I recently watched a video presentation by Andrew Price, on the seven habits of highly effective artists. I like learning about people’s creative processes and this video did not disappoint. The speaker set out to learn a new artistic style and made a bet with his cousin that he could get a 1000 people to like his drawings in the span of six months. During this process he learned several things about himself and the likely steps it takes to learn something new.
The therapy process is a lot like learning a new skill. In fact, in therapy we often ask clients to learn several new skills to cope with unpleasant emotions. As I watched the video, my brain couldn’t help but draw the parallels. So here is my adapted list of habits of highly effective therapy clients
1. DAILY WORK
As obvious as it may seem, daily work when applying new skills is very important. Many times clients are asked to keep a thought log or practice a specific skill, such as deep breathing. A client may wait until the night before to try to remember situations to add to their thought log or practice deep breathing once
to be able to say that they practiced the skill. But how much more effective would it be to daily practice breathing or record thoughts
in your thought log when they occur each day. Time spent practicing
a new skill is critical to transitioning from learning something to it becoming a part of who you are. Working everyday on changing behavior or acquiring new skills serves to bring us closer to a better version of ourselves.
2. VOLUME OVER PERFECTION
I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me that they attempted a coping skill once and because it did not go perfectly or like they expected they abandon any further attempts at using it. We are imperfect and rarely are we adept at new things the first time we try them. Therapy skills are no different. It takes repeated practice and failed attempts to be able to benefit from its usefulness. Usually, the more we practice therapy skills the better we get at using them and the more we benefit from them.
3. CONSCIOUS LEARNING (INTENTIONAL PRACTICE)
In the above mentioned video about the artist, he stated that he realized after looking back at his sketchbook that his drawings were not improving over several weeks of practice. He decided to take an online course on figure drawing. He acknowledged in his video that the course was dry and boring BUT exceptionally helpful. He realized that he had not been using crucial principals in figure drawing so no matter how much daily practice he had it was likely not going to improve his sketches. It wasn’t until he applied intentionally the concepts he learning in a very conscious way that his artwork improved. I believe this applies in therapeutic intervention as well. You may complete a therapy worksheet well enough, but are you thoughtfully applying the concepts to your own life?
Rest is such a forgotten skill. In our society today we go in 100 different directions at once. Go to work, pick up groceries, take the kids to sports practice, make dinner, return texts and phone calls, oh and practice the coping skill my therapist asked me to use. We all need rest. Especially when we are frustrated with trying to change. Rest allows for self-reflection and the possibility of increasing insight into what may work better for us. Rest gives us time to recharge our batteries and find the motivation to resume the difficult work of change.
5. GET FEEDBACK
Seeking out feedback when we are learning something is scary but invaluable. Someone who has mastered the skills likely has a unique perspective and will be able to discern the areas that may need alteration. Feedback from your therapist is a given, but feedback from significant others may also be valuable. We may not be aware of personality traits or behaviors that are problematic. And when people who know us well begin to notice the changes we are making, it is great validation for our own progress and efforts.
6. IF IT’S HARD, IT’S WORTH DOING
So many times clients comment on how hard changing is or how difficult applying a specific skill may be for them. Work is defined as an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. Change is hard work but when you reach a goal that increases our experience of pleasant emotions, it is a win-win situation. We feel better, have a sense of mastery and likely increased confidence in ourselves. Our efforts to feel better and relate more effectively with others is well worth the hard work that it takes to get there.
Written by Jennie Fincher, Ph.D, LPC-S.
Link to video that inspired this blog: