As most children are, I too was quite dedicated in the avoidance of practising my extra-curricular activities. Although I loved the pool, I couldn’t bring myself to swim laps outside of lessons, unless it was just for fun. And while I enjoyed dance during studio time, beyond that, could my parents please just sign the sheet to say that I had rehearsed each day?
When it came to homework, however, this is a completely different cup of tea. I was meticulous from the get-go, finding it easy to finish all my homework on time, driven by the knowledge that this was something I could actually do and achieve. I think homework is blanketing, somehow, in this way. It can smother all the vulnerability and fear of not being good enough at other activities, because I was lucky enough to generally have a pretty cruisey time at school. With schoolwork, I am not constantly focused on my inadequacies to do with my body, how inferior I am socially, and how much I feel I overall lack as a person. Essays came naturally to me, and I feel safe burying myself within them. However, anything else, like practicing my clarinet or sports, things that would expose my vulnerability and fear of not being good enough to the world, were put in the too hard basket, and I avoided at all costs.
The saying “practice makes perfect” is voluminous in truth. The more time and energy that is poured into a certain sphere, makes the sphere grow in size. Therefore, as we practice skills we naturally gain more knowledge about them, consequently becoming better at performing them.
Therefore, it’s understandable why homework is such a key element of therapy today. Therapy homework allows clients to put the skills and ideas they are learning within sessions into practice; into our day-to-day lives where it actually matters. Therapy homework also lets us practice how to respond and cope differently as situations arise, and can help to destruct harmful thinking patterns.
There is a specific piece of homework that I have been avoiding for weeks. I feel embarrassed even writing about it, because it seems so simplistic and silly. I was originally tasked with making a list of things I have accomplished this year, relating both to my mental health and otherwise. However, due to my large avoidance of the topic, I now need to come up with only three achievements.
Three! Three. This is a struggle for me because if I try and think of something, my brain tells me that it wasn’t good enough, and therefore isn’t something to be proud of. I also feel bad and guilty doing this, because I feel as though I don’t deserve to feel good about anything worthwhile that I might do. Thirdly, I worry that both thinking and writing these things down will come across as boastful or selfish. Logically I know that this isn’t the case, as I don’t feel that way about other people doing the same task.
Brains, huh! They are tricky things. In order to get better, I have to work on getting better, and to be able to work on getting better, I have to be at a certain stage of better already. It’s a tough cycle to navigate.
And this is why we practice the things we are trying to get better at. By faking feeling good about something I have achieved, with much perseverance, I will apparently be challenging my negative self-worth. This will work on building up something good instead. The practice of vulnerability within therapy homework makes these tasks so integral and key to recovery. And perhaps that is also why we avoid them. They dig deep, and mend what is most difficult to get right.
It is easy to do and practice what makes us feel safe; what protects us from vulnerability. This week, I’m determined to get my therapy homework done. For this is where the real work lies.