“Wait… is that an actual suggestion, or is this some sort of metaphor?”
My brain wasn’t comprehending what my therapist, Nick, was telling me.
“Just for three months to see what happens,” Nick replied.
“Absolutely not,” I said tersely. “I am not up for that.”
Up until this point, in nearly six months of sessions with Nick, he’d never given me specific instructions for a way to behave, a new habit to start, or one to work towards eliminating.
It was always a “what if” sort of suggestion.
Framed like, “What would happen if you stopped doing things with the goal of receiving recognition?”
This time, however, he had a very direct recommendation.
He was challenging me to…
“Stop going to the gym.”
The part I could not then, and still cannot, three days later, wrap my head around is, why that?
Of all the regular habits that could do me harm… the nightly wine consumption, the sporadic nicotine use, sitting far too long at the computer, a diet that consists primarily of red meat, shoddy sleep hygiene…
EXERCISING is the bad guy?
“I just don’t agree, and I’m not willing to entertain the idea,” I said, looking him in the eye for emphasis. “Not gonna happen.”
My indignation was proving his point.
I knew this, but did not care.
In his assessment, my year-long commitment to personal fitness was being driven by a sense of lack.
So, he proffered, ending my regular trips to the gym would allow me, through our work, to learn to be content with my physical appearance in any state.
And then, the theory goes, I could return to gym, if I chose, with a healthier purpose for the outcome.
“That’s just fucking stupid, man. I’m sorry,” I snapped back, then leaned in…
“How about you,” I motioned toward his stylish suit, “wear a tank top and gym shorts to work for the next three months?”
His brow stiffened, “This is a professional environment. My clients would not accept that.”
“Well, then you’d find clients who did,” I replied. “If the work is good enough, they wouldn’t care what you wore. In fact, it might even add to the experience.”
“Why is this idea of not going to the gym so challenging for you?” He asked, taking back control.
“Because I don’t have an unhealthy relationship with the gym,” I said. “Nothing about it is negatively affecting other parts of my life.”
Nick has a habit of pointing out patterns he sees with his clients.
Earlier in the session he’d revealed that this “obsession with fitness” was a current pattern with some of them, and that each of them have responded to the idea of foregoing workouts with the same “Fuck that!” as I did.
“I’ve got one guy who looks like The Hulk,” he told me. “His entire life is planned around his trips to the gym. If he’s going out that night, he has to go to the gym beforehand to ‘get a good pump’.”
In revealing The Hulk’s story to me, Nick showed a “tell” that severely weakened his position.
Suddenly, all I could see was a pattern with Nick.
Something about people emphasizing, and achieving, their fitness goals bothers him. Who knows what it is? It doesn’t really matter because these sessions are supposed to be about me.
By lumping me, a married father of two who visits the gym three times a week and would never be described as “muscular”…
… in with a group of his other clients who apparently measure their entire self-worth by the size of their biceps…
Nick, it appeared, was applying his own cognitive bias to my situation.
And lazy coaching.
I have a sizable list of deficits I’m working to improve about myself… Self-loathing is not one of them.
I’m grateful for that.
See, the rub about coaching or therapy dynamics is that you have to trust your leader, and the longer you spend with them, the more they will reveal about themselves.
You cannot unsee the things you shouldn’t have seen about your therapist.
And more than any person, or program, or protocol – you have to trust yourself.
This was Nick’s “jump the shark” moment.
I won’t allow it to diminish the positives that came from my work with him, but there’s no going forward.
If I want to play poker I’ll buy a deck of cards and call some buddies.
When it comes to doing the deep work, only a pro will do.