Body-oriented psychotherapies emphasize the importance of including the body when doing therapeutic processes. Hakomi is one such method. In his book Body- Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method, Ron Kurtz says: “Just as the first step of a journey is more significant for the direction it announces than the distance it covers, our early patterns are important because they set the course that has shaped everything that followed and finally became the form and style of the self we are today.” In other words, early life experiences shape who we become, just like the first step on a journey determines its trajectory.

Early traumatic childhood experiences “freeze” in our physiology and psychology. When children experience trauma, they develop coping mechanisms. Those coping mechanisms manifest themselves in the body as one’s physiology and in the mind as one’s psychology. Working through them requires a shift of our attention.

Being criticized for doing something stupid can be a traumatic event for children. “You’re stupid” is different than “You did something stupid.” The former labels children in a fixed way. It teaches children that being stupid is a part of their identity. Focusing on identity sets in motion an avoidance of stress and it shapes children into people who don’t engage well in learning situations. The latter, “You did something stupid,” focuses on behavior. Children feel like they can learn and grow from their mistakes when their behavior, rather than their identity, is criticized. Focusing on behavior sets in motion a desire to engage stress and it shapes children into people who desire to participate in learning situations.

There’s a strong tendency in our society to focus on identity instead of behavior. Focusing on identity tends to be associated with end-goal motivation, while focusing on behavior tends to be associated with learning-based motivation. When our identity is criticized it creates an intention that focuses us on the end goal at the expense of the present moment. This teaches us to strive for future achievements in lieu of learning. We set in motion a life of striving for a future reality we wish existed now. After a life of living this way, we arrive on our death-bed, regretting not being present during our lives.

A learning-based motivation sets in motion a journey of presence. On this journey, we focus on behavior. When an event happens, we’re curious about how we behaved so we can suss out the learning elements. What did we do well? What do we still need to learn? These are questions that direct our attention differently, away from identity and toward effort. We’re not rushing into the future; we’re paying attention to the present situation we’re engaged in. After a life of living this way, we arrive on our death-bed with no regret. We lived each day paying attention to whatever we were doing.

These same tendencies apply to our climbing. Achievement motivation sets in motion a first step that focuses our attention on end results. Then, each step thereafter follows with the same motivation. An achievement focus insinuates that some future time is more important than today, so we strive for the future goal. We look at the route to think about our climbing plan. We expect cruxes to be difficult and we fear that they’ll shut us down. We start believing that we won’t be able to arrive at the better future we desire. So, we expect to fall or have difficulty at various places to confirm what we believe. We become anxious because our attention is focused on a future reality that never arrives.

A learning-based motivation sets in motion different steps for our climbing. We want to engage learning experiences and we know they exist in the present moment, during the climbing experience itself. We look at the route and think about our climbing plan. We identify where the crux is, just like the achievement- motivated climber, but because we’re learning-based, our attention is focused on our effort. The crux will probably be difficult, but we expect to exert effort to deal with it. Doing this allows the experience to determine what’s possible for us. We may be in the middle of a stressful situation, but we’re at peace being there.

Whether parenting children or climbing, focusing on identity and achievement is a losing proposition. We rush toward a future reality we desperately want to arrive at, yet we never get there; we never arrive. Here and now is the only reality. Realizing this helps us relax into and enjoy our struggles. What’s required is awareness of traumatic experiences that have created our identity and shaped who we are. From that awareness we can consciously choose to shift our focus from identity to behavior. Making this choice shifts how we focus our attention, which begins to thaw out our body and mind. It sets in motion the first step that determines the future trajectory of our life’s journey and how we’ll be shaped by it. Then, we can look back on our lives without regret. We gave it our best effort and that’s all that we could have done.

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