What To Do When You Relapse

>> Friday

DID YOU MAKE any New Year's resolutions? If you feel like you've already failed with them, think again. Not only is discouragement bad for your health and bad for your ability to succeed, but at least some of your negative assumptions are very likely to be mistaken.

A therapist once told me he had a client — I'll call him Dirck — who's wife didn't feel loved. The therapist helped Dirck find out what his wife needed to feel loved. She craved physical demonstrations of affection: Hugs, touches, kisses, holding hands. These were things that meant the most to her.

Dirck had been telling her how much he loved her without doing much physical demonstration. So although she "knew" (intellectually) Dirck loved her, she didn't feel loved.

The therapist coached Dirck on how to demonstrate his love with physical affection. Dirck returned a week later to say, "It worked!" His wife felt loved! He was now living in a happy household.

Six months later, Dirck was back. His wife didn't feel loved any more. The therapy apparently hadn't succeeded like he thought.

But with some careful questions, the therapist found that Dirck had stopped doing what he was doing before and was merely professing his love with words again!

As stupid as that sounds, it is not uncommon. We've all made similar mistakes. You have a problem, you decide what to do about it, you do it and it works, and then you forget all about it and stop doing what was working, and the problem returns. You "relapse." Then you explain it to yourself. Dirck's explanation was: "The therapy didn't work."

If you have failed with your resolution, you have already explained it. Your mind will not allow you to go on without explaining the setback. "I guess I don't have any self-discipline," you might think. Or maybe, "I am weak and lazy."

In all likelihood, your explanation is wrong (read more about explaining setbacks here). The explanation for your relapse may be simply: It's hard to notice the absence of a negative condition (except immediately after it goes away).

When things go wrong, it is very noticeable. When things get better, it is less noticeable. You might notice at first, but even then you quickly get used to it. And you won't feel much motivation to continue solving a problem that doesn't exist any more. Your life may be better, but you will soon take your new condition for granted. So you stop doing the work, and for awhile everything is great. And then the problem slowly begins to appear again.

Been there? Yeah, me too. But all is not lost. Not by a long shot.

If you feel you have failed with your resolutions, try this new explanation (it is hard to notice the absence of a negative condition) and start doing again what worked before. That's what to do when you relapse.

Read more: From Hope To Change.

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