During my time out of the office, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on success. As in, who have I worked with who has really nailed it and made a major improvement in their quality of life and functioning? What has been necessary to drive my own ongoing success in recovery? And how can I boil those answers down to help others better?
What I come back to, time and again, is action. For myself, and others, insight is great because it can provide valuable data regarding why a pattern or behavior started and is entrenched, but it’s basically useless if you don’t act. It’s entirely possible to spend years in therapy making insight after insight and seeing absolutely no change in how it feels to live your particular life.
For example: Thanks to insight gained in my own treatment, I know exactly why being home alone makes me vulnerable to the siren song of eating disordered urges. However, learning that did nothing for my recovery until I learned to turn the knowledge into action. Now, not only can I predict when those ugly urges will surface, but I work to a. Minimize the likelihood that I’ll be faced with them b. Decrease my sensitivity by actively cultivating positive associations with being home alone and c. Having a long list of things to do to distract and calm myself that I actually use.
This is not groundbreaking information, but it makes a huge difference in outcome, and a surprisingly small number of folks actually approach the work this way. Why? Well, for one, it’s hard, especially at first. Acting on your insights often requires a kind of brute force, blind faith approach at the beginning because the action is often uncomfortable, new and scary, and probably runs counter to a lot of (distorted) beliefs. However, the discomfort wears off fairly quickly once you start to do your insights because evidence builds up that the new actions are working in your favor.
In other words, you have to take a leap. The classic metaphors here are about letting go of one trapeze to grab the next, or letting go of your leaky life boat to grab a solid buoy – in both cases, there’s a deeply scary moment where you’re holding onto nothing.
The question I ask, in my office and of myself is, how is that leaky raft working for you? We have the illusion that there’s a choice, to act on our insights and behave in new ways, or to stay in the current patterns. The reality is, you’re drowning. If the new raft is leaky, too, you were going down anyway, which while not exactly cheery, makes my point that, scary or not, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking action based on insight.
But, you have to do it.
What would it be like to start now?