Accidental workouts are great; just don’t base your exercise off of them.
Has this ever happened to you? You have an exercise routine (walk, weights, circuit, CrossFit), and while expecting to take a holiday break, say Thanksgiving…..until someone challenges you in the paint for pickup game of basketball (in my family we had the 6 foot rim- that’s right, no shame)?! Getting more beads on your forehead than the turkey before he was captured counts as exercise, and your activity tracker will say you worked out. However, don’t plan your exercise routine on “maybe” or “hopefully” or “I’ll just try to be more active.”
A Strong Mind Is Not Made In Comfort
If you have spent any time with an exposure therapist, you’ll often find a lot of metaphors for working out- there are a lot of similarities involving practice, discipline, consistency, and distress tolerance. I love the exercise analogies. A strong mind is not made in comfort.
When I begin therapy with a new client, one of the common myths I have to dispel (and falsely believed myself before I was more experienced) is that “one big exercise” would be enough to change a person. That “one” exposure; the top of the hierarchy. Maybe it’s eating food without washing your hands, going to a social event you never thought you could attend, or driving a car through a busy area with pedestrians (all very common challenges based on the person’s core fears). Doing a big exposure once or “accidentally” while you’re doing something else is a BIG DEAL.
However, don’t expect one exposure to magically make your obsession go away. It rarely works this way. And when I say “rarely,” I can honestly say I’ve never seen it in thousands of sessions. Our brains don’t change overnight. You will not “hit a home run” that ends the season. This doesn’t really happen in life. It likely won’t happen with OCD or Anxiety or PTSD or anything else you’re doing with exposure.
Thanks For The Downer. Now What?
I know, I know, it’s not very encouraging to be told that doing that really big thing that was hard for you to do isn’t going to do away with you fears. Wouldn’t you rather me tell you the truth while we celebrate your wins? This is a big part of what I do as a therapist- guiding clients, helping them predict and anticipate, and to be successful no matter what their disorder throws at them.
So here’s some tips to be realistic (you can also check out “When & Why ERP Isn’t Working” and also my “10 Tips For Effective ERP” posts for a lot more)
- Go hierarchical. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on the belief that you can learn differently. But we don’t tend to make a lot of magical leaps in life. If it happens, enjoy it! But if you’re frustrated you can’t break through, go back to assessment and determine (ideally with a clinician) what you can do. This is often going to a more manageable place on your hierarchy.
- Go for purpose. Remind yourself your ‘why’ and tap into intrinsic motivation.
- Get support. If you’re doing exposures alone, it’s going to be lonely (and likely not as effective because you won’t have outside, objective feedback).
Stay in the Game. You’ve got this. It’s hard. But you can do it. Lots of other people are doing exposures right now with things they never thought they can do. Stick with it.
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