The idea of practicing something over and over again can be a stumbling block for someone trying to develop new habits. In CBT for anxiety and OCD we are teaching our clients new skills to practice in order to change the information their Amygdala is sending them. I often say what I teach is simple but doing it is the hard part.
I am currently on day 29 of a 40 day yoga and meditation experience. We practice yoga daily and meditate twice a day, increasing the time each week over 6 weeks. I knew this would be a challenge but I had no idea how frequently my mind would try to convince me to throw in the towel. I’ve realized that I am pretty good at handling discomfort in the short run but long term challenges are not something I ever choose to do because, frankly, I have never believed I could do it. I have had to use every skill I teach my clients to get through each practice: I observe myself to see what is creating my obstacles, I get wise and come up with a great way to talk myself through it, sometimes I have to be very directive and just tell myself to get started and not to listen to my excuses. I also tell myself that to teach my brain something new, I have to do it consistently, frequently, and intensely…exactly what this program is offering.
My daughter is a violinist. When she was in high school she was told she had to have 10,000 hours of practice to become an excellent musician. So she began practicing 2 hours per day which increased to 4 hours per day once she was in a conservatory. I have been fascinated by what motivates someone to practice that much and equally amazed at what the brain is capable of when one practices that intensely.
So how does all of this relate to what we are teaching our clients? It’s important that we use psycho education to let them know how much practice it takes to make these brain changes. It’s also important to normalize their resistance and to help them use their skills to be stronger than their tricky anxiety and OCD. Finally, we want to teach them how to be compassionate towards themselves when they give in to their fears while also helping them to find ways to climb over every obstacle. This is where the real work lies in CBT for anxiety and OCD. I often tell my clients that the more frequently and intensely they practice, the quicker they will see changes. I also tell them to be patient and in a year they can look back and see how far they’ve come.
I trust the same thing will be true for me in my yoga and meditation practice…I better go do my first meditation of the day.