In the last lesson, we examined the importance of developing awareness in Timothy Wilson’s book, Strangers to Ourselves. We saw how we can be unaware of our own limitations because we’re too close to our own experiences to notice them. We emphasized the importance of observing ourselves and getting coaches to help us become more aware. A second important lesson we learn from his book is that connection matters. Wilson is a psychotherapist, assisting people with their emotional and mental needs. He states that any therapy can be helpful if connection is developed between therapists and clients.

Wilson says that psychotherapy works by changing people’s narrative, or story, of how they experience their lives. He outlines three observations:

  1. “Psychotherapy has been proved to be beneficial in well-controlled studies, but the exact form of psychotherapy does not seem to matter much.
  2. “Therapist of all persuasions provide their clients with a new narrative to explain their problems.
  3. “Clients who adopt the views and interpretations offered by their therapist improve the most in therapy.

“In short, psychotherapy seems to be a beneficial process whereby clients adopt a new narrative about their problem that is more helpful than the story they told before.”

Why would this be the case? Aren’t some psychotherapies more helpful than others? The answer is probably “yes”: some psychotherapies are more effective than others. However, what Wilson points us toward is something more fundamental that impacts the effectiveness of psychotherapy: our level of belief that the therapy is helpful. If we believe the therapy will help us, then it’s likely to be helpful.

One of the core tenets of The Warrior’s Way material is the importance of connection. We are inextricably interconnected to the world around us; a part of a larger whole. Much of our experiences, especially traumatic experiences, can separate us from that whole. Thus, if clients believe that therapists are providing beneficial help, then they feel more connected and healing can take place. There are a few components to developing this healing belief.

First, if rapport is developed between therapists and clients, then clients begin feeling supported. Second, feeling supported, clients are likely to do what therapists suggest for healing. Third, the actions that clients take give them experiences that allow them to understand themselves in new ways. Finally, healing experiences improve rapport with therapists, which leads to feeling supported, which then leads to taking more action. A spiral of trust is built that shifts clients from their separate illusory reality to being reconnected to reality itself.

How is this relevant to climbing performance? When we dissect the climbing experience, we see separate parts: climber, belayer, rock, etc. If we operate from the separate illusory perception of “climber,” then we’ll perform poorly. We won’t trust ourselves to solve the struggles we encounter; we won’t trust our belayers to give us a proper catch if we fall; we won’t trust that the difficulties we encounter on the rock can be solved. Thus, we feel unsupported, isolated, and alone, making it difficult to engage the situation.

“Healing” occurs when we move in the direction of connection. We develop rapport by communicating with our belayers about how we want to be supported. This shifts how belayers coach us so the coaching is oriented in ways that help us the most. Feeling supported, we’re more likely to keep our attention on task so we can take action. Taking action gives us new experiences that change how we understand what’s possible for us. The whole process creates a spiral of trust that helps us engage our struggles with courage. We’ll be more likely to trust in the process of solving the difficulties we encounter on the rock.

If our beliefs move us in the direction of connection, then we can move beyond our limitations. We move from an illusory separate reality towards reality itself. Instead of perceiving ourselves as separate ego identities that have to fight with the rock, we see ourselves as parts of something larger and find ways to blend with it. This perspective helps us integrate into the larger whole. This is healing. We feel connected, knowing that we don’t have to struggle alone. We can count on and trust something larger than ourselves.

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