I want you doing little, boring exercises literally every day that can nudge you toward more productive ways of thinking.
I know, I know. Little, boring exercises are no fun.
They don’t feel like they’re doing much good.
They feel too easy.
They feel too stupid.
Especially if you’ve come a fair way in your healing journey, they can feel repetitive, as if they’re “beneath” your current level of functioning. At a certain point, a lot of us get the thought in our head that we shouldn’t “have” to do certain basic exercises if we’ve come this far.
Yup, it’s the truth. Those little, boring exercises every day— those exercises that repeat and reaffirm and practice the very basics of recovery— can be a drag.
You know what they tend NOT to be, however?
They tend NOT to be overwhelming.
They tend NOT to be out of the realm of our imagination or competence.
They tend NOT to be painful in the sense of being too emotionally taxing or pointed that we run the risk of being triggered or traumatized when we do them.
That’s why I want you doing little, boring exercises every day to strengthen your basic recovery skills: because I want you actually DOING them.
No skill I can teach you is going to do you any good if it doesn’t get practiced. And practiced, and practiced, and practiced.
Many people speculate, an awful lot, on what makes the difference between people who recover from trauma, from substance abuse, from depression, from anxiety— and those who remain stuck. Literal books have been written on the subject of what the magic ingredient is to successful recovery stories.
I wish, as fervently as anyone, that there was a magic ingredient.
The truth, however, is considerably un-sexy.
The magic ingredient— which isn’t very magic— turns out to be work.
Not even work, in the sense of “effort expended.” Work, as in the willingness to put up with repetition. Work, as in the willingness to engage in practice.
There are skillsets that make the difference between recovery and non-recovery. It’s hard to recover from anything without grounding and mindfulness skills. Recovery is difficult without the reality testing skills taught by cognitive behavioral therapy. Recovery is difficult without a well-developed understanding of time and energy management.
There are skills in addition to those that are helpful, but the basics remain the basics. They haven’t changed since I’ve been a psychologist; and the history of the field suggests they haven’t changed much in the last several centuries.
What makes those skillsets work, however, is our willingness and ability to get to the point of those skills being unconscious, fully automated aspects of how we deal with the world.
Recovery basics need to become part of our default, autopilot settings.
We need to get so familiar with them and so good at them that we don’t have to stop and think every time those skills are called for— they need to be just there for us, at the ready.
How does that happen?
You guessed it: practice. Rehearsal OVER-rehearsal.
We don’t practice and over rehearse things by which we feel overwhelmed or triggered. We just don’t. We’re wired to avoid pain and too-intense stimuli.
So we break them down. Whether it’s thought-stopping and reframing and rebuttal thinking, as taught by CBT; whether it’s acceptance and commitment work as practiced by the twelve step recovery tradition; whether it’s grounding and containment as taught by the trauma treatment community. We break down the requisite skills into small, bite-sized exercises…which, yes, we then practice every day.
Whether we want to or not.
Whether we feel like it or not.
Whether we feel like we “need” to or not.
I want you doing little, boring exercises that stress and strengthen the basics of recovery every day, because I want you to turn into a recovery ZOMBIE. I want you so versed in this stuff that you could do it in your sleep; that you could do it while spinning a basketball on your finger; that you could do it even if you don’t realize, in your conscious brain, that you need to USE those skills in the moment.
Those little, boring exercises will save your life.
They really will.
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2 thoughts on “The unexciting truth about real-world life change.”
Wonder what those boring little exercises are Doc? Great read as usual.