When we think about gains, it’s easy for our minds to default to the weight room: 1RMs, WOD times or various other metrics that capture our physical progress from before to now.
With the rise of social media, advances in science and a better understanding of human physiology, looking great and discovering peak performance is a near-constant drumbeat in the background of many Americans.
From magazines in the checkout line, featuring greased-up professionals whose job it is to be fit to your muscle-filled Instagram feed, where everyone seems to be outgaining you every single day, there is a hyper-focus on all things physical. There appears to be a modern-day human propensity to see what our bodies can do, to strive to do those things well and to do them at least better than the person next to us.
As a result, pushing our bodies to the limit has become an endeavor that is both revered and idolized by many Americans.
Yet, for a swath of the population that whole-heartedly embraces the Die Living mindset -- those who push, who strive and who torture their bodies for physical gains -- many still timidly approach the notion of pushing the limits of their minds.
But investing in physical fitness without giving equal consideration to mental well-being is akin to skipping leg day. You grow unbalanced and less functional, thereby placing all improvements at risk.
I wonder then, what’s behind our reluctance to embrace what’s happening in our minds and spirits as we so eagerly improve our bodies. Are we afraid of self-awareness and insight or are such endeavors simply being poorly marketed to us?
The ability to control the mind is the crown jewel of discipline and the ultimate arbiter of human achievement—it’s what sets us apart from every other species on our planet.
You can travel the world and intimately know your body’s capacity but if you are a stranger to yourself, you’ll only ever live in half-measures. There’s the saying that everyone dies but not everyone lives. In much the same light, we must consider the fact that everyone thinks but not everyone knows.
So how do we get there?
In many cases, starting and maintaining a regular routine of therapy is the best way to go.
But maybe you’re feeling good emotionally. Maybe you smirk at the thought of therapy sessions. Maybe you think you’re perfectly in tune with your mind, your emotions and your spirit.
To that, I have to tell you what a mistake it is to assume that the best time to go to therapy is when something is broken.
What if I told you the best time to go to therapy is when everything is going great? What if I told you that therapy is not just for healing, it’s for discovering? When it comes to the mind and the spirit, you don’t strike when the iron is hot. You strike when it’s ice cold.
Many of us have never undertaken therapy before, which can be daunting, especially when it comes to where and how to find a provider. Much in the same way that it’s intimidating for someone who doesn’t exercise to lift their first weight or run their first mile, the beginning is often the hardest part.
There are loads of resources out there and wading through them is no easy process. For starters, here are a few excellent organizations and places to begin that are outside of the VA that are cost-free:
For more intensive options that focus heavily on addiction, PTSD, and depression, check out:
If you want to find a private, local therapist and are willing to pay out of pocket, you can begin your search here:
*some offer free phone or in-person consultations, take advantage of this!
An important caveat: the therapeutic alliance (i.e. the relationship or bond between you and your therapist) is highly predictive of positive outcome and improvement. You can and should shop around for a therapist. It is your right to have a good fit. If someone isn’t working for you, find someone else. Don’t assume that “therapy isn’t for me.” Don’t give up. Keep looking. Keep trying different fits. Do you stop wearing deodorant if a formula isn’t working for you? No. You go back to the store and choose a new one. This isn’t like doing curls in the squat rack. It’s okay to be selfish.
Just as important as finding a good therapist that works for you is understanding the process of therapy and just how glacially slow it can be. Now some of that will depend on the type of therapy received (i.e. CBT versus psychodynamic) and if it’s for something specific (i.e. PTSD versus self-exploration), but by and large, expect progress to be incremental.
There is no magic bullet, no cure-all, no panacea. Some things do work better than others but the expectation that you will feel good immediately is setting you and your therapist up for failure. Give it time. Take your time. Realize that it took a lifetime to get to where you are emotionally and that you won’t be able to untangle everything overnight.
Realize that, in the same way it takes time and effort to build muscle mass and strength, therapeutic gains are challenging to achieve and slowly won. Yet, even when the results aren’t readily noticeable, progress is happening.
We are willing to carve out time every day for our bodies, why not an hour a week for our minds, our spirits and our emotions? In the service of living your best life, what are you willing to give to get?