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What is psychological reactance?
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
According to Wikipedia:
"Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives."
What is psychological projection?
"Psychological projection was conceptualized by Sigmund Freud in the 1890s as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world. For example, a person who is rude may accuse other people of being rude.
Although rooted in early developmental stages, and classed by Vaillant as an immature defence, the projection of one's negative qualities onto others on a small scale is nevertheless a common process in everyday life."
What is rationalization?
According to Wikipedia:
"In psychology and logic, rationalization is a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means. Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly subconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt).
People rationalize for various reasons. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question. Sometimes rationalization occurs when we think we know ourselves better than we do. It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning."
What is compartmentalization?
Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.
What is bias?
"Bias is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective and a refusal to even consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. People may be biased toward an individual, a race, a religion, a social class, or a political party. Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, not having an open mind."
What is homeostasis?
According to Wikipedia:
"Homeostasis is a concept central to the idea of stress. In biology, most biochemical processes strive to maintain equilibrium, a steady state that exists more as an ideal and less as an achievable condition. Environmental factors, internal or external stimuli, continually disrupt homeostasis; an organism’s present condition is a state in constant flux moving about a homeostatic point that is that organism’s optimal condition for living. Factors causing an organism’s condition to diverge too far from homeostasis can be experienced as stress. A life-threatening situation such as a physical insult or prolonged starvation can greatly disrupt homeostasis. On the other hand, an organism’s effortful attempt at restoring conditions back to or near homeostasis, often consuming energy and natural resources, can also be interpreted as stress. In such instances, an organism’s fight-or-flight response recruits the body's energy stores and focuses attention to overcome the challenge at hand."
How do these things apply together?
If you want to stay exactly the same as you are, these mental triggers are exactly what you need. Especially if staying the way you are can somehow keep you alive. If you somehow want to change, and if you are reading a fitness blog or working out or dieting it or have hired someone to help you get well, you're probably looking to change. But just because you want to change doesn't mean you will change, or that you will even comply.
The mind will play tricks on you to keep you the way you are (and if that's what you want, then read no further). If change is your goal then you must override these tricks, the first step is to accept that these are things we all have (they are human traits built on evolution so as a human yes we aren't above these things), once you know you have them you can begin to master them.
Let's meet Todd. He wants to lose weight, get fit, and overall feel better. He has tried everything, hired trainers, bootcamps, read books, nutritionists, and all of them more than once. Results, either they never worked, worked temporarily, or he stopped doing it right away.
He asks his healthy friend Lisa for help. She agrees. They start by going over some of the things Todd is eating. But already, going over his eating habits makes Todd feel threatened and defensive. Lisa just wants to know what he's eating, just to fact find what she is dealing with and what Todd is like. To better understand, she asks him about his breakfast choices, and why he chooses to eat A over B.
Reactance - Todd feels Lisa is judging her and threatening to remove one of his freedoms, his right to choose breakfast. But she isn't trying to trick him, or use reverse psychology or ask him why, when she really means, stop doing that.
She just wanted to know what his motivations are, was it taste, convenience, flavor. In the end he could have just replied with, because "I want to," or "I like it." But Todd is defending.
Projection - Todd thinks if Lisa is questioning him, the fact it can be questioned means it's not good. If it's not good, he has to stop, and he doesn't want to stop. He projects this feeling onto Lisa. That she is trying to deprive him. That her methods are going to be based around deprivation. This isn't his first rodeo, he's had trainers, nutritionists, instructors before, and he projects all of this onto Lisa.
Lisa just wants to understand Todd to better help him.
Todd asks why Lisa is trying to make him change his breakfast, or why she wants this for him. Lisa lets him know that she isn't trying to do anything, that Todd can do or eat whatever he likes. He's the one who cares. But Todd projects his wants onto Lisa, he wants her to want it for him, to make him do it. To be his magic pill.
Rationalization - Todd begins to defend his breakfast choice even though Lisa wasn't attacking it. She just wanted to know why he chose that breakfast. But the train of thought has already begun. Todd begins to explain the health merits of his choice and is drawing Lisa into an argument when Lisa never had an opposing opinion. Todd states his case for why his choice of A is good, and her methods may be bad. Todd brings morality into the equation, good and bad. Lisa asserts she just wanted to understand Todd's relationship with food. She is not criticizing him or saying anything is bad.
Part of why Lisa is healthy is, she can eat or do things she considers "bad" and be okay with it. Whereas Todd rationalizes things as "good," because if it's "bad" he feels guilty, he won't forgive himself, which may lead to a self destructive binge.
A habit of healthy people is to allow for imperfection. Chase awesome not perfect.
Compartmentalization - In other areas of Todd's life, he is all about quality. Nice clothes, nice car, nice things, but with food he wants quantity. Politically, he hates people who are not open minded or unwilling to listen to reason or who can't see they are rationalizing. Who can't see that there is a possibility they might be wrong. But somehow he can't apply this to his problematic relationship with food. Food somehow gets the pass. And Lisa is wrong, not him. Though Lisa never accused him of being wrong. But she questioned his food choices, that's like questioning his political choices. And in the matter of food, he has become like the party members he hates most.
Bias - It makes sense Todd is defensive. It's not both of their eating habits out for inspection, or both of their habits being questioned, just Todd's. Lisa is healthy already, Todd is the one who feels he let health slip out of his hands. He in defense of his choices is really defending himself, that he's a good person, and he makes the best choices that he can.
He has skin in the game, himself. He cares about himself. It's why he is biased. Lisa has no skin in the game, she won't ever care about Todd's weight like Todd does.
Todd is not defending himself to Lisa, he's defending himself out loud, he's defending himself to himself.
Todd asks Lisa what she eats. He doesn't want to know to get an example of how he should eat. He was waiting for her to say she eats something, "really healthy" so he could tell her how crazy and impossible that is and accuse her of trying to make him become like her. And use her breakfast to say that her eating style is too strict for him. But Lisa doesn't want Todd to eat like her. He asked a question and she answered honestly. What she does and eats is completely independent of Todd, they are sentient beings, they are not co-dependent. Todd felt personally attacked by her question and is acting out.
Homeostasis: Change is stressful and Todd's brain is fighting with every fiber to stay the way it already is. He wants to change but he doesn't. Instead of trying to change himself, he is trying to change Lisa to accommodate him. But if he's the one asking for help, the best use of his time for Lisa to help and teach him, and not for Todd to teach Lisa.
If Lisa or the world accommodated Todd like he wished, why would he change? It means the world changed so Todd could remain the same. It reaches homeostasis. Adaptation is about changing to match environmental cues. Todd asking for Lisa to accommodate him or work around him or work around his current life or behavior is the same as saying I want to change but I'm unwilling to change. This happens in fitness all the time, people will take your money to accommodate you. People are willing to throw money at people or things, if they can promise them results without them having to change anything. It's irrational and illogical.
It similar to a salesman who's always below his quota. Instead of improving his sales skills, he just convinces his boss to lower his quota. You are more comfortable yes, did you improve or change? No. People do this as well knowingly using broken scales to weigh themselves.
Comfort is based around homeostasis, by definition a lack of change. Happiness is based on change.
"You have no drive? You are unmotivated and hate exercise? You won't make time for health? Let me train you at your home then, and I'll make the work out based on whatever you are comfortable doing and in whatever amount of time you give me so you can check your work email and texts while we work out."
Is that the recipe for sustainable permanent change for the client?
The picture above shows a boy and his teacher. That's the dynamic, the reaction, the resistance. Many feel in that dynamic with anyone they work with in fitness. It's why we become so resistant.
Age and weight and background
When someone is past a certain age, changing your body composition is not difficult because of your biological age. It's trying to overcome all those years of habits. After reaching a certain level of obesity, it's not the biology of your weight that makes it difficult (its actually easier to lose weight), it's the psychology, strength of habits, accumulations of habits, your surroundings and enablers, and your relationship with food. People from lower income tend to be more overweight and even when they do find financial success, it's hard to lose that weight. It's not the finances anymore, it's the psychology of connecting food with survival.
Age, weight, and background are all the same in that they are a sign of strength of habits, accumulation of habits, and your environment. The real issue is psychology and behavior.
If everyone who wanted to lose weight had a robot brain, they would lose weight. So what's the limiting factor? Your body? Your age? Your income? Or is it your mind?
So then shouldn't your attempt to change your composition focus more on your mind and changing behavior more than on diets and exercise? Or at least have that be first step before diet and exercise?
Gordon Ramsay goes to struggling restaurants and tries to turn them around. He makes them clean, changes the menu, step up their cooking game, he re-designs the place, re-trains staff, and advertises for them.
Even with all of that, he consistently says, no matter how much you change the restaurant, none of that will matter until the owner changes. And it's true, and really how much will an owner change in a week? The majority of the show is Ramsay yelling at the owner to wake up and change because the problem is them. Many of these restaurants who initially do well after being on the show, suffer from the same issues that bogged them down in the first place.
The problem isn't the restaurant, it's the behavior of the owner. If Gordon Ramsay kept running the place, I am sure it would be successful. Put one of these restaurateur and have them run one of his places, they would run it to the ground. The change needs to happen in the mind not in the body.
The owners in every episode go through stages of reactance, projection, rationalization, compartmentalization, bias, until finally after Ramsay leaves, they go back to homeostasis. And it's why the majority of the restaurants close.
The restaurant doesn't need change as much as the owner needs to change. If not, every re-design or method will fail.
Changing the car won't help if the driver can't drive.
Diet and exercise create a vicious cycle for some
A very dangerous psychological phenomena that I often see encouraged or rewarded is the idea of, eating poorly, then punishing yourself with really intense exercise. Exercise shouldn't be a form of punishment, or a way to compensate poor eating. They should enhance one another. They shouldn't even be on the same scale. I ate bad this week, I'll work out more and harder. No. Eat better the next week, keep exercise out of that vicious cycle. Respect exercise for what it is, don't use it as therapy, as a form of punishment, or most of all as a form of entertainment.
This example of Todd and Lisa is not absolute
This is just one example. This could have been drawn out over months, or a series of conversations, could have happened with a trainer or a nutritionist or a group class instructor, or just with themselves while reading a book or watching a DVD. Or any time someone who wants help, rejects help.
This is also not the reasons everyone fails.
There are a lot of obstacles. Don't be your own bottleneck for change. At the end of the day, the coach can control one variable, whatever happens during your time with them. You control an infinite amount of variables outside of that time.
Hack yourself out of failures
Once you have awareness, you can prepare yourself for all the tricks your mind will play. Awareness (mindfulness) is the key to controlling behavior. I mentioned previously how after vacations, illness, or any extended time away from training are the times you are most likely to lose motivation. Once you are armed with that knowledge, you can make preparations to counter your biggest obstacle, yourself. It's really you vs you. There is no bogeyman, there is no enemy, there is no one with a life's vendetta to try to get you unhealthy or unhappy. Forget the idea that if enough time passes, you will automatically change for the better. Nothing is automatic.
Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletter. You can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.