Paolo Assandri
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  • Exercise

The exception to the rule

The aim of this Positive Psychology exercise is to let you understand how exceptions can help you change a particular behaviour.

In order to do so, I invite you to reflect about something we all do: whenever we describe our behaviours we tend to do it in a similar way. We use the same words, the same expressions, the same metaphors. In this way, we tend to create a version of our story that is so structured and rigid that makes it impossible to change our point of view. This makes us believe that our behaviours are unchangeable.

And if things are unchangeable, why should we even try?

For this reason, I invite you to try changing your behaviour by using what is before your eyes and that you cannot usually see: EXCEPTIONS. For exceptions I mean all the times you behave in a different way from how you usually do.

For example, if you have a sweet tooth and you want to cut sugar out of your diet, have you ever thought about all the times you haven’t eaten sweets? Or do you still keep thinking about all the times you couldn’t help yourself but eat some chocolate?

Let’s see together how the exceptions can help us change the rule: for this exercise you will need pen and paper. Please follow the following instructions:

  • Identify the behaviour you want to change. For example: quitting smoking, eating healthier, being more active, having more satisfying relationships, etc. Choose something that is important to you.
  • Think about an exception (even a small one) to the behaviour you want to change. For example, if you wanted to quit smoking, think about that time you managed to stay cigarette free for some time. If you are a heavy smoker, it could be the time you didn’t smoke for half an hour…the exception can be also something you regard as being small.
  • Think about that EXCEPTION and describe the episode as if you could go back in time and live it again: “Why was that time different? – What was different from the other times? – How was I feeling? – Who was with me? – What was happening around me? “
  • Now read again what you wrote and underline with your pen, what makes you curious or catches your attention. What jumps out at your eyes?
  • Think again about the behaviour you want to chang. On the basis of what you have just found out about your EXCEPTION, ask yourself “Was there something in that exception that I can use again to change my behaviour?”. Write as many things as possible.

With this new awareness, define a plan of action that is most realistic and reachable. Through practice, it will become your new rule. Enjoy it!

Author: Paolo Assandri is a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and a UKCP Registered Full Clinical Psychotherapist. He is also a fully qualified Italian psychologist (Ordine degli Psicologi del Piemonte). He lives and works in London offering counselling and psychotherapy.

This exercise is not intended to replace any kind of medical/psychological therapy. Its only purpose is to increase individual perception of well-being. If you need medical or psychological support, please contact a qualified health practitioner. Authors, producers, consultants involved in the production of this exercise are not responsible for any psychological or physical injury which could happen during or after completing the activity explained in this article.

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