones are our biggest Decision TRAPs, we can actually learn to escape them.

Take a quick look at the TRAPs listed here. Which seem most familiar to you?

Temptation is visceral, compelling us to give in to the easy, most tempting choice despite the plans we had just strongly committed to. At the moment we succumb, we often blame ourselves for lacking self-control or willpower, but that’s just a story we’ve been told for a long time—and it’s not true.

We may believe that the glistening chocolate cake or comfy couch is seducing us, but the latest thinking is that the strong pull of Temptation is coming from the emotional memories and experiences we carry inside our minds.

We can successfully navigate our Decision TRAPs by having an accurate understanding about what’s really going on with each one. Simply knowing that Temptation reflects our past experiences (rather than weakness or lack of willpower) is the first step toward making more adaptive choices at these challenging moments.

Rebellion is what we do when we triumphantly rebel against the “shoulds” we’ve learned to believe related to our eating and exercise plans and goals. Feeling rebellious against our healthy eating and exercise plans, even when we chose them ourselves, is among the most common of the Decision TRAPs people face. And there’s good reason for that: We’ve learned in society to think about healthy eating and exercising in specific ways that exert pressure on us, leading us to feel like there’s only one “right” way, and if we can’t or don’t do it that way, we’ve failed – again.

The good news is that by simply bringing awareness to these rebellious tendencies, at the moment of choice, we reduce their power. As Dan Siegel famously says, “name it to tame it.”

Accommodation is what happens when we always put the needs of others or work before our own self-care needs. If this is one of your TRAPs, it probably doesn’t even seem like a choice for you. You likely feel that these compelling needs should always take precedence over your own, and that the alternative simply feels selfish.

Sometimes, of course, we do need to tend to the needs of others and work and let our own needs go for the moment. But when we always sacrifice our own self-care needs for those of others, we cross over from altruism into Accommodation, and this disregard of our own needs can lead to burnout and other negative experiences. Fortunately, with a simple shift in thinking, we can start to implement new tactics that let us stick with our greater eating and exercise goals while still tending to the other important people and projects in our lives.

Perfection always aims for the ideal over the real and sees only two options: all or nothing. If this is one of your TRAPs, you likely believe that if you can’t do exactly what you planned it’s a “fail”—so why bother doing anything at all? The belief that you must do it perfectly with your healthy eating and exercise plans is the most common TRAP, and the one that most often derails the consistent healthy choices that underlie lasting change. It seems counterintuitive but aiming to always “do it right” means we most often don’t do it at all.

Mounting research suggests we should do the opposite of this failed strategy: Selecting the perfect imperfect option, what I call the Joy Choice strategy, will better help us achieve lasting changes in eating and exercise than trying to “do it right.” This new science liberates us from the prescriptive “rules” that actually just get in our way if we’re willing to let it.

Take my free quiz here if you’d like to discover which of these TRAPs are the ones for you to be aware of.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Photo Credit: Debby Hudson/Unsplash