Why do we relapse just when we’re beginning to do so well? What is the message in our relapses?
If you have started a new way of doing something or are building a new habit, you’ll know the phenomenon of relapsing well. Whether you’re ‘on a diet’, alcohol free, or whatever else, there will inevitably come a day when you sabotage yourself and relapse – you eat something you exclude from your ‘dietary’ menu, have a glass of something alcoholic, etc., and an excuse or not even that to go with the relapse. You enjoy the relapse and some time later may start hating yourself for having relapsed. If you have some form of visually recording your new ways or habits, now you’ll have to write your relapse down and know well that the relapse will look like a sore thumb amongst the days without relapsing! Some people will not feel annoyed with themselves for having relapsed, others will. If you are of the people who will, you’ll start asking yourself why oh why you had to sabotage yourself! You may criticize yourself, call yourself a fool, and will finally realize that had you put up just a little discipline, you could easily have avoided the relapse…
But could you? Or does the relapse have a message? One NLP way of looking at relapses is that relapses are a part of our progress toward learning the new way of doing things, a support pillar of motivation for building the new habit. For many people pleasure is harder to handle than pain, thus the relapse happens just at the time when the pleasure of having been doing so well begins to be too much to handle – too good to be true, too surprising / good / impossible to believe. The relapse sets us back a step [to tone down the burden of that pleasure of doing way too well for ourselves] and reminds us of the old track we came from – the beginning of our journey to a new way of doing something or habit. But the period of hating ourselves for having relapsed [for people who experience it] is an inevitable metaphor for looking back and realizing that despite the one relapse among so many days of doing well we’re still doing well!
And we will do even better, because the relapse kicks up our motivation. Our motivation between relapses goes in the opposite cyclical pattern to the pleasure of doing well. While the pleasure is (obviously) the weakest right after the relapse, the motivation to do well again without relapsing is the strongest right after the relapse. And the longer we’re doing well, the weaker the motivation to keep it up becomes, the stronger our desire to relapse, thus the greater the pleasure of relapsing. The motivation is thus the weakest before the relapse while the pleasure is the strongest before the relapse. The relapse has made us review our progress and see that we have been doing well, thus the relapse simultaneously kicks up our motivation and the cycle is ready to repeat itself – but perhaps with longer periods of doing well between relapses.
Thus if you are a person with very high standards for yourself as well as others, highly self-critical, or a chronic perfectionist, think of this article the next time you relapse and you’ll begin to even thank your ‘self-sabotage’ for providing you a landing on the long spiral staircase toward your new way of doing things or habit. Going up is more physically demanding than going down and the landing is a place where you can take a breath, pause, look down, and see how far up you’ve already come.
NLP coaching is just like the landing. I’ll gladly provide you support on the landing if you need it. Just contact me.