On the night of October 18, 2015 I was unable to sleep. I tossed and turned all night, my mind filled with anxious thoughts, and an anxiety that I was unable to shake. The reason for all this anxiety was that at 7:00 am on October 19th, I would be running my first 50 mile race, and I was wondering not only about whether or not I would be able to finish the race, but I was dreading a lot of the unknowns. What would my body feel like at certain points in the race? Would my leg injuries I had sustained a couple of months earlier in training hold up? How hot was the weather going to be in the canyon? Lots and lots of questions. Lots of anxious “what ifs”.
As I tossed and turned the night before the Palo Duro Trail Run I did everything I could to still my anxious mind. I listened to Headspace several times, I practiced my breathing, I tried to empty my mind, I prayed, and I walked through my Pain and Peace Cycle, hoping that just one of these practices, or the combination of all of them, would help reduce my anxiety, and that I might catch some sleep. In the end, nothing seemed to calm my anxious mind, and the more the clock ticked by, and the faster the morning was creeping towards me, the more my anxiety increased.
I eventually crawled out of our rented RV bed at about 5:00am in the morning, and started preparing myself for the race. I felt like a failure in terms of managing my anxiety, but I knew that I had a whole day ahead of me where I would have other opportunities to manage the anxiety that I knew I would be facing along the race course.
Anxiety, RT and Performance
It’s been two and half years since I ran that race, and in that time I have learned a lot about anxiety, about performance, and the critical role that Restoration Therapy now plays in my life when it comes to this arena. And what I am finding out more and more is that there is a lot of resonance between what is taught in Restoration Therapy and other models of performance coaching. Whether the performance is related to sports, business, entertainment, or some other area where people are required to perform at high levels, I have been finding that there are a lot of connections between the key components of RT and what other researchers are saying. This is a good thing for several reasons:
One, it just reaffirms how significant the work of RT is in my own life and the work that I do, and it reminds me that I am on the right path. I have been a huge proponent of RT since I first learned about it at The Hideaway Experience in 2010. Back then I just knew it as the Pain and Peace Cycle, but as I began to train with Terry Hargrave I acquired and learned more deeply about what I was really working on, which is Restoration Therapy.
Two, it makes it easier to find ways to communicate to clients how to incorporate RT it into their lives. It’s one thing for me to teach someone their Pain and Peace Cycle, and then help them learn the four steps so they can practice it over and over and over again. But it’s also incredibly helpful when I can use examples in areas of performance, and talk about some of the tools and best practices that athletes, musicians, actors, and business leaders use in their daily life to enhance their performance. And you know what, they are doing much of the same thing that RT espouses, but some of the language may be different, as well as some of the specific steps. But underneath it all, the goal is often the same. Emotional regulation will lead to operating at a high level to increase performance. Because when someone is emotionally regulated, they will be able to connect to their truth, or best version of themselves, which will help them increase their skill level, or take confident risks that lead to success.
Three, I think the more that we are learning about the brain, the more we are realizing that a lot of people are saying the same thing. We may have different language to describe what we are doing, and a different model may have different researchers and teachers, along with a whole different group of disciples…but in the end, it seems to come back to the brain. Now, I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has a big interest in neuropsychology and the brain, but I can quickly get beyond my “pay grade”. But I do know enough about this topic to understand what is going on, and to help people that I work with make the change they are looking for.
Some Books That Made Me Take Note
As I was implementing RT in my own life and the life of my clients, I also was continuing to train with RT‘s founder, Terry Hargrave, and I continue to train with him today, and consider him a close friend and mentor. But I want to make that point because I think one needs to always be in a process of continuing to train and learn, especially when we are talking about the work of the brain (something that I believe we are just beginning to scratch the surface of) and human performance, one needs to be in a continual mindset of growth and change. A mindset of continual learning.
Because again, whether we are talking about relationships in all their varying configurations, or performance in all of its outlets, the goal is the same. What started to lead me in this direction was not only my working through of my own human performance as I was running a lot, and slowly over time increasing my distances, while also increasing the struggle, and wondering if I had what it took. But I was reading books like Finding Ultra, One Breath, Boys in the Boat, Endurance, Natural Born Heroes and Open. These books were giving me insight into human performance and how varying people tackled the issue of anxiety that often accompanied their goals and struggles to to achieve them.
And though all these books have been very important to me, several have really stood out as ones that I keep returning to time and time again, as I think they share a lot with Restoration Therapy and the components that make it such a great model for helping people work towards greater human performance, especially when anxiety gets in the way.
The Core of Restoration Therapy and Performance Similarities
The core of Restoration Therapy involves several things:
One, focus on attachment issues in terms of how one is shaped, specifically one’s brain around feelings and emotions.
Two, focus on emotional regulation, and the ability to neutralize negative patterns of interaction in order to focus on creating positive patterns of interaction.
Three, focus on mindfulness, which allows one to be aware of their negative patterns of interaction, better emotional regulation and position oneself to create positive change. Mindfulness is the difference between a person automatically doing something without thinking, versus being able to consciously think about what decision to make.
Fourth, focus on practice in order to create change.
