Why can’t I get myself to the gym? How to Take Back Control

… and Start Doing the Things that are Important to You.

Have you ever struggled to do the things you know you must do to achieve a goal?  Or maybe there were good habits you once had, but are struggling to get back into them? It should be easy, but it seems hard and you can’t understand why?

Control is a Constant

A concept I sometimes discuss with my clients is the idea that control is a constant.  Put simply it is the idea that once we take control over one thing in our life we immediately (often without conscious recognition) take control over other things in our lives too.  And these things are frequently completely unrelated to each other.

For Example:

One evening I find myself able to go out for a twenty-minute walk.  Because I can do this, I also have the self-control to peel potatoes for dinner rather than doing the easier, but perhaps less healthy option, of sticking oven chips in the fryer.  I now recognise that peeling potatoes isn’t the chore my primitive brain thinks it is.  I can now make sure that I book a hair appointment without fuss.  (Those of you that have met me will know I never need to book hair appointments – but as examples go it will do here).  I know I can book the hair appointment, which reinforces the knowledge that I can go for the 20-minute evening walk.

The Matrix:

No not that matrix! Let’s imagine that these groups of things that we have control over, or can make happen, sit in a matrix.  As our confidence grows (and our anxiety falls) we move up the matrix. The number of things we have control over (or find easier to make happen) increases.  Each step up through the matrix, as evidenced by the achievement of one task, enables us to carry out many others, on the same level, more easily.

Each level may also contain things that we only have sub-conscious control over.  For example, as we move up the matrix because we can now peel potatoes, make hair appointments without fuss and walk for twenty minutes the sub conscious mind also realises we do not need to experience IBS or have a panic attack in the situation we currently face.

When we get to the very top level (let’s call it ten) nothing we would like, or need, to do phases us much.  Life feels easy, things we used to find difficult take less energy now.

When Things get Difficult:

The problems tend to arise though when we are not at level ten, but we are at levels below that and we are shooting too high.  Maybe we’re at level four or five.  There are plenty of things we can do and make happen.  There are also plenty of things that we would like to, or need, to do which do phase us … and sometimes phase us quite a lot!

An Imaginary Client:

Imagine a 30 something year old man comes to see me asking for help managing his weight.  It’s crept up over the last 2 to 3 years.  It’s now a problem because his health is beginning to suffer.  More worrying: the solution he has used in the past to control his weight he now feels he can’t do.   He might say: “Alex, I used to go to the gym every lunch time at work.  All I need to do is to restart that habit and all these problems go away! But I can’t seem to make myself do it, and worse, all I want to do is sit and eat the doughnuts someone has brought into the office because it’s their birthday … it always seems to be someone’s ruddy birthday!”

The solution seems so easy.  I need to get to the gym, I need to get to the gym, I need to get to the gym.  And every time he sets himself the goal to do exactly that, he fails.  The constant failure leads to increased stress and decreased confidence.

Life Changes:

Here’s the thing, the last time he went to the gym at work was three years ago.  Back then he was more junior.  He lived ten minutes away from work, he had just met his now wife and he didn’t have any children.  Two big promotions in as many years means he is now a head of department; his oldest child is having trouble settling at the local nursery.  His wife is about to go on maternity leave in anticipation of the arrival of their second child. He now lives in a bigger house 30 minutes from the office.  The plan to continue working from home two or three days a week post pandemic has not worked out.

This gentleman’s problem could be that he is at level five or six in his control matrix.  Three years ago, this may have been enough control to ensure he still got to the gym.  Now he is not as fit, he has more responsibility.  Getting to the gym is now at least on level eight, probably nine, in his control matrix.  All his spare energy (of which there is only a very limited amount) is used trying to get him to do that “easy” thing of going to the gym.

Does this mean that getting to the gym at lunchtime is never again going to be part of the solution?  No not at all, but I might encourage such a client to focus on some of those things that can be achieved first and more simply.  If we are at level five in the matrix, going for an activity which is at eight or higher is too big a stretch.  It will only ever lead to constant failure and disappointment, making the situation worse.

Looking Somewhere Else:

Setting our sights a bit lower and in a different area, to find something more achievable might be a good way to go to begin. Maybe he can get up ten minutes earlier during the week so that he can help with the family’s morning routine.  Now that he can do this, he knows (maybe only subconsciously) he can give a cheerier hello to the receptionists at the front desk when he arrives at work.  Having done that he can be more aware whilst at work of saying “yes” to a task he should be saying “no” to.

Comfortable at this level six he can be ready to work on getting to the next level.  At level seven he finds he can have that difficult conversation, he has been meaning to have, with his boss about making sure he’s home by 6.30pm more often.  Having broached that subject with his boss he recognises that he can be more patient with his son when he does get home.  He now has a fraction more energy and he can do a ten-minute walk before he has his dinner.  Another level of control has been achieved.

Now He’s Getting Somewhere:

Since he stopped beating himself up for not going to the gym at lunch time he feels more relaxed.  Life is a bit different, easier maybe.  He’s maybe not yet losing weight but at least he has stopped putting weight on.  He also notices that he has said no more times than yes to the seemingly constant birthday doughnuts.  What is more this appears to have happened without a conscious decision to do so.

In time he moves to level eight in his control matrix.  Maybe, just maybe, getting to the gym at lunch time is now a more realistic proposition.

Change of Focus to Make Better Gains in the Short Term:

The primary point is this:  Focusing on one or two things we feel obliged to make happen is often not the best way of achieving our goals.  In fact, that can often make it more difficult, making us feel more miserable.

I might make this all sound a bit simple.  I know full well it is not always that easy.  But maybe you get the idea.  There’s very rarely just one answer, and even if there, is sometimes we need to think creatively in order to make that happen.  The important thing is that we keep moving forward, finding the next simple step which moves us on and up the control matrix.  Gain a little confidence here, lose a little stress there.  Then our world changes and we may just be able to get to the gym at lunchtime.

If you’re struggling to keep moving forwards and upwards, Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help.  Please contact me for further details.

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