In addition to Explain Pain, my trainer recommended that I read a book called Learned Optimism, How to Change your Mind and Your Life, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. You can find it here. https://amzn.to/2ZEzvTz This was my first introduction to positive psychology, a fairly new science. By definition, positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, or “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural and global dimensions of life”. Another big step in my healing and growing was about to happen with the help of this book.
The biggest take away for me was learning to dispute my own beliefs and become skilled at generating alternatives. This was really important to understand given that I was afraid to do half the things that would help me get stronger and heal, for fear of hurting myself. Explain Pain says the fear of pain can be enough to prevent change, so I HAD to learn how to overcome my fears. I also had to learn how to decatastrophize. My beliefs and thoughts were stopping me from doing A LOT of basic things. As I was getting focusing on my diet, physical therapy and exercise, I cut out every doctor from my life at that time with the exception of those at the Spine Institute. I just COULD NOT handle another piece of bad news. So, if I didn’t go to the doctor, no bad news. This was my thinking. I didn’t even go to the dentist for the fear of the dental chair would hurt my neck. Also, I had a general fear of doctors because honestly, their negligence in giving me a drug combination that injured me was still on the forefront of my mind. So much fear. It was paralyzing. So, I had my fears in movements and activities AND I had a fear of learning anymore about my health for the sake of not going off the deep end completely. I didn’t get a check up, a dental cleaning, a pap smear or flu shot for four years. Yes, four years. That’s a long time.
What helped me start to make the change was a strategy I found in Learned Optimism called the ABCDE model. Standing for Adversity (what happened), Belief (how you interpret the adversity), Consequences (feelings and what you did), Disputation (argue and dispute your beliefs) and Energization (outcome or effects from redirecting your thoughts).
Here is my first attempt at using the ABCDE Model to dispute my fears. I started with what was most pressing at the moment. Remember when I said when I started my sculpt class with no weights? Well, in addition to that, I also decided for myself that dead lifts weren’t good for me and my back, as the first time I did them I had pain. This pain eventually faded, but it was enough to scare me. My first ABCDE attempt would be about this conclusion I made up for myself. It looked like this:
A (Adversity) Do a dead lift in class with weight.
B (Belief) I will hurt my back.
C (Consequence) I feel afraid and frustrated.
D (Disputation) My trainer is very skilled and would not put me in danger.
E (Energization) I tried it, had some pain, then it faded.
For the record, I do dead lifts with kettle bells on a regular basis now with NO pain. Two things happened. I got over my fear and my body got used to a new movement. It takes time. A long time. I had to be patient. I felt a little pain with dead lifts for a while, but guess what? That doesn’t happen anymore!
Here’s another attempt I did shortly after.
A (Adversity) I am afraid to get a flu shot.
B (Belief) I think something will go wrong and I will have a reaction or my body won’t take it well.
C (Consequence) I am scared and procrastinating.
D (Disputation) I have had flu shots in the past and been fine. Everyone in my family has had shots this year and they are all fine.
E (Energization) My son and I got our flu shots together. This way I had someone with me and had to be the “grown up” and not freak out. Having him there kept me calm even though he had no idea he was doing that for me. I didn’t have any kind of reaction.
In my notebook, next to where I wrote this, there is a little side note that says “I did it! 10/20/18.” Small steps. It was clear that I needed to use this model and learn how to find the evidence against my beliefs and show the flaws. According to the author, the facts will be on my side most of the time. I don’t know exactly when I became so pessimistic in my thinking. Maybe just all the turmoil of what I had gone through left me that way. Seligman explains “pessimistic thinking consists of latching onto the most dire possible belief, not because the evidence supports it, but precisely because it is so dire.” This was key for me. Over the next few years I continued to use this strategy to catch up on my health. I finally went to the dentist, I got my pap smear, and lastly I went to my Internist. The one I dreaded the most and had the most fear to see. Turns out I had a clean bill of health at all of these appointments! Ok, I had one cavity.. Four years without a cleaning will do that to you.
Do you struggle with negative thinking? Try the following:
In your daily life over the next week, tune into any adversity that comes along. Listen to your thoughts. When you hear negative thoughts, dispute them! And record them in ABCDE Model.
I’d love to hear how this worked in your life. Comment and leave questions below! Thanks for being here!