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Life: Not a Pass or a Fail

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

I have been working with a client for several months now on decreasing his symptoms of depression and increasing his levels of motivation. In our last session, he shared a workout routine to implement intermittently through his workday. It involved pull-ups and a series of ‘burst’ exercises to help keep him focused and feel accomplished. When I asked how this was going, he simply shared that he had failed.

“Failed? How so?" I asked.

He explained that he could barely make it through day two; he found himself time and time again walking underneath his pull-up bar unmotivated to complete even one rep. Now, this particular client was an athlete growing up; regular exercise was not something new to him. Therefore, you can imagine the confusion and sense of defeat he experienced when he could not complete this workout.

We began by identifying the ‘why’ behind his workout routine and what his specific goals were. It was also important to discover where he expected to get his motivation from and if this source would be sustainable. He explained that he aimed to get stronger and add variety to his day. Great goals, but perhaps this particular ‘route’ was not aligned with where he currently was and how he felt. He falsely viewed his resistance as only a negative, a failure, and neglected to use it as a learning experience or an opportunity to make adjustments. We discussed how his tendency to view situations as all or nothing or pass or fail, truly hinders growth and only encourages self-judgment. His lack of motivation for this particular goal ignited negative thoughts like:

What is wrong with me?

Why can’t I do this simple task?

Why isn’t it enough?

The next, critical step was to explore his past and what types of processes motivated him before - so important! He identified that he had always enjoyed working out with a group or being part of a team. This type of setup provided helped him feel connected. It was a space where he could encourage others and feel encouraged in return.

He was part of something that had structure and purpose.

That was it!

His next step involved making adjustments and refocusing on what truly ignites and motivates him. Simply put, to avoid viewing experiences as pass/fail, but as an opportunity to observe his responses, make changes, and ultimately move forward. At the end of our session, he committed to taking a positive risk and reaching out to some of his old workout buddies to see if they were interested in collaborating again. And if for whatever reason, it wasn’t possible, he would have to push himself to explore other options. It was a step by step process, nothing more.

As the session ended, we agreed that life is complex and therefore should not be viewed through an ‘all or nothing’ lens. People truly benefit from having an open-mind and viewing stumbles, barriers, and resistance as learning opportunities, not successes or failures. Making this mental shift takes practice, patience, and commitment. Stick with it though, you will begin to see positive, healthy changes in how you think.

When motivation seems out of reach, don’t forget to refer to past experiences.

What has motivated you before?

Be creative and make attempts to recreate and emulate such processes or feelings.

What comes easy to you may not come easy to someone else, but hey, that’s what makes life interesting and reaffirms the fact that there is enough space for all of us to connect, motivate, and shine.

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