How to Escape from the Behavioral Roach Motel

In John Gottman's book The Science of Trust, he talks about “absorbing states” that are hard to extricate oneself from.

He's referring specifically to “nasty/nasty” couples' interactions – that is, when both partners are being nasty to each other. His research shows that logic isn't at play – no one likes being in this state.

Happy couples spend relatively little time in “nasty/nasty” and get out quickly once they find themselves there.

In contrast, unhappy couples get into the “nasty/nasty” state more frequently, and stay there longer. For them, the “nasty/nasty” interactions are like a “roach motel: they check in, but can't check out.”

In other words, the “nasty/nasty” state has become, for some couples, an absorbing state.

That reminds me a lot of my own relationship with healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

Sometimes I get into a healthy groove – exercising, eating lots of veggies and avoiding junk. And sometimes that healthy groove reinforces itself, so that temptation to be lazy or cheat doesn't pull me off course.

And sometimes I take a wrong turn in my health habits but bounce right back up again.

Other times, however, that first cheat or missed workout draws me into my own version of the “nasty/nasty” state. A place that feels terrible, but doesn't motivate me to leave.

So here's my question: what factors in my control determine whether my absorbing state (my default, if you like) is nice or nasty? How can I make it more likely to “get stuck” in heaven than in hell?

That's my personal research project for the next few weeks. If you have your own experiences to share, I'd love to hear them.

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