As a counsellor one of the core foundations of therapy is helping clients understand this mind, body and heart connection so life stops being just a series of events and becomes something created from choice.
You are probably nodding your head in understanding as this holistic approach is often core to those of us in the wellbeing/health profession. So if it is something so seemingly simple why do some clients get stuck in repetitive cycles?
For that matter why do people in general get stuck in a rut or feel as if they are struggling to really live a life of contentment and joy?
To help create change its important to understand that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected but there is one crucial extra aspect that often get’s over looked and that is “habits”. Habits are created by our behaviour and thinking in the moment which is then reinforced by our feelings, these feelings are often mistaken for facts.
While we have “control” over what we think how we behave we don’t have this same control over our feelings, with people mistaking their feelings for being “fact” when actually they are merely just signals to our brain and body which
• Interpret the world
• Warn us of danger guide us towards pleasure
• Are hard wired to seek life’s “ings” ( eating, sexing, drugging, shopping, facbooking, gambling, relationshiping etc)
• Aid communication between ourselves and others
• Prepare us for action/inaction
So imagine one of your goals is going to the gym, while logically you know it’s good for you, is in line with your goals and will help you feel more energetic, you lack a motivating feeling but “feel” despondent/depressed. This creates an unhelpful emotional equation.
GYM + NEGATIVE FEELING +NEGATIVE THINKING = AVOIDANCE HABIT therefore GYM=AVOID
We listen to the “feeling” as being fact and then our thoughts “I never follow through, I will always be unfit etc” and behaviours ( withdrawal, eating comfort food, engaging in pleasure “ing” distractions) follow suit creating a habit which is powerful and very convincing. We then associate “going to the gym” with a negative feeling and negative feelings are powerful demotivators!. Many people make the mistake.
• Believe feelings are facts
• They need to be acted on and that
• They are permanent
• Waiting till they “feel” like doing something before they start.
In more serious scenario’s past trauma or experiences can hard wire our habits making change seemingly impossible, while a client may logically understand what needs to change they “feel” unable to do so which creates more tension and the negative cycles is further reinforced. This usually presents in a client who either shifts pain/illness symptoms or seems to keep getting “stuck” in a repeating cycle.
In these situations counselling can be a powerful support to unlock the habits of the past and complement massage or other therapy modalities. This combination can create drastic change and long lasting results for not only the client but the therapist involved.
Steps to create change
So in less complicated scenarios how can you support your client to create change? Firstly educate them about the mind body feelings connection or try the following practical tool.
Break down goals into simple steps using SMART goal settings and keep this somewhere visible. Your goals should include the strong positive emotional states you are seeking and thoughts kept positive and empowering so you change those unhelpful habits into empowering and ones full of joy!
Here are some useful suggestions to get moving and get out of the rut.
• Post it notes, liquid window chalk, quotes, images and reminders in your environment
• Get a friend to buddy up so you keep each other on track
• Download phone apps,10 minute motivators, alarms with motivating messages, goal tracker etc
• Keep a journal so you can keep track of your progress
• Challenge negative thinking
• Gratitude journal, or join one of the many online gratitude/positivity groups so you get positive reinforcing messages
• Negativity jar, you write the negative thoughts, behaviours or feelings down and get rid of them in a jar
• Positivity jar put all your change in and save for a big treat
• Write down something you are grateful/love/has happened and save them for a day you are struggling to keep on track
Caroline Williams is a registered counsellor and nationally registered homicide/major crimes counsellor in New Zealand working with individuals and couples to help them make the life they love happen. With a practical and down to earth approach, over 15 years training and experience in anxiety, PTSD, depression, addictions and trauma she helps people make their bold real life changes happen.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for in person or skype counselling and make this year the one that counts! Here is a link to her website carolinewilliamsnz.com