Existential Psychology

Growth Takes Time

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A lot of people schedule their first counseling session with unrealistic expectations. They have a question and expect an answer, something’s broken and they want it fixed. Exactly what is broken they don’t quite know and