Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back?

I’m a serious personal growth & human development nerd, so I’m constantly looking for ways to lean into my own developmental edge.

And, like you, I hate it when I feel like I’m making solid progress toward a goal when suddenly the bottom seems to drop out and I feel like I’ve stumbled all the way back to square one.

In these moments I have to remind myself of the same thing I remind my clients:  your system does not forget your progress. It’s all still in there.


When I’m sharing this with clients, I usually accompany it with my “Thanksgiving story.” So here it is for you (and if you’d like a video version of me talking about it, follow this link.)

Several years ago I had a Rolfing client, we’ll call her “Vicki”, that had come in to address a combination of back pain, hip pain, neck & shoulder pain that she’d been unable to unlock prior to seeing me. As part of our assessments in her first session, I could see that her physical structure had made some adaptations to her life – her shoulders were hunched upward and forward; her hips were twisted forward; her head was thrust forward of her body a bit. I see these types of patterns in my Rolfing practice often, and they create structural strain and discomfort.

Over the course of that autumn, we worked together for a few months and had 8 or 9 sessions together. Toward the end, Vicki was doing great and reporting that her symptoms had pretty much resolved. As her structure balanced out and her posture came back to a more-neutral position, the strain in her system was reduced and her symptoms abated with that change. Things were going great!

Then, Thanksgiving came along.

Vicki and her partner were planning a big Thanksgiving dinner, hosting the kids and their families, along with a group of friends and neighbors. She was excited, of course, but as hostess she was also under quite a bit of stress leading up to it with all the things to do. I could see that her mindset was definitely taking a hit and she was already drained a week before the event. The holidays have a way of doing that, right?

We had about a 2-week break between sessions with the holiday, and when Vicki returned the Monday after Thanksgiving, she was beat. Not only was she tired, but the bulk of her symptoms had returned, leaving her in significant pain once again.

What was a bit mind-blowing for me was how she looked. Taking a look at her posture I saw something amazing – she looked exactly like she did months before at her first session; her shoulders were hunched, hips twisted, and her head was forward again. It looked like we hadn’t done a single bit of work. No wonder she felt awful!

My first response was an “Oh s___!” (Just on the inside though, I promise.) But then we both learned something incredible.

One session was all it took to get her back in balance, feeling great again, and on the right track forward. We’d previously built enough balance and resiliency in her System that one simple intervention was all she needed to recover her balance and ease.

This experience held two great lessons for me.

Lesson #1Stress, both good and bad, have the same impact on our systems. Whether you’re excited for something challenging or dreading it, your physiology will respond the same. Pushing into an edge asks more of you than what happens in your “normal” life, and your body, your mind, and your emotions will seek their set points, the default settings they “know” they can rely on to make it through the challenge, to survive, and find their way to the other side.

For some people it’s a habitual way of working, for others an emotional pattern. In Vicki’s case it was a set of chronically uncomfortable physical patterns.

These often feel like “taking a step backward” because they can create old, familiar, and not-so-welcome symptoms. The good news is that foundationally all of these patterns are good, even if they have negative symptoms that go with them. Why? Because they’re patterns that at some point in your life your system created for you, to help you get through stress to what’s next.

More than anything keep this fact in mind!

All the habits you’ve created, good and bad, were designed to help you succeed somehow. The ones that are creating pain or limitation now have simply lost their utility and need to be replaced.

Lesson #2If you’ve done the work to move yourself forward, you can easily bounce back from a perceived setback like this with a few solid bits of attention, awareness, and good reset work. Your system does not forget the progress you’ve made; it’s still in there. You simply have to tap back into it.

Once you’ve built a new skill-set, greater adaptability, or resilience, it forever becomes easier to tap into, even during times where it feels like you’ve lost ground.

If you feel you’re stuck in some sort of physical, mental, or emotional set point, and not moving forward the way you’d like to be, schedule a free Exploratory Call with me at to find out how you can get back into your flow!