I have in many ways simplified RT down to its bare components, and within these varying components there is the even more elemental core which is the Pain and Peace Cycle, and the 4 Steps to practice them.
For example, let me use the topic of anxiety that we are currently discussing, and plug that into the Restoration Therapy model. This is something very familiar to me as anxiety is one of the things I have struggled with my entire life, and RT is the model that has most helped me identify, regulate and reframe it.
Step 1: Say what I feel…“I am feeling not good enough, inadequate, and I feel like I can’t measure up.”
Step 2: Say what you normally do…“What I normally do when I feel this way is that I become anxious, and anxiety takes over.”
Step 3: Say your truth…“The truth is that I am adequate, and good enough, and I have what it takes. The truth is that God has equipped me for this.”
Step 4: Say what you will do differently…“What I will do differently is be non-anxious, and instead of withdrawing and shutting down, I will engage the task at hand with confidence.”
This is Restoration Therapy: Understanding and Guiding Healing in Marriage and Family Therapy at its core. a) Help someone identify their Pain Cycle, which is made up of their underlying negative feelings and their coping behavior; b) Help someone identify their truth and their positive action; c) Practice the 4 steps over and over and over again. That very process helps one become more mindful of how their attachment issues impact their lives, and the more mindful they are of it, the more they are able to emotionally regulate themselves through practice. And through practice, they are able to work towards moving from the Pain Cycle to the Peace Cycle. It’s a process of transformation. It’s relational performance both at an individual and relational level.
As I read through the four books below (and there are many more books saying this) I began to see the processes that make Restoration Therapy so unique, also being practiced in varying ways in other models. Let me pull some quotes from each book just to give you some ideas, but in these quotes you will see elements of practicing steps, emotional regulation, mindfulness and practice.
“While the pathways from the amygdala to the neocortex are stronger and faster than the ones going the other way, some ability may remain for the neocortex to do the following: First, to recognize that there is an emotional response underway. Second, to read reality and perceive circumstances correctly. Third, to override or modulate the automatic reaction if it is an inappropriate one; and fourth, to select a correct course of action.”
Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Kindle Location 886). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
“Mindfulness is about being completely present in the moment, fully aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s helpful to think of the meditation part as highly specific training for being more present at all times of your life. When you meditate, you are strengthening your mindful muscle.”
Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success”
“Deliberate practice was first studied in chess players and then in musicians and athletes. If you’re not a chess player, musician, or athlete, you might be wondering whether the general principles of deliberate practice apply to you.
Without hesitation, I can tell you the answer: YES. Even the most complex and creative of human abilities can be broken down into its component skills, each of which can be practiced, practiced, practiced.”
Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (p. 123). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
I could share lots more from each of these books and others that would resonate with the work of RT and performance, especially as it relates to the navigating of anxiety. But from the quotes above, one begins to get a sampling of the important work that is being done in the area of relationships, performance and anxiety.
Run the Race
So on the morning of October 19th I set out on my 50 mile trail race journey, and it would take me 11 hours and 46 minutes to complete the race. Just 14 minutes underneath the cut off time. It was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done, but it was a day full of challenges, and a day where I had to manage my anxiety throughout, in order that I could perform well in the race, as well as perform well in my relationships with those who were there to support me (specifically my wife and two children).
Throughout those 11 hours and 46 minutes I found myself time and time again walking through my 4 steps of the Pain and the Peace Cycle. Though each practice was varied in how it was said, it was said over and over again that day until it became not just a practice but a belief, and it was that belief that guided me home those grueling last 16.5 miles, most of which was run alone in the desert canyon without another runner in sight.
It was after I crossed the finish line of that race and later had time to reflect on it, that I realized that the RT model is not just for relationships, but it has power in helping one perform. Because ultimately, how we perform is connected to what we believe about ourselves and the negative and positive messages we are sending ourselves all day long. It’s only when we become aware of those things that we can position ourselves to take ownership of them in order to create change.
Ultimately I realized that what I learned that day goes way farther back than RT and what is being written in these other books. But the apostle Paul who was no stranger to athletic performance, often making references to its imagery (often making reference to them: 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Hebrews 12:1, Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2, 5:7; II Timothy 2:5, 4:7), also reminds us the importance of being mindful and being transformed by what we think and believe (Romans 12:2). And it’s in this mindfulness that we are able to recognize the “old self” at work, and put on the “new self” (Ephesians 4:20-24). I mention these passages in closing, because nothing new is under the sun. Humans have been working in the areas of relationships, performance and the mind for centuries, and the more and more we learn about the brain, the more and more we learn how everything is connected. So whether the model is RT, or some other performance model, hopefully we can all work towards the same goal to help transform lives. I know these things have changed my life and I hope they do the same for you.
Rhett Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Plano, TX. He specializes in helping people struggling with anxiety find new opportunities for growth, as well as spending a majority of his week with couples as they navigate relational issues. He is the author of The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? and What It Means to Be a Man: God’s Design for Us in a World Full of Extremes. Rhett lives in McKinney, TX with his wife Heather and their two children. You can discover more about Rhett’s work through his writing and podcast at rhettsmith.com