A few years ago I read about professional athletes in strength- and speed-based sports turning to Pilates to improve their game. It stuck with me. It seems it’s not uncommon to hit a roadblock in performance improvement that more of the same just doesn’t overcome. Lifting heavier weights, running faster sprints, and passing more balls—all these necessary and good training techniques—can take you only so far (well, not you and me per se, but those whose blood, sweat, and tears have brought them to or near their physical peak). At this juncture, expert trainers discovered that performance often improves with yoga, swimming, ballet, gymnastics… activity that is fresh and different; a new physical perspective. Fascinating.
Breaking the Status Quo
This makes sense. When we build a skill we strengthen specific muscles, reflexes and mental patterns, but we can never strengthen them all at once. There are always muscles, reflexes and neurons left behind-areas with room left for improvement. When focusing on primary contributing factors results in slowed or stalled gain, there may exist secondary factors that, once strengthened, would enhance performance.
One obvious stumbling block is knowing where to turn when the status quo, which has worked so well for so long, no longer results in adequate improvement. Here is where the expert trainer earns his keep. The good trainers, the best trainers, don’t simply tell athletes to squat lower, bench heavier, and run farther. They know their athletes and tailor complete training and nutrition regimens to each one, and they constantly adjust and improve these programs as their athletes grow and develop. Any dedicated athlete could train himself if it only required lifting and running. That is easy enough to do. But reaching the peak of physical ability and stamina is a goal that requires a seasoned, well-rounded and unbiased eye.
Therapy: Mastering the Art of Living
Mastering the art of living is no different than mastering the art of sport. In self-actualization, relationships, trauma recovery, you name it, there is always room for improvement in untapped, often surprising ways. You do not need to be in crisis to benefit from the expertise of trained professionals. In fact, my own experience has revealed that therapy has equal if not additional benefits when it is not, in point of fact, needed.
I initially met my therapist while struggling to function in light of postpartum panic disorder. A few months later, with mere functionality no longer the necessary and pressing agenda, I questioned every appointment as I entered and wondered what in the world we could possibly accomplish, yet I left every single appointment freer, happier, more hopeful and with actionable intentions to improve the quality of my life, work and marriage. It was truly astounding. I initially questioned what more could be done for me once my postpartum anxiety was under control; I was a relatively happy, healthy woman after all. Therapy was for the sick and struggling. I had nothing against it, I just didn’t consider it a worthwhile pursuit for myself. Yet when my insurance changed and the cost was no longer within budget, I felt the loss. Although for all practical purposes I no longer needed counseling, the insight my counselor helped me glean was changing things for the better. Of course my primary methods of prayer, sleep, communication, etc. could not be replaced, but the secondary method of professional guidance changed and developed patterns of thought, self-talk, reactions and even empathy for myself and others that were propelling me forward. I was coming closer to mastering the art of living through addressing my weaknesses and bolstering my strengths with help than I had been without it.
A Paradigm Shift
Therapy is traditionally and predominantly considered a recourse for those in clear need, but what if it wasn’t? What if, just as those who wish to become more physically fit look to personal trainers, those who wish to become more mentally and emotionally fit looked to counselors? I sense this paradigm shift already underway in the developed world, but there is room for improvement, and I for one am no longer shy about encouraging those I love to see a therapist to improve their lives, even lives that are going quite well.