“Other things were a priority.”
“My body is too old to change.”
“My friend told me that didn’t work for her.”
These are a few of the most common excuses I hear from some clients when they explain to me why they can’t make the changes that would help them feel better.
I see a lot of people in my practice who desperately want to get out of pain. They have serious joint or other injuries that limit their lives in very real and significant ways and make it much harder for them to enjoy their hobbies and other things they love to do.
A lot of my clients are very motivated to make changes, and see great results when they do.
However, there is a small percentage of my clients who get stuck in a cycle of reasons/excuses and can’t seem to make the changes that would dramatically improve their quality of life.
Early on in my career as a physical therapist, I believed my clients’ behavior was due to a lack of knowledge or understanding.
I thought that if they only understood how much these changes would help, they would make them in a heartbeat.
But I was wrong.
Logic didn’t matter. The real reason they didn’t change was because of fear.
We all have hidden fears that paralyze us into inaction or trigger us to run from the very thing we need to face.
We can’t change our lives without recognizing the fears behind our most common excuses and working to remove the often invisible and powerful barriers to positive action.
In this series of posts, I will share with you the top 3 most common reasons I hear from clients for why they can’t change, and expose the underlying fear that is creating the resistance.
Once the fear is exposed, I’ll give practical suggestions to overcome the fear to improve your body and your life.
Reason #1 I don’t have time
I invited Kelly in to my office and as soon as we made eye contact her her eyes darted back to the floor. She gave me a quick and hesitant smile that barely registered before fading as she sat down.
Kelly had been really consistent with her home routine when she first started working with me, but over the past several visits she had in her words “slacked off”.
She was very apologetic and laid out several reasons why things hadn’t worked out for her to do her home assignments.
At her last session, she PROMISED things would be different.
One look at her face when she walked in and I knew she had broken her promise.
So I asked her about it and our conversation went something like this:
Kelly: I did the assignments you gave me for about 5 days but then I just ran out of time. I’ve been really busy but things are doing to get calmer this next week. I’ll be able to focus then.
Me: How did you feel on the days when you were doing the assignments?
Kelly: Much better. I didn’t have any tightness during the day and I didn’t wake up with pain at night on those days.
Me: So…. if I have this right, on the days you did your assignments, you felt better. Is that correct?
Me: And when you started waking up at night again, did you consider doing your routine again to see if that would help?
Kelly: I’m not sure they will really help in the long run….And I just got busy….I’m not sure why I didn’t do them. I’m sure this week will be better. I’ll get back on track. I know I need to do them.
Kelly knew she SHOULD do her exercises. She even acknowledged she felt better when she did them.
And yet she kept on NOT doing them.
She had fallen into what I call the “When Harry Met Sally” trap.
When what we are doing doesn’t reflect what we are saying that we want, it’s time to dig deeper and look for a fear that might be holding us back.
In the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, Sally’s friend Marie says she wants to be with a guy who loves her and treats her well, then constantly complains about how her married boyfriend breaks his promises to leave his wife.
Sally is perpetually reminding her, “Marie, no one thinks he is going to leave her”.
And Marie always responds with “You’re right. You’re right. I know you are right.”
Marie doesn’t keep dating the married guy because she thinks he’s going to leave his wife. Marie keeps dating him because she doesn’t trust there is anyone better out there who is single.
It isn’t until she meets someone awesome that Marie changes her belief about what’s possible for her.
My client Kelly won’t get what she wants (feeling better) until she changes her belief about what’s possible for her, too.
The truth about Kelly’s situation is that she doesn’t lack the time, she lacks the belief that she can get better. She fears that her body her body will never get better and stay better.
The crazy thing is that because of this fear, she won’t stick with the things that actually make her feel better, even though she felt better after doing them.
By not continuing with her exercises, she continued to create the reality she feared the most, which was staying in pain.
What To Do
Brené Brown has said “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” The same is true for our fears.
Here’s how to take the power away from your fears and start creating healthy change:
1. Do a brain dump of your fears.
A sneaky part about fear is that sometimes our biggest and most powerful fears stay hidden from our awareness, even when we are trying to acknowledge them.
So rather than just writing down the fear you think applies to the situation where you feel stuck, I recommend setting a timer and writing down as many fears as you can for the next 3 minutes. (Even if they seem TOTALLY unrelated!)
When the timer goes over, look over your list. As you read over each fear, keep in mind the situation where you feel stuck.
If the fear you are reading has any bearing on your stuck situation, you will likely feel a heaviness or tightening in your gut or somewhere else where you carry stress in your body. (Neck, shoulders and back are common areas.)
The stronger the reaction, the more influence that fear has over your situation. Make a note of all of the fears that seem to influence your “stuck-ness”. Go through steps 2 & 3 with each of them, starting with the biggest fear first.
2. Find evidence that your fear might not be true.
Fears tend to be most powerful under two conditions: when they are hidden and when we believe they are ALWAYS true.
My client Kelly had the fear “My body is never going to get better.” And when that fear was in the driver’s seat, her brain collected examples about ways that was true.
I asked Kelly if she could find any examples of times when her body DID get better and the pain lessened or went away.
She paused, then said. “Well, during those 5 days I did my exercises I didn’t wake up at night. So I guess it was better then.”
When Kelly identified there were times when her fear wasn’t true, she started to feel like she was more in control of her symptoms, rather than feeling like she was helpless.
3. Create the circumstances where your fear isn’t true.
This would seem like the easiest part….you identify a time where the fear wasn’t true, like when Kelly was doing her exercises, and you keep doing those things to keep proving the fear wrong.
But here’s where things get trickier.
When you have to keep creating the circumstance where the fear is untrue, you often have to start making changes in your life that seem hard.
For example, Kelly needed to wake up 20 minutes earlier to do her exercises in the morning and get to work on time.
In order to actually get out of bed (and not just hit the snooze alarm), she had to go to bed a half hour early, which cut into her relaxation time and hanging out with her husband.
Her ultimate goal was to get out of pain and return to hiking, which she loved to do with her husband.
So Kelly needed a way to connect her short term sacrifice (missing 30 minutes with her husband) with long term reward (going hiking with her husband).
I suggested she put a picture of a place where they wanted to hike together near her alarm clock.
That way, she could look at it when she went to bed and when she woke up and be reminded of why her short term sacrifice was worth it.
Kelly said this technique was so successful that she started using a picture reminder when she was looking to make other changes in her life as well.
Often, an excuse around “I don’t have time” is a cover for other fears we have that make us believe change isn’t possible.
To reach your goals, you have to address the most common fear of those with chronic pain or injuries, which is “I won’t ever get better.” Using these techniques — do a fear brain dump, find evidence of when the fear isn’t true, and create the circumstance where the fear isn’t true— can help you move past inaction and help you start feeling better now.