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The imp of the perverse, reactance and relapses



I read an interesting article that resonated with me in my efforts in different areas of my life that I would like to make positive changes.

It is said that, sometimes when you try to prevent yourself from doing something, you are even more prone to doing it, just because it has entered your mind, this whether the suggestion is positive or negative. For example, it you say: "it is not raining", your brain has first to process "it's raining" and then negate it...

So, apparently, one way to counter act this is to always phrase your intention in the positive. So in this case, you'd have to change your statement to: "it is sunny out".

Secondly, another really important factor in success [or relapse], is the extent to which one believes that failure is due to personal inadequacy rather than the actual matter of fact difficulty of the task.

Thirdly, motivation to keep with a given vow, is very dependent on our internal moods, which are constantly changing, according to 'local conditions'. Meaning, when we are depressed, we are more prone to remember, and perceive outside triggers as depressing, consequently, we are more prone to appraise our temporary failure as lack of character, and thus, continuing relapsing, until we find a way to identify this phenomenon accurately in ourselves, and work on multiple fronts to diminish the impact of our negative interpretations.

a} the problem of immediate gratification vs long term, greater benefits.

b} the practice component has to do with skill acquisition, in this case meaning that you learn with guidance, and through trial and error. The great thing though, is that once you acquire a set of skills, it cannot go away.

Practicing operates on two different levels

1] it operates when we 'study' or use our rational brain to understand how things work. [this is what I am doing here, I am studying, as I am writing this note...]

a] "Rational processing is too slow to influence behavior in real time." Meaning: unless you are a master at 'consciousness' or a 'buddha', your 'reactions' to outside triggers are coming from the subconscious. The subconscious reacts according to a learned set of behavior repeated over and over again.

b] Rational processing is only possible when you concentrate and your brain is calm, relax, and rested. [this is what I believe]. However, "rational processing can influence future behavior through a variety of strategies including pre-commitment, rehearsal of desired performance, and changing your environment".

2] Practice operates when we are faced with the actual high risk situations in our day to day life, in this case, our brain must take a rapid 'decision' and this is where using the different strategies from cognitive therapy come into play. In this case, attention is required to recognize what the mental distortions of situations or stimuli in our subconscious that leads us to relapse.

There are many distortions that are classified in different types. Learning to identify these distortions rapidly in a high risk situation is key to successfully preventing a relapse:

there are three principle distortions that present themselves in different ways but basically they are:

a] I am worthless, inadequate, unlovable and deficient.

b] the environment is overwhelming, presenting insuperable obstacles that cannot be overcome.

c] the future is hopeless, doomed.

and then, there are all the different distortion mechanisms:

a] All or nothing thinking - e.g., it is perfect or a total failure. The problem here is that thinking this way provokes very strong emotional response. When you evaluate that you are great [well, you feel fantastic], but most frequently, the reality is that when you make a mistake, you feel that you are a total failure! With this in mind, it seems pointless to make any effort to prevent a relapse.

b] Overgeneralization - single negative event coupled with "always" or "never." Very similar to the all or nothing thinking...

c] Mental filter - discounting the positives and dwelling on the negatives. This is a very difficult one to eradicate I find.

c.1] Magnification - Exaggerate the importance of one's liabilities, and minimize the importance of one's assets. Same thing as the mental filter, only applied to self.

d] Jumping to conclusions

d.1] Mind reading - The belief that you know what other people are thinking - e.g., "She thinks I'm a... [insert insult here]"

d.2] Fortune telling - The belief that you can predict the future - e.g., "She is going to [insert negative outcome here] "

e] Emotional reasoning: assume emotions reflect reality

e.1] "I am terrified to go, so it must be dangerous."

e.2] "I feel angry therefore I must be being treated unfairly."

e.3] "I feel so inferior, therefore I must be inadequate somehow."

f] Personalization and blame - attributing responsibility totally to persons.

g] Should statements (Musterbation)

g.1] Directed against self leads to guilt and frustration

g.2] Directed against others leads to anger and frustration

h] Labeling - you are not what you do.

h.1] I did such and such, this only PROVES that I am worthless, an idiot, rotten, mean, lack ability or character...

h.2] In reality, when examined deaply, the only real conclusion that can be drawn rationally is that humans do, sometimes foolish actions, but it there is no such thing as a 'fool'.

Now comes the real, real core of the work, as once you have identified and classified the types of distortions, which I can do now...most of the time... THE REAL CHALLENGE is HOW DO YOU PROVE IT TO YOURSELF THAT YOUR THINKING IS ERRONEOUS.

Secondly, comes the other important part of the work, changing and rehearsing and repeating new affirmations based on reality to your brain, over and over again, changing tactics if need be, until YOU ARE CONVINCED. This is concious PRACTICE. It is very important. How it's done is going to the roots of our thinking. This can be scary, and sometimes we get stuck, as it appears that indeed the answer is a negative one. But do not stop there, go back to re-evaluating where your thinking was erroneous and you will see, ask for help. Some people, like therapist are very, very skilled at detecting thinking that are not rational. It is an ART.

I am convince that cognitive therapy for behavior change IS very effective. I am convinced that I can change my behavior, and my thinking.

I know it's difficult and I will need help.


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