capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

Falling In Love with The Process

My fiancé, who biasedly is one of the smartest therapists I consult and routinely spend my time with, has a mantra: You gotta fall in love with the process.

This statement, though simple, represents such a contradiction to our results-driven, goals-achieved, checklist-finished society. We are conditioned to “finish.” We are groomed for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, for the end race. And so, we miserably do our practice runs, our training work, our ladder-climbing in whatever form that looks like, in order to achieve the ultimate success.

What if that work didn’t have to be conducted with such a frantic or autopilot-type pace? What if it wasn’t just about “getting there,” wherever there is?

For example, my fiancé loves cooking. Simple cooking, but cooking nonetheless. He’s probably made over a thousand different types of cheese omelets- all with just tiny, possibly negligible differences- a different brand of cheese or dosage of salt or time spent before flipping- before settling on a recipe that “works.” And he’s still convinced that even that recipe can be improved with another tweak that is yet to be discovered. It’s a work-in-progress, but in a way that’s lighthearted, challenging, and fun. In a sense, he’s striving to constantly experiment, discover new ideas, sharpen his senses, and expand his creativity. Yes, we’re talking about eggs here, and that may seem insignificant, but his mindset represents the profound symbolism of appreciating the journey.

I work mostly with clients who consider themselves “in recovery,” typically from substance use, eating disorders, or other maladaptive coping skills. Most of them find the “recovery process” difficult, tedious and unenjoyable. Many want the “end game” and the results. I find that the ones who tend to have the greatest chances for success are the ones who can appreciate and even extend gratitude for the journey.

That’s, of course, because the journey is everything, and it’s a fallacy to believe it’s not. I cannot think of a single instance where we just sit on a proverbial mountaintop gazing at our hard work and successes, relishing in the fact that we are totally, totally done. Even the accomplishment of difficult, complex tasks often comes with a surge of energy and motivation to do more! That is the beauty of our constant, evolving natures.

I extend the idea of falling in love with process this into my own life and own therapeutic practice. The first step is willingness to believe that the process itself has meaning. There are many boring or even dreadful things we have to do each day, BUT if we can find greater purpose, excitement, or definition in them, they suddenly carry a more profound weight. Anything we endure can be a lesson, as long as we are willing to learn. When we want to learn or grow, the “pointless” or “annoying” day-to-day minutia may be replaced with gratitude and hope.

The second step to falling in love with the process is dispelling the myth of perfectionism. So many of us struggle with the reality that mistakes are to be expected, failures are bound to happen, and lessons are meant to be learned. Rather than attempt, we psyche ourselves out, overwhelmed oftentimes by the fear of perceived failure. Or, we attempt once, inevitably “screw up,” and decide we are doomed. We haven’t failed; rather, we haven’t completed the search process of finding what does work. If we decide to approach this “search process” with curiosity rather than dread, with excitement rather than fear, with optimism rather than pessimism, we have such greater chances of achieving the successes we are aiming for in the first place!

I believe we are innately wired for growth and ambition, and when we exercise those mental muscles to expand our knowledge to do something new, we learn to appreciate the small milestones along the journey. The “big destination,” however it may be originally defined, becomes less pervasive, as we start to realize that there may not even be a finite, concrete endpoint, that we will constantly be on a road towards movement- and that this energy is motivated through love and perseverance, rather than shame and guilt.

What if the process is difficult, as many are? The reframe here is essential. If we meet the process with resistance or anger, the obstacles inevitably look larger and more daunting. When we get creative, we find silver linings. When we try and literally “fall in love” with our journey, no matter how painful or difficult it may be, we give ourselves the opportunity to look at it from a different angle. We have a greater likelihood for patience, discipline, mental energy, and compassion towards ourselves.  Whether it’s discovering that amazing omelet recipe or recovering from a mental disorder, the magic is in the making. If we are committed to growing, the journey is limitless with possibility. It doesn’t matter if it takes 1000 omelets or 10 attempts at treatment to get there: we know where we are and we are committed to the progress we are making.