The Sneaky Way We Sabotage Ourselves When Things Are Going Well

I recently started a new small-steps habit — two minutes of breathing exercises with a resistance device, to help increase my lung capacity.

For the first couple days, it was tough. I got dizzy a few breaths in, and had to stop and breathe normally multiple times in order to get through the exercise.

Then my lungs started to adapt, and it started to feel good. All that oxygen rushing to my brain made me feel perky and alert.

I started doing it twice a day, once in the morning after I journal, and again in the afternoon, when I hit that afternoon slump. My energy levels went up. A lot.

Then I quit.


Because it was unpleasant?  Not at all.

Because it wore me out?  Nope. I felt better almost immediately after doing the exercise?

Because I forgot?  Au contraire, my iPad reminded me twice.

No, I quit because, after a week and a half of getting comfortable with this new habit, I was starting to feel significantly better.

And as soon as I’d gotten the energy I wanted, a voice in my head said, I don’t need to take a break and do those exercises, I feel fine. I’d rather keep working.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this–set aside a new habit that was actually making my life better–because I felt I got what I needed.

Of course, the results were only short-term. When I stop the healthy habit, the benefits fade, and eventually I’m back where I started.

In the past, once I’d quit, I would have just moved on to another short-term fix.  I guess breathing exercises aren’t for me. What else can I do to have more energy?

The problem back then was that I looked at my health as something I needed to fix.

Now I see it as something that I need to maintain. So I got back on track and started doing my breathing exercises again.

And when that sneaky little voice tries to convince me that it’s fine to skip the breathing exercises (or other healthy habits) when I feel good…

…I ignore it.

Have you ever sabotaged yourself like this when things were going well?  

What was the habit that you started and quit?

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12 Responses to The Sneaky Way We Sabotage Ourselves When Things Are Going Well

  1. Susan says:

    ‘The problem back then was that I looked at my health as something I needed to fix.Now I see it as something that I need to maintain. ‘
    This really hit the mark with me.
    Perhaps we all need an engineer’s mindset eg ‘build a bridge well, maintain a bridge consistently’.

    • Lynn says:

      Thanks for sharing that engineer’s philosophy, Susan, I’d never heard it before. But yes, that’s a great way to think of healthy habits!

  2. Pauline says:

    i started journaling. It was fantastic! Why did I quit after 2.5 weeks? Good question.

    • Lynn says:

      I’ve quit journaling dozens of time. 🙂 My current journal has been helping me a lot over the past month, though, and one of the things that making it easier is I don’t have to write for more than a minute if I don’t want to, so the bar is low.

  3. Gary says:

    Oh my gosh, I’ve done this many times. Just recently, I lost about 7 lb. out of a 15-lb. weight loss plan and figured, “That’s good enough!” (Why didn’t I see this before for what it is?)

  4. T.O. Weller says:

    It’s interesting how we do that to ourselves, but find a way to rationalize. I like your idea of making it a smaller task. I think I’m always too ambitious and then I wear myself, and my resolve, completely out.

    Just curious … what exactly is a resistance device for breathing exercises? It sounds really neat, but I’ve never heard of it.


    • Lynn says:

      I’ve done the same thing re: setting far too ambitious goals, and I still need to do a reality check every time I set a new one. 🙂

      A resistance device for breathing exercises is something that you breathe through for a few minutes, and it provides resistance so you have to blow or suck harder and give your diaphragm and rib muscles a workout. It increases your lung capacity just like aerobics does, but without the leotards/jogging shoes/etc.

      Here’s the one I started with: Expand-a-lung (
      Here’s the one I’m about to move on to: Powerlung PLB-K100 (

      There are tougher ones intended for pro athletes, but I’m not even close to that level yet. 🙂

      There was a recent article on about a study that indicated the two best predictors of longevity are heart and lung health (

      So I’ve made it a goal to exercise and use a lung exerciser every day, for the sake of improving both. Again, starting small…monitoring my steps and trying to keep them as close to 10,000 as possible by going for short walks or pacing after dinner while I watch TV, and 2-3 minutes of heavy breathing using the lung exerciser.

  5. I certainly know what you mean. I have to have significant things in place to make me stick to things. A few years back I had to change what I ate as my body began protesting. So many people said to me how good I was and how they couldn’t do it. I explained that the pain I got if I didn’t eat the ‘right’ food meant I couldn’t not do it! Sometimes it really is the discomfort that makes us stick to things! I try and use this discipline in other areas 🙂

    • Lynn says:

      Yes, definitely, paying attention to discomfort can be a great motivator. It’s not as tough to resist foods that I’m allergic to, because all I have to do is remember how bad I felt the last time I ate that food item, and it becomes much less appealing.

      Sometimes knowing when to pay attention to discomfort (or feeling good) is helpful too. For example, I noticed that I feel awful when I am jogging in place on the trampoline in intervals, but about 30-40 minutes AFTER the workout I get this surge of energy that feels great. So when I’m tempted to skip intervals on the day that I scheduled them, I think about that energy surge rather than how it’s going to feel while I’m doing them.

  6. Gina Pera says:

    Eloquently said, Lynn.

    You’ve eloquently summarized one truism of the human condition: out of sight, out of mind. 😉

    I hear this lament a lot from people with ADHD (or as I call it, “Extreme Human Syndrome”), who constantly must work to keep “rewards” relevant and “in their face.”

    I look forward to reading more at your blog.


    • Lynn says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Gina! I like that, “Extreme Human Syndrome.” So true, we all need to keep the reward for doing the right things both relevant and front-and-center.

      Have you read Willpower, by Baumeister and Tierney? One of the motivation techniques they recommend is called “spotlighting” where you literally arrange your work area to focus you on a task you need to do but are easily distracted from. One of the ways I use this is I put my spiral notebook, open to a blank page, and my notes for the project right in the middle of my desk, so that all I have to do to be ready to work is to sit down.

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