I was taking a medical history on a new client a few days ago, when I asked how much exercise she does in a week. Her reply was one I’ve heard many times over the past 20+ years: “I’m a little nervous about trying organized exercise again because I always start out the first few weeks very motivated and disciplined, but the enthusiasm soon fades and my sessions become intermittent, then cease altogether. I start and I stop, over and over. It’s very frustrating to fail every time I start; it makes me not to want to start again.” Does this sound familiar? If so, I have some unsolicited advice to share from my own personal experience. Rewrite the tapes in your head. These are the old negative recordings that are called cognitive distortions. In the above instance, my client was a fortune-teller; one who makes irrational doomsday predictions about the future based solely on their negative experiences of the past. Leave those experiences in the past. In this case, I simply asked her two questions: “Does your thinking help you achieve your goals?,” and Does your thinking help you feel the way you want to feel?” Both of her answers were no, which makes them irrational thinking, so one of the things we will work on between sessions will be for her to be aware of any of her negative behaviors and ask herself those two questions. This is the first time I’ve tried this approach for exercise adherence, and I’m hopeful for success. I remember (and still have it) a handout from a psychology class I took in college. It was written by Portia Nelson and goes as follows: I. “I walk, down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in-I am lost….I am helpless-It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.” II “I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk- I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out”. III “I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in….it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.” IV “I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.” V “I walk down another street.” I wish you the best of luck with your own hole in the sidewalk.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.