How many industries run on the promise of quick changes? The weight loss complex, self-help books, financial advice, tutoring courses, parenting programs, the list goes on. “Get six-pack abs in ten days,” one video promises. “Learn Spanish in your sleep,” another company swears.
The proliferation of quick-fix products keeps up the illusion that other people around us are getting what they want without having to work very hard for it. We’ve become trained to want instant gratification and miracle cures. Throwing money at a problem, hiring an expert to guide us or looking to the latest fad is highly seductive. It feels motivating to believe that something can happen, in only days, to change years of habits and thought processes. This is despite the proof we have showing over and over that quick fixes rarely work on a long-term basis. For instance, according to studies, 95% of diets fail and most dieters will regain their lost weight within five years.
The same holds true in therapy. Some changes come easily and some growth happens overnight, but real, gut-level, permanent differences in how we think and act take time and effort. There are two problems that clients often have with this realization: first, the difficulty of settling in for the long haul and second, the energy it takes to get excited about small—sometimes almost invisible—steps.
I hear the same question all the time. “Why isn’t my life changing yet? I’m doing all this talking and thinking about it, but I stay exactly the same.”
The truth is, they aren’t the same at all, even if their outer circumstances still look the same. They’re changing from the inside out, from the bottom up, from the molecules. If your molecules were morphing, would you expect to see anything on the outside? Would you expect to look and feel different right away? No, you’d know that that level of growth was a slow process, but one that would last forever.
A speaker at my clinic gave the most wonderful analogy a few weeks ago. She said that long-held bad habits or negative thought spirals are like an eighteen-wheeler driving down the same muddy road, day after day. After a few years, the ruts in the road would be so deep that it would feel impossible to move that truck onto another pathway. It might even take two people to tug the steering wheel over. But over enough time, a new path could be forged. That’s how connections in the brain work, too. You’ve had years upon years of the same neural pathways, the same messages (“you’re lazy”) or behaviors (chocolate every afternoon) or strategies (martinis to medicate stress). Those repetitions take time to change. It can’t happen overnight.
The coolest part—which is often the most annoying to my clients—is that a lot of the work is done before you even realize it’s happened. It starts the minute you begin to think about your life in a different way, and to hope for change. At that point, you still haven’t changed much externally. You’re still sitting on the couch too much, or putting yourself down too often. But on that molecular level, you’re already on the journey to health. Some people take moments to enact change, and others take decades. But the first steps are just as valid and just as life-changing as the last ones. So take a deep breath, and let yourself learn at the speed that’s comfortable to you now. And be proud of what you’ve already accomplished, just reading this blog and thinking about change.