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How Pleasure Can Be a Much Better Motivator Than "I Should"

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Binge Eating Disorder » Featured Article

By Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT

Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT

So what happened to the New Year Resolutions to lose that weight, go to the gym, and stop eating sugar? Or did you not even bother with resolutions this year because you didn’t want to set yourself up for failure? Who does?

I was talking about all of the above with my client, Mary, who came to me for food, weight, and body image issues last year. I asked her if she was interested in trying something different, body image psychology, for weight loss. She said “Yes!” She was tired of her “excess weight” and poor body image. So I suggested she try a more right brain approach that would not only be more pleasurable but also most likely more successful. She was very curious!

We tried the following 3 steps in session, and then she practiced them at home every day.

1) State intentions

To state aloud each of her intentions and most importantly believe she can really have them and that she deserves them. The latter part is important, as it is often what can consciously or unconsciously trip us up. . If this 1st step is difficult don’t be discouraged, get support; therapy can help or maybe a friend who can help you get clear and feeling more positive.

2) Create a 'Body Memory'

The next step was to imagine having already obtained each intention. Notice what this feels like in her body. How is she walking, talking, acting differently? I encouraged her to really ground the feeling in her body and flesh it out as much as possible with details using all her senses. I call this “creating a body memory.” The more detailed your ‘body memory’ is, the more powerfully it will work! She really enjoyed this part as she imagined fitting into a red dress she wanted to buy, how it would feel on her skin, and the looks and comments she might receive.

3) Recall the body memory throughout the day

The final step was to recall this ‘body memory’ periodically throughout her day, especially when she was feeling her intentions challenged. Repetition is key. It takes persistence and patience to break old habits and create new ones. The more you can recall your body memory throughout your day the more likely you are to be successful with this approach.Mary practiced the above in session. Over the next few weeks, I checked in with her. She was exercising more as she had applied the same ‘pleasure principal’ to other areas of her life. Now instead of trying to make herself go the gym, which she realized she hated, she was going for walks with a friend, who welcomed the opportunity to take out her dogs. Mary enjoyed the walking and felt the benefits nearly immediately. It wasn’t a chore to exercise anymore. She actually looked forward to walking and connecting with her friend. Exercise was fast becoming an increasingly pleasurable activity. This was definitely new for Mary!

She used the visualization she had practiced on numerous occasions. For instance, she used the visualization to pass up on that second helping at the dinner table. It didn’t feel like such a sacrifice as she enjoyed the feeling of pleasure she got from imagining wearing her red dress and the responses she might receive.

One day she came in wearing the red dress and thanked me. I could tell her self-esteem had improved and so was her body image. It showed in her increased confidence and how she carried herself. She was working with using pleasure as a motivator instead of ’shoulds’ and most of all having fun with it! Try it you might be surprised…; )

About the Author...

Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT is Director of the Eating Disorders Program at the Community Institute of Psychotherapy, San Rafael, CA. She also has private practices in Mill Valley and San Francisco.

Last Update: 4/16/2009

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