Sometimes when we’re feeling depressed, anxious, triggered, or just stressed out by work or life, it can be hard to get back on track. We may solicit advice from family and friends, or our therapist — maybe we’ve learned over the years the things that work to pull us out of that rut.
We know the things that we have to do for ourselves — make healthier food choices, call our friends, go outside, get some exercise, disconnect from toxic people — but when it comes down to it, it’s easier said than done, and there’s a good reason for that. In fact, there are a few good reasons, many of which I’ve seen in my own therapy practice.
We’re Scared to Fail
Many times our fear of failure keeps us from even beginning to make change. We talk about it a lot, we think about it a lot, and we may even really, really want to do it. But the fear paralyzes us at the starting line.
For example, one of my patients has been in a bit of a professional standstill, and has had a hard time finding work that pays well and that he enjoys. He has been talking for a while about going back to school in order to change careers and increase his job prospects. While he and I have only been working together for a few months, he said that this is something he’s been wanting to do for a few years. Eventually, in one session when he brought it up again, I asked him what was stopping him from beginning the application process. At first he said that he didn’t know, but when we explored it together he admitted that he was worried he might not get in to the schools he applied to.
This is not an isolated case, fear in many ways can hold us back from doing what we want to do. We’re stuck while our goal seems like it’s miles away.
We Are Comfortable
In many unhealthy relationships, loved ones may wonder why someone won’t “just leave” or “just get a divorce.” But, that’s not always an easy thing to do. I have seen a patient who has stayed with her husband for over two years after finding out he had been cheating for majority of their relationship. She states that she could never forgive him, that she may even have fallen out of love with him. And yet, despite the lack of trust, and nights spent at family and friends — not wanting to go home — she hasn’t filed for divorce, or asked him to consider marital counseling.
We stay where we’re at sometimes, just because it’s comfortable.Consciously or not, people stay in accustomed situations even when they’re not happy. Exploring this in therapy, and why you may be acting against your best interests, might help you figure out what’s keeping you from making different, possibly better choices in your life.
We Feel We Haven’t Earned It
When it comes to eating disorders, many of the people I encountered while working the Helpline at the National Eating Disorders Association, revealed that they knew that they had to eat more, eat differently, or engage in some other healthier behavior as a part of their recovery, but couldn’t. Most often, they found that the message they had been telling themselves was that they “hadn’t earned” the healthier behavior yet, either because they haven’t exercised enough, or because they ate some other food earlier in the day or the night before.
The same idea applies to many other aspects of our lives and our mental health. If we know that we need to take some time to destress from work, we may be hesitant to do so because we feel like we haven’t been working hard enough to warrant that reward.
Dr. Clayton R. Cook, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the school psychology program at the University of Minnesota said that it’s important to unlearn this way of thinking. “We live in a culture that inundates us with unhealthy messages…and values working long hours, often at the expense of a person’s well-being,” he told Forbes. In moments where we feel unworthy of the healthy choice, it’s good to remind ourselves what we would tell anyone else — that they are worthy, and therefore, so are we.
Choosing things that are good for us isn’t always as easy as it seems, even when we know the right thing to do. But if we explore the reasons why this may be, it can help us take some steps in the right direction and make better choices in the future.