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Systems Thinking…It’s All Connected

Many of my clients come into my office and begin their session by tell me that they are interested in changing just “one small thing“. During my training as a therapist, we spoke a great deal about “systems“. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing “problems” as parts of an overall system. My work with clients is informed by the idea that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.

I often remind them that the various part of our lives are intricately interconnected and part of a larger whole…bringing things into an entirely new light. Everything is connected, and if we simply try to “silo” one area and single it out for change, chances are that you will end up feeling a bit stuck.

This can also be a bit overwhelming! If everything is indeed connected, then that opens up a lot of other options. Think of a house with many front doors. If the front door is locked, there are many other options for entering the house. The more you embrace just how much everything in your life is related to everything else in your life, the more ways there are of getting in.

Here is an example:

A woman is trying to lose weight. Try as she might, she can’t seem to stick to a diet. My advice? Take a look at what’s going on around the issue of diet. What emotional issues related to food (or not related to food) are going on her life (mood, frustration)? How’s her social life? What’s she doing for fun? How does she feel about her job?

You see how not all of the questions relate directly to food? What’s prioritized here is helping this client make lots of changes in her life, not just with eating. If we’re stuck in trying to make changes with food, we have to look for other things to work on, and that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the issue of food. What we’re doing is saying, “Hey, everything’s related to food (and everything else).” We’re finding another way in.

I work with many clients who are looking to examine their relationship with food. Many are hoping to lose weight permanently and improve their overall health and well being.

Cognitive therapy techniques are simple to understand and help many of my client develop a powerful “resistance muscle” that can be flexed whenever they want to stand strong and stick to their program.

As an example, every single time you decide against eating something unhealthy, your resistance muscle gets stronger, making it a bit easier to resist the next time around. Here are some examples:

1. You are offered a big slice of birthday cake at the office. You spontaneously say “No thank you” because you are thinking “I would rather continue to be as healthy as I can today.”

2. You are tempted to take a second large slice of bread from the restaurant bread basket. You automatically reject the idea, because you are thinking “No, I didn’t plan to have this.”

Many clients believe that they simply can’t develop a strong resistance muscle because they think of eating as an “automatic” process. Although eating may indeed seem automatic, it’s really not! A client recently told me that he was not sure how how finished an entire extra-large bag of trail mix. He felt it was automatic. I reminded him that digestion is automatic, as is the beating of his heart…but eating is not!

I work with client to teach them that recognizing thoughts is an important part of evaluating one’s relationship with food. Before you eat, you always have some sort of thought, even if you are not fully aware of it. I help clients to recognize these thoughts, especially those which can be sabotaging and encourage you to eat food which may not be good for you. These thoughts often begin along these lines:

1. It’s okay to eat this (cupcake) because…

2. It won’t matter if I eat this (cupcake) because…

It’s important to “answer back” to these thoughts, so they don’t lead you away from your path.

Change your thinking, and you can change your behavior. Change your behavior, and a healthier relationship with food will follow!

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