I climbed a mountain for the first time the other day. It has been one of my goals since I moved to the Crowsnest Pass. I went with my daughter, the exchange student that lives with us and a 11 year old child. It was really an amazing experience. But what has this got to do with counseling, one might ask? One of the tasks in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to help the client to become aware of their self-talk and to counteract the negative self-talk with more positive statements/affirmations. I’ve gotten so used to challenging the un-resourceful self-talk that clients practice, but really don’t pay that much attention to mine. I guess you can say that I need to practice what I preach.
As I started the climb, I was excited at getting started. I was prepared. I had my camel pack, my hiking runners, some healthy snacks. I made sure that everyone climbing had a good breakfast and loads of water themselves. I noticed early on that my heart rate and breathing quickened sooner than I had hoped. I wasn’t overly surprised as I am 43 and out of shape and just started, but that is where the self talk started. “What were you thinking?” “too old to start” “those guys are already ahead of me.” As we climbed, I started questioning if I was actually going to be able to go all the way. I had to take frequent breaks in order to lower my heart rate and breathing. I also noticed that those with me enjoyed the breaks too and were helpful by providing me encouragement. I, at first, would be “down on myself” for needing those frequent breaks, but then started to take the opportunity during those breaks to notice the view, the surroundings and to share my amazement with my fellow hikers or to say hi to other hikers on their journey. I didn’t challenge the self talk right away, instead I took a more mindful approach and just noticed it for what it was: old scripts, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment and perhaps a rehearsal of the excuses that I was going to give when I eventually failed.
I didn’t have to challenge the thoughts. I didn’t have to fight with them. I didn’t have to ignore them. I didn’t have to do anything, except climb. By not doing anything and allowing the thoughts to come and go, those negative thoughts played themselves out and became replaced with other, more resourceful thoughts and found the climb to be easier and more enjoyable. Go figure: The more positive the thoughts, the more positive the experience. Even when I was experiencing pain in my knees on the way down, I was able to be mindful of the pain and realize it for what it was. I didn’t try to force the pain away, but to accept that it was there. I had my doubts that I was going to make it down with the pain. It seems that my awareness of the thoughts and sensations, helped me through what felt like the most difficult thing that I have done physically, with a remaining zest for more. I’m already over my 500 word limit, so I will have to leave this up to the reader to decide the direct applications to counseling… or wait until the next entry to finish this off.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA