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Stop Calling Recovery Hard Work

I’m glad to be evolving as a therapist and educator on the topics of food and weight. The more I learn about how people change, the more value I am to my clients, students, and readers. One thing I’ve tried to stop myself from doing is saying and writing about recovery as “hard” or “work.” I’m not saying it can’t be challenging, because it can be, but it actually makes it more so when we keep reminding ourselves of the difficulty.

This subject came up while I was talking with a client who mentioned several times during our session how hard changing her thinking or behavior would be. There are many ways we can think about change: as hard work, interesting, challenging, exhilarating, scary, fun, enlightening, impossible, frustrating, or an adventure. All these adjectives are possibilities—in part because of what we expect. Why tell ourselves that we might be feeling this or that? What purpose does it serve? Does it make it more or less easy to change when we remind ourselves of the “work” involved? The truth is that it makes difficulty, well, more difficult.

For example, think of roses and then a description you associate with them—a few words or phrases—before reading on. The words I came up with are sweet-smelling, vibrant, delicate, petal-soft, elegant, romantic—and, yes, thorny. How about you? Did you think of thorny first or other descriptors? Undoubtedly, it is true that roses have thorns. Anyone who has ever been pricked by them will attest to that. But, that is not the first descriptor that usually comes to mind when we think of roses. There’s no need to negate their thorniness, but there’s also no need to focus on it either.

Are you catching my drift? I’m not advising denying that it may be hard to alter thinking or behavior. All I’m saying is that there are other ways to think about recovery that are equally true. Sometimes recovery is enlightening, interesting, or exciting and some times it’s other things. What we think of as hard is simply unfamiliar and uncomfortable and requires awareness and change. How you choose to perceive recovery foretells how it will be for you. Think of taking a long hike. If all you worry about is the fatigue you might feel, you’re going to ruin a potentially good time. If you acknowledge the fatigue but don’t dwell on it, you’ll feel joy in moving your body, pleasure in being out in nature, exhilaration in challenging yourself, pride in doing something out of your comfort zone.

So, please give up using the H word. Find some better adjectives to describe recovery. Think positive and I promise you’ll have a more positive—and successful—experience.

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