I just broke up with my therapist.
This was a first for me. I don’t have a lot of experience with therapy, honestly. But the few times those relationships ended it has always been because they came to a mutual or at least amicable stopping point.
Schedules didn’t align. Insurance allotments ran out. I got out of it what I was seeking in the first place.
That last statement may seem peculiar to those of you who have never really gone through therapy or to those of you who have had a standing weekly appointment with your shrink for years, but you can actually set out a goal for therapy, accomplish that goal and move on.
But back to my most current therapist, Elise, who might be proud of me for expressing these feelings even at her expense had she actually taken the time to listen to what I’d had to say.
See, I ended my relationship with Elise because not only did I get the impression that she didn’t really care what I had to say, I don’t think she was listening in the first place.
In this brave new frontier of “telehealth”, I actually found attending therapy again to be wonderfully convenient. No need to carve a 2+ hour chunk out of your day to commute to your therapist’s office, awkwardly wait in a depressing antechamber filled with landscape paintings and endless boxes of tissues, pour your heart out in the session and hope you can get your shit together in time to make it back to work or whatever was awaiting you.
Nope. Log in to a Zoom link, spill the beans for 45 minutes, take a minute to compose yourself if needed, get back on with life. Beautiful.
The downside of this virtual therapy is the same as with all virtual interactions. It is very easy to find distractions. But given that my sessions all included video I found it somewhat flabbergasting if not slightly demeaning that my therapist couldn’t tell that I could tell that she was spending half of the session “uh-hum”-ing me while she eyeballed her phone that was just out of camera view. The fact that she would put on and take off her reading glasses made it even more abundantly clear.
My wife, a big fan of therapy, said it best.
“At the very least, you should feel listened to.”
So, with that, I ended my relationship with Elise.
But, I’ll be damned if I don’t try to learn something from my brief time in therapy this time around and I think it’s this – you can not over appreciate the value, impact and power of complete and full engagement.
Had Elise just at least faked that she was listening to every word I was saying she would probably still have another client on her roster right now.
OK, so how am I (and hopefully you!) going to apply this lesson. I think there are two ways.
First, every conversation I have with someone, I’m going to attempt to give them my complete and undivided attention. This seems so remarkably intuitive and simple that it isn’t worth mentioning but it’s actually much harder to execute than it is to talk about.
I recently came across an old grammar school progress report of mine. I was in the second grade and my lovely teacher, Mrs. Russian, who mailed me an actual can of “Florida Sunshine” over Christmas break, wrote:
“Danny is a wonderful kid. He’s doing really well. But he’s a daydreamer. Paying attention is not his strong suit.”
And this has plagued me my entire life. I have a hard time staying engaged, particularly with small talk. But I’m committing to work on this. To stay entirely “in it” when I’m talking to someone. And so far it’s made a huge difference. I really encourage you to make a conscious decision to implement this. I can almost guarantee that everyone you deal with will see you in a more positive light.
To paraphrase my wife, again, everyone wants to at least feel heard.
The second, which is actually way easier for me, is to stay focused when trying to accomplish tasks. And a great example of this is to see if you can up your level of engagement and focus during training.
No doubt that it is very easy to get distracted during your hour long workouts. There’s the sensory overload of the music and the clanging weights and the coaches giving you cues. There’s the desire to be social and catch up with some training partners you haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, there are the strong internal feelings that accompany being out of breath or having a heavy weight on your back.
All of those things are essential to the training process. But, just as important, is the need to stay engaged. To stay focused. To not let the external overwhelm the internal.
So this is my challenge to you. Next training session, whether you train with us or on your own, see how much of the hour you can spend being fully engaged in what it is you are doing. I bet it’s harder than you think it’s going to be.
I once watched World silver medalist in Weightlifting Dmitry Klokov train at a local gym. Klokov is remarkably charismatic, is an unbelievable athlete and has a huge following of fans in the strength world.
Watching him train was a master class in engagement. He would be very focused whenever he set up to do any type of movement. As if he was going over an internal checklist in his mind for a movement he has certainly practiced hundreds of thousands of times before. Between sets he would sit on his bench with a very calm gaze on his face. No talking. No looking at his phone. Nothing other than waiting and contemplating what he could do better on the next set.
Klokov is a world class athlete and to expect that level of focus and engagement is maybe unrealistic. But I do think we can take a page out of Dmitry’s book and really consider how locked in we can be during our training sessions. Because I can guarantee that, if any of us were pressed for an answer, we would claim that we want to get the most out of each training session every time we walk into the gym.
And that certainly won’t happen with some half-assed level of focus.
While I broke up with Elise, I never really gave her the full reason why. Part of me doesn’t feel I owe her the explanation. She’s the therapist after all. Why do I need to be the one to teach the lesson?
But, if I’m being true to my turning over this new leaf, I should make the effort to be fully engaged and tell her my experience and exactly how I feel.
It may be, through no effort of her own, the best lesson she’s taught me.