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In the ongoing struggle eaters have with disregulation, few issues loom larger than sustaining motivation and effort. This happens in many areas: You regularly under- or overdo, bounce back and forth between one extreme and the other and, more often than not, end up where you started. Ever wonder why?
For example, a client and I are discussing her going to the gym or speaking up to a spouse or setting limits with her child, and she tells me how she used to hit the gym every day, then stopped going completely; how she sits on her feelings about her spouse until they erupt; how disciplining her children makes her feel so mean and hurtful that she doesn’t do it. I watch as clients rush headlong into activities, then give up or withdraw. My job is to provide enlightenment about what’s happening psychologically/emotionally so they can make real, incremental progress.
What’s happening is that they swing back and forth between being overwhelmed and despairing. They set out to do a task and, not knowing how to chunk it down into small, doable sub-tasks, they take on too much too quickly. Because they’re human, they become exhausted from the enormity of their mission impossible and, rather than scale back, they simply surrender. They then fall into despair that they will never accomplish whatever they set out to do—eat more healthily, exercise regularly, become assertive, or be a consistently effective parent.
People with this ping-pong pattern generally lacked parents who 1) modeled a healthy ability to set and prioritize goals, take small steps to reach them, and understand that change happens gradually and/or 2) didn’t teach them all of the above. Of course, it makes sense that if parents couldn’t regulate themselves, they’d be unable to instruct their children. You can’t teach skills you don’t already have, and knowing how to progress gradually and persistently is, make no mistake, a learned skill.
If you often move back and forth from overwhelmed to despairing, you will have to fight the urge to overdo and set small goals for yourself. Learning how to scale down and set realistic objectives is key. On the other end of the continuum, you also can’t allow yourself to give up completely. If you do quit, refuse to sink into despair. Rather, take a conscious short break or make a plan to do one tiny thing to stay in a holding pattern. Take some time to consider if you have extreme patterns and what you need to do to avoid being overwhelmed or falling into despair.
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