Sometimes I have thoughts that I have been processing and I just want to explore out loud with others. In this case, the others is you. So in this episode I explore what it looks like to wrestle with taking the next step in your life, and how you discern what the next step is. Though this could be the case for many things, I mainly look at the next step in terms of work, vocation, hobby, etc, rather than relationships for example.
In my counseling practice in Plano, TX I work with a lot of individuals and couples and families who are trying to do this very thing...explore their next steps. So in this episode I lay out a tentative, in the process...working framework of:
Check out this episode and let me know what you think.
A couple of weeks ago, my colleagues and I at Thriiive Practices did a lecture for the Meadow's lecture series on emotional regulation.
What is emotional regulation? It's essentially one's ability to control or manage their automatic, reactive responses to an emotional trigger, and instead, respond accordingly (and in a healthy manner). That is my definition of sorts, though I say it a lot of different ways. My mentor Terry Hargrave in my training for Restoration Therapy said at one point to our training group, "emotional regulation is the name of the game." And it is. As you look at the mounting research on the brain, especially through fMRI scans and other data, we find that one's ability to emotionally regulate themselves is the key to healthy relationships. If you want a more thorough definition, read this.
In this episode I talk about what emotional regulation is and why it's so important.
Resources Mentioned in Episode
I read a lot of books, but I don't consider myself the best book reviewer. Even though I read with pen in hand and underline and take notes throughout my books, I'm not great at writing about the details. But what sticks out to me are those big ideas in a book...the ones that you can't stop thinking about. The ones that cause paradigm shifts within. Those I obsessively think about, and figure out ways to practice them in my own personal life, and in the work of my clients in my therapy practice.
Over the last two years, four books have stood out in my mind like no other because of some lasting ideas that have created big change for me. Some of these books are fairly new (like this year) and others are a few years old. But their thoughts are ones that I have been writing and speaking about a lot the last 18 months. And I have found ways to implement the ideas into multiple areas of my life (parenting, marriage, running, therapy practice, etc.).
So I want to mention these 4 books to you and the big ideas that are sticking in my brain and impacting my life. And then I will also mention two other books that have stuck with me, but if you have to read only 4...then I'm sticking with the original four I'm discussing.
Book 1: Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth --This book was absolutely amazing. But there is one thing I keep coming back to time and time again. In the book Duckworth talks about the importance of deliberate practice and flow. The takeaway for me is that we can never reach a flow state, or become great at what we do unless we deliberately practice over and over and over again. This has absolutely changed how I work with clients. Even though I always gave them things to practice, I'm now convinced more than ever that change doesn't occur without this practice. Michael Jordan doesn't reach that flow state in a playoff game unless he deliberately practied 10,000's of hours. Michael Phelps never reaches that flow state unless he swam lap after lap after lap, and visualized himself swimming every stroke of a race before racing. Couples don't change negative patterns of behavior (pain cycle) and create new ones (peace cycle) without deliberate practice. But when they do, the flow is beautiful to watch in a relationship. She writes, "First, deliberate practice is a behavior, and flow is an experience."
Book 2: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown --This book was also amazing. I had already been listening to The Minimalists podcast and been exploring this idea. I have always been attracted to minimalism and it's aesthetic, but he takes the understanding of essentialism and brings it into real practical, real world examples that I could employ. A lot of things stood out to me, but I loved this quote, "Remember that if you don't prioritize your life someone else will.” I started realizing that if I didn't take control of my life and prioritize what was important, I would never accomplish the big goals in my life. And prioritizing helped me really come back to the essentials and what I wanted to do in my marriage, parenting and work.
Book 3: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport --I only read this book back in March or so, but it has already changed a lot of how I work and how I think about work. His recommended experiments with social media abstinence already produced higher levels of focus and output in my life, and it has helped increase my enjoyment in life and my connection with other people. Newport makes a compelling case for the future of work will be dependent on those who are able to stay focused, cut out distractions and work at a very deep level. Those who can't do this will find it ever increasingly hard to find work. He writes, “If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.” Newport also gets a lot into the brain science behind distraction and deep work, and it resonates deeply with the work I do with Restoration Therapy. This is just one of those books you read and you keep saying "wow....wow", and it lead to a a lot of conviction that created healthy change.
Book 4: Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness --I just finished this book in June while on vacation. What I loved about this book the most is that I felt it was a culmination of the three books above, but they take it a step further. They get into the importance of deliberate practice and flow, and they talk about why it's important to become an essentialist, and they talk about the brain science...but then they put it all into a real practical framework that you can start practicing yourself. Their chapter and tool to help you develop a personal purpose statement is worth the book alone. This book just brought everything home to me in a very powerful way. I highly recommend this book.
The corresponding themes that these books contain, and what resonates so powerfully for me in my own life and my therapeutic work is this:
And all these things are crucial in counseling and therapy, and in creating change and getting to transformation.
I talk about two other books in this podcast episode as well, but I don't write about above are:
The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable? About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life by Patrick Lencioni. I read this book back in 2010 and have written and talked about it extensively, and even recorded a podcast episode on it last year. I love the book, but I feel that the purpose stuff in Peak Performance is easier for people to complete than in this book. But I love this book and highly recommend.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why? by Laurence Gonzalez. This is a great book filled with stories of survival and tragedy. Gonzalez dives in real deep to how our brain works in survival/panic/conflict situations, and why the ability to remain calm (emotionally regulate) means everything often to who survives. This book just reiterated even more the work of emotional self-regulation in therapy work, but is attached in the context of wilderness stories. It's a great read.
One of the things that I hear as a counselor a lot, typically near the end of an intake session with a client, is the question, "How is this going to look?" The question can be asked in a variety of ways, but what is implicit is usually either some form of anxiety over the next steps, or just a general curiosity about what people are signing up for when they enter into counseling.
Counseling can vary greatly from counselor to counselor, and with that, there can be a variety of varied expectations then that people going through counseling have. Some people have been to a lot of counseling and all their experiences are different, while some people have still not been to counseling, and wonder what that experience will look like.
Something I have tried to do a lot more in the last 4-5 years of my private practice is properly set expectations with clients when they come into see me for the first time. Whether they ask the question first, or I initiate the conversation, I usually try to walk clients through a general "roadmap" or "pathway" of what counseling might look like. I let them know that things can always change, and this is only a first session, but here is what I think will work best based on what you are telling me, the goals you have, and the experience that I bring to our sessions. I also always follow up with every client via email after the first session (usually within a few hours, but rarely longer than 24 hours later). In that email I talk about our first session, what I heard, the goals that I think they have, the issues we could explore together. And in that email I lay out a big overview of the counseling process, listing the significant pieces, as well as narrowing down on the next steps. And I usually always attach some type of "hoomework" in that initial email so that client's can begin engaging in the process.
Based on all my experience as a therapist both pastorally and clinically, as well as my experience in training and sitting across from a therapist in my own counseling, here is what I find to be most helpful in terms of a "roadmap" for counseling. Now of course, I hope to continue to grow and learn as a therapist, so these thoughts are only a point in time, but I think most of the framework will always exist for me, with tweaks along the way.
First, I think it's important that the therapist helps the client engage in some type of work in and out of session that involves the work of insight, which is simply, the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. This type of work can be done in a lot of ways, but for me it usually involves work around one's family of origin issues (i.e. family genogram, etc.), as well as walking through someone's personal stories and experience.
Second, I do the work of helping a person take that insight, and I help them identify and create their Pain Cycle. This Pain Cycle is often referred to by other names, but in the work I do with Restoration Therapy, that is what it is called. It's essentially the process of helping one identify their negative pattern of behavior by helping them locate their core feelings and the coping behaviors that flow from them. This is often us in our most primal, reactive state. When you think of fight or flight, and the amygdala getting triggered, this is the pattern that comes up. Though not all of our reactive states are negative, a lot of them are in relational conflict, which is what I work a lot with both in my work with individuals and couples. If I frame it from a faith perspective, this is the old self at work that Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:22.
Third, I do the work of helping a person take their insight, and I help them identify and create their Peace Cycle. The Peace Cycle is also referred to by other names in other theories, but in Restoration Therapy this is what we refer to it as. The Peace Cycle is ourselves when we are emotionally regulated. Think about what you are like when you are living in your truth, or think of yourself in a centered and grounded state. When you are in this place, what actions flow from that. This is you in your Peace Cycle. Again, if I frame this in a faith perspective, this is the new self at work that Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:23. The Pain and Peace Cycle is part of the work of insight, and the Peace Cycle is the step that helps up a person move from emotional dysregulation to emotional regulation.
Fourth, as we are doing the work of insight and the Pain and Peace Cycle (because though I'm laying things out in a linear fashion...therapy, or growth itself is not always linear. I find that all these steps are engaged consecutively in the therapeutic process), I help clients find ways to practice the insight that they have. What I believe is that you can have all the insight in the world, but if you don't practice it in some way, you don't change. You don't get transformation. In the Restoration Therapy model I use the 4 steps to help clients practice: 1) Say what you feel; 2) Say what you normally do; 3) Say your truth; 4) Say what you will do differently (your action) and do it. This is one way that I help clients practice. I literally map out their Pain and Peace Cycle on my whiteboard in almost every session to some degree. I also draw up their cycles and steps on a large poster sheet that I ask them to take home and hang up in their closet so that they see it everyday and start to not only become more aware of it, but practice it. There are lots of other ways to have people practice insight from a variety of tools to experimental exercises. Regardless of what tools I give them to practice, I believe practice is essential.
Fifth, we come to transformation. I believe transformation is the culmination of taking one's insight and putting it into practice. And though we could think of transformation as the ultimate goal, it's really just the beginning. Once someone experiences transformation in one area of their life, then they often become excited to seek transformation in other areas of their life as well. So if there is a visual roadmap I give to clients and that I work from...in short it is something like this.
Insight + Pain Cycle + Peace Cycle + Practice = Transformation.
There are lot of details and nuances in these steps, but this is what I have found to be most helpful. So if you come work with me in my private practice in Plano, Texas, you will most likely hear me talk about something like this.
Whether you come in for marriage counseling or individual counseling around anxiety and depression, I will probably lay out some roadmap for you that looks like this.
Check out this podcast to find out more about this process. In this episode I discuss:
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
This past May I had the opportunity to speak at Pepperdine University for the annual Bible Lecture's series. It's primarily a gathering of a combo of lay and professional ministry leaders, and as this event I was able to talk to them about one of my favorite topics...anxiety.
Anxiety is a huge issue both in and out of the church, and in fact, Walter Brueggemann has stated that it's the primary pathology in our culture that church leaders must deal with (see the excerpt starting at the 41:50 minute mark); I also believe anxiety to be one of the primary issues that our culture struggles with, and it can especially become toxic in a church culture where an extra stigma is attached to it.
In this lecture I walked the audience through several main points to better help them not only understand anxiety, but how to help them reframe it in a positive light, and what tools they can use, and steps they can take, to work with people who have anxiety. In this lecture I:
If you are someone who has struggled with anxiety yourself, or know someone who does, and you want to be of help...then check out this episode.
Resources and Tools Mentioned in this Episode