Archive for the ‘Transition’ Category

Will you knock it off about the exercise already?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Question: If the exercise habit is so important, why is it so hard to come by?

Answer: First, let’s recognize just how important it is. Exercise is a panacea, the miracle medicine. Almost everything gets better! Low mood, high anxiety, anger, sleep, immunity, energy, concentration and productivity. Self-image, weight, appearance and confidence. Sex, strength, longevity and range of activities…

That’s sixteen things I can list right off the bat. If this stuff was sold in a bottle, we’d pay a skinny arm and a leg for it!

Second, what if you revive your relationship, resolve your depression and cure your phobia…while meanwhile inviting an early and uncomfortable demise? How successful is that?

No health practitioner anywhere will discourage exercise, as long as it’s the right form and intensity for you.

So why aren’t we all doing it?

Mainly because we’re creatures of reinforcement: we do what is rewarding and avoid what is unpleasant. The problem here is that the rewards for exercise are all delayed, while the payoff for passivity happens right here, right now. The consequences for being sedate and inert are grave, but they come later.

We can tell ourselves over and over that the delayed gratification is better, and often this works. It works for those fit and active people you see around you, and it works for anyone who goes through school, raises children and so on. But by and large, immediate reward trumps delayed reward. This is a powerful effect and it is hard to overcome.

Then there is television and the Internet. They employ genius minds designing ways to keep us hooked in and it’s not hard. The allure of the screen, is powerful.

Television creates the illusion of being highly rewarding. We may think we’re relaxing, getting positive stimulation or whatever, but how often do you turn it off and feel better for what you’ve just watched? Can you imagine nearing the end of your life and contentedly thinking on how grateful you are for the programs you saw? Or wishing you’d watched more? Don’t get me wrong – it is plenty of fun. But so is candy.

But while the reward for TV may be insubstantial, it’s quick, vivid and effortless. Again, immediate reinforcement generally beats the pants off delayed gratification – unless we are strategic and conscientiously purposeful.

Another reason it is hard to exercise is that we’re creatures of patterns and familiarity. A body at rest stays at rest, and breaking the inertia takes much more energy than sustaining momentum. If you think about it, why would anyone want to leave a comfort zone?

You do want to exercise, or increase what you going? Contemplating it? Tired of getting it going only to have it drop off? Here are a few extra ways to help yourself:

Watch a program, not the television. Decide in advance what is really worth watching; don’t turn on the tube to see what it has to offer.

Plan before you start. Get everything set up – clothes, schedule, support from others. Anticipate any barriers and scheme around them in advance. Start drinking extra water. You can mark each session in your calendar and program your program your phone to send reminders.

Watch. Watch very intently. Watch for any and all the tiny rewards. Rewards are the key to continuity, but you aren’t conditioned to catch them. You’re conditioned to make note of what a pain in the butt it is, and of all the nice restful things you could be doing instead. You’re also conditioned to look for weight-loss, washboard abs and the “positive addiction”, all of which come much later if at all.

Any improvement in sleep, focus, pride, satisfaction, energy, enjoyment of the activity itself…these things may be very elusive and you must not let them slink away. You’re training yourself to find the payoffs that are available there for you to enjoy. They will grow bigger in time, in part because you’re gaining the strength to generate more, and in part because you’re more alert to them. With time, some elements which feel negative now, like sweating and huffing, solitude and ritual, may actually become positive later.

Accomplished athletes do not have it any easier than you do. They have simply aligned the reinforcers.

Finally exercise every darn day. I did not advise this in the past. I used to advise starting with however many days are realistic, and that approach may be what would work for you. But it doesn’t allow you to develop a hard-and-fast routine. Remember learning to brush your teeth? Did you learn by brushing when it felt right? And how disciplined are you with this dull chore now? Where there is no decision-making, there is no waffling and where there is no waffling you won’t…pancake. So do start small – but only in terms of the duration and the intensity of the exercise, which you’ll expand upon later. The success with frequency starts on day 2.

For more, see Self-Motivating When Stuck.

What if I Fail?

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009


I decided that my string of failures comes from my lack of self-confidence. I was always fearful and timid and I can see now that this brought me just what I used to dread.

But I’m on a new pathway now. I started my own business, I have a new marriage and a I’m keeping to a solid fitness plan. I know that in the past I would have found some way to sabotage this initiative with doom-and-gloom thinking. This time it’s going to be different! My only enemy is my own fear. I’m visualizing success and refusing to consider a bad outcome. I’m not stupid enough to think failure is impossible, but I do know that we tend to create the reality we expect.



Not quite.

Of course confidence is good, and we need to visualize where we want to go. But to think the positive visualization itself has much power is naive. Instead, I might coach you to study your enemy. That is, imagine and list all the ways in which this initiative could fall dead. Not enough business? Or so successful that you can’t fit in the full workout…or that you have to grab a burger just this time…and one more time the next week…

This is not a lack of self-assurance; it’s a recognition of reality. It’s not pessimistic thinking; it’s strategic foresight. And it’s not a lack of hope; it’s building the confidence to know you won’t come upon bad surprises ill-prepared.

If you made a mistake with your past “gloom-and-doom” thinking it wasn’t in predicting bad events, it was in dwelling on them passively, over-estimating their power, and thinking you couldn’t cope when they came. And a mistake now would be to think that fear has more power than it does. Or that you have the power to control an emotion. These are the surprise enemies, oddly familiar to us all.

So visualize failure. Welcome your fear. Harness it as caution, make your contingency plans and build your preparedness. Then go forward with the confidence that makes you strong. Tempered with the anxiety that makes you human.

Is Seattle Depressing?

Friday, February 20th, 2009


I moved to Seattle to renew my life, yet I’ve been as depressed as ever. Shouldn’t I be less vulnerable in a beautiful place like this?


I Can’t Stop Thinking About my Trauma

Monday, February 2nd, 2009


Can you explain to me why it helps with post-traumatic stress to revisit the upsetting event or scene?



So Mad at my Mother-in-Law

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


I’m so stressed and irritated. I live with my husband, our kids and his mother. The problem is she is too hard to get along with. She pesters and criticizes me constantly. I try to be polite sometimes I just blow up. I don’t want to upset my husband but I’m afraid some day I’m just going to pack up and move out. How can I keep myself calmer?



I Feel so Guilty

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


I take care of my ailing mother, and I’m very willing to do it. One problem though, is that she expects more than I can provide. I know that if I give her all the time she wants from me, her life would be better. On the other hand, mine would be worse, and by a larger proportion -a net loss between the two of us. She cannot recognize this, and her expressions of sadness at the neglect she experiences makes my want to cry. I am plagued by guilt. What can I do?



Should I Leave my Alcoholic Wife (or Husband, Partner, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, Addict)?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


I cannot bear my wife’s alcoholism any longer. If I stay I’ll perish. But if I leave her I’ll be in the financial pits. And strangely, I still love her!  I’ve been to an Al-Anon meeting but it’s not enough. Most of my friends tell me to leave her, and my family tells me to stick it out. What do I do?

Note: I first wrote this answer as a way to talk about methods to approach tough dilemmas, and since that time it has grown into the forum you see now. 

I’m continually moved by the vivid descriptions of the carnage that addiction causes, and the impossible “you choose, you lose” dilemmas faced by exhausted, isolated partners. Often, finance, children and other circumstances prevent any simple solutions. But, I also notice that many describe their own addiction of sorts – to the partner. A love and attachment you cannot shake, despite the consequences. It’s something like finding yourself holding a hot panhandle and gripping all the more tightly the more it burns.

Please feel free to tell your own story.  I also encourage you to respond to other postings with a few words of appreciation, support and ideas.

Updates are appreciated.  There are many more readers of this dialogue than there are responders – you have an interested group here and we want to know what happens.

Thank you.


Grief: Exit Stage

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


Several years ago I survived a devastating divorce. With the help of therapy and a support group I came through some pretty heavy depression. Now, I’m happy to have a new mate in my life and we’re talking about getting married. Here’s what’s weird: suddenly I find myself crying about my old divorce again from time to time. Is this normal?



How to Self-Motivate

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Question: OK, I’m convinced I’ll start feeling better as soon as I start doing something. In fact, I’ve always known this, and I know exactly what I would do. I would start cleaning up my place, and walking. It’s so simple, except for this: I can’t do it. I just don’t have the motivation to move off the couch. How do I get past this?


The Sex Nutrition Pyramid

Friday, October 3rd, 2008


Tom Linde M.S.W.
PO Box 28186
Seattle, WA 981189
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