Change process – Relapse and acceptance

Change process – Relapse and acceptance

It sometimes happens that a person who has recently modified her lifestyle experiences a relapse: reverting to old habits. After having undertaken an increase in her level of participation in physical activities, after having learned a new exercise program, having executed it and adapted it to herself, and even having already observed improvement in her physical condition, suddenly motivation seems to fall. Absenteeism at training sessions, apparently with no justification. Or perhaps looking for reasons explaining why training is temporarily on “hold”, knowing well that it is still possible for continue training, in modified fashion and perhaps having to make sacrifices for it. Discouragement. And mostly: Fear of returning to training.

What happens during this “relapse” period ?
Procrastination becomes the privileged schedule management tool for the individual: He keeps pushing back training sessions. Later, later again. The individual may begin thinking that he does not want to train anymore; he is questioning his initial decision. Paradoxically; he regrets & feels guilty about this. Then, a most particular vicious cycle (not to say interesting, at least conceptually) arises: There is circular progression between different phases, which are:
1- Depressive state
2- Desperate search for “motivation” from an external source

Search results: Tips suggesting that the individual avoid distractions (focus on training), and constrain himself to keep training against his will
(I feel the urge to immediately express my disagreement ! See my article On Change for more information)
Occasionally: One or more citations/aphorisms/proverbs/motivational texts from celebrities, pseudo-philosophers, anonymous persons on internet forums, or other.

3- Adoption of the external motivation. Combined with the individual’s anger toward himself, the result is:
4- Imposition of overcompensatory objective to get back in shape – Vengeance on oneself. Example: << Because I did not train today, I will do my session the day after tomorrow, in addition to the already-planned session. >>
5- Lying to oneself consisting of artificially convincing oneself of his good will and omnipotence to succeed in achieving his totally unrealistic objectives.
6- The individual faces the impossibility of achieving his objectives, or feels burdened by their difficulty and the importance he has given them.
7- Procrastination and discouragement.
8- Return to depressive state.

Here is a touching example. The words that follow were taken from a public internet discussion forum. To protect the poster’s identity, the original source will not be stated, and I have paraphrased the text.

<< I know that this isn't really a place to motivate people, that it is rather a place to learn, and that noone can motivate me but myself. But I feel hopeless. I read a trick about remembering a time when you were angry and to use this anger to get a good hard workout, but I feel so defeated that I am unable to get to the anger stage. I remain stuck in despair. Does anyone know a technique to get out of the despair and get to the anger and motivation stage ? >>

This person is almost sorry to ask for help. She mentions that noone can motivate her but herself… however “motivating oneself“, expressed with the reflexive form, is nonsensical: It implies artifice; it implies self-deception; going against oneself. She responds to her despair by attempting to be angry. Therefore, she voluntarily attempts to engage in the unhealthy cycle which I described. As illogical as it is, “getting angry and using this anger” (against oneself) is a published tip, supposed to allow one to “motivate himself” ! The section “good hard workout” may possibly indicate a tendency to overcompensate.

Here is an answer she was given, on the same forum:

<< Though it is cliché, you MUST:
– fix objectives
– be constant
– “work your ass off”
– and this may be the most important: pray to god, the saints, and the angels for help (they can – and will – and want – to help you)
Good luck ! >>

It would be difficult, in my opinion, to offer worse advice. Imposing additional objectives aimed at forcing oneself to progress no matter what risks increasing the experienced difficulty by adding itself to the already present overcompensatory irrealistic objectives that the person tends to adopt. “Work your ass off” reinforces this unhealthy behaviour. Finally, neither god, or the saints, or angels, or luck, if they exist, will do what only the person herself can do: an long-time due introspection.
– Which need does my relapse adresses ?
– What do I feel ? Why ?
– Do I respect myself in my progression through the change process ? Am I respectful of my limits, my capacity, my needs ?
– Do I allow myself the right to feel discouraged ? Fatigued ?

If the person has a personal trainer (preferably a kinesiologist) to supervise her, it is possible that she fears facing him. I hypothesize that she perceives in him a potential negative judgment. The latter would partly be due to the projection phenomenon: The individual projects on the trainer his own negative judgments of himself, which he developed during his relapse-overcompensation alternating cycles. However, it appears necessary to me to add a second explanation, in complement: A most popular approach (too popular) in training is one inspired by the behaviourist model of psychology, in which, to keep things simple, “good” behaviours are reinforced (verbal encouragement, feeling of conditional acceptance) and the “bad” ones, punished (as the trainer mentions his disappointment, his non-verbal expresses rejection, etc.). Does the practitioner asks for motivation ? The trainer gives him some: External motivation, which is temporary (encouragement is only given when objectives are achieved; it is performance-dependant) and much less transcendental than if it were internal, taking its source at the heart of the practitioner. During evaluations, the practitioner sees his self-confidence/ego raised upon success, but feels inadequate upon failure. Not surprising, is the fear of the trainer’s judgment, and the fear of facing the failure. (Failure of who ? The practitioner ? The trainer ? This double meaning is deliberate !)

UNCONDITIONNAL ACCEPTANCE IS A CRUCIAL ELEMENT OF THE CHANGE PROCESS. It must be present in the kinesiologist, and he should favor its presence within his clients, since this acceptance established an environment conducive to personal growth, which supports and is a catalyst of change.

Patrick Roy-V., B.Sc. Kin

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