Our approach to the shadow self

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Let me be quite clear. What sabotages people long term with their fitness, and what causes people to stop training over the long term are almost always cognitive and emotional factors. Particularly emotional. Low energy, states of flat arousal, prolonged despondency or anxiety can kill your training program. We have seen example after example throughout history of people who have suffered serious physical injury yet have worked diligently through long and extensive rehabilitation programs in order to recover their health. There are also examples of people who never exercised and who never had a good attitude towards health and fitness until their old age. Even after a lifetime of bad thinking and habits, at an advanced age, they were then able to cultivate a good mindset and flow of positive emotions into their exercise programs and were able to achieve a reasonable degree of health.

Three of our core values at Sacred Experience (Cheerfulness in Adversity, Creative Problem-Solving, and Compassionate Directness) are aimed at helping people to overcome, or at least to fight, these sabotaging tendencies. I cannot guarantee that you will win that battle. No trainer can. Only you can win the battle against your lower nature. I can however, encourage you to persist, and to fight. The longer you stay in the battle the more wisdom you will gain. After much battle experience, you slowly and steadily increase your chances of eventually winning.

Our process for helping you to achieve success, The Hero’s Journey, shows this battle against your inner demons. And this battle is not like something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Twilight. We are not engaging the forces of darkness! It tends to be more subtle and nuanced. Let me give you an example.

I had a client once who initially started training with the goals of losing weight and improving fitness. She however, had a very stressful job and demanding boss. Our first few sessions were fantastic, she was really motivated and was starting to feel results. There was a build up of positive momentum. However, about 10 sessions in, she hit a major setback. Work had been particularly stressful, and her blood pressure had become high. She was required by her doctor to rest and take medication.

The question thus becomes, “What happens to training now?”. Do we just stop? Do we cancel?

At first glance, it might seem like you have to. No matter what, the training will have to be modified. But do you stop altogether? And what is the plan from here?

This will depend on a case by case basis, but usually I encourage creative problem solving in these moments, as well as clear and compassionate directness of what the problem is and how we will address it. In this case, there was no reason why we couldn’t do gentle workouts, such as assisted stretching. There was also the possibility of doing some very gentle corrective exercise, in working in conjunction with the doctor, or in shifting focus to a rehabilitation plan. This is the sort of solution I was proposing. There was also substantial risk in just stopping. Her sleep had improved considerably since she had started training. There was a risk that this would be lost. The exercise was also assisting her with her coping.

This is when personal training and small group training actually gets hard. Its not really that hard when it’s just a tough workout or two. You can get through those sessions with just a bit of guts and determination. It’s this sort of situation that is actually hard. It’s these situations that cause people to fail – sometimes for the long term. If you have ever been a person that has gone round and round on the fitness merry-go-round, and you have started training and stopped training and started this diet and stopped that diet, and this has happened so many times that you are now simply exhausted with the process, then you are not alone.

Sadly, I have found that when people are suffering the effects of the shadow, or in other words, when they are in the midst of the crisis, they are also not in a good position to discuss their strategy towards it. It’s a very hard thing. Right when people need to communicate about what is happening is when they are least willing to communicate. A plan of attack needs to be crafted before. So as part of our initial coaching strategy session I encourage new clients to reflect on any previous attempts they have had to improve their fitness and well-being and to discuss what stopped them in the past from achieving success. We then need to come up with a clear plan, and commit to it, as to what we will do in the event that a shadow event happens.

It’s a bit like having a bushfire survival plan. If the fire is in your backyard, then it is too late to plan. But if you have a clear survival plan in place and you activate it early enough, then you increase your chances of survival and in making clear, rational and objective decisions about what to do. So have a think about that. If you are really serious about progressing, then you will need to do a risk analysis, and identify all the things that might trip you up. Then you need to develop a clear plan for how you will mitigate and address each risk. This increases your chance of overcoming the hurdle when it arises.

If you are successful in defeating your inner demons, you progress to the point of wisdom. The cultivation of character and virtue from the trial means that if that problem ever pops up again, you will be in a stronger position to address it. It might hurt you or knock you down again, but it is unlikely to keep you down indefinitely, because you now know how to defeat it. This is how you reclaim your power from the shadow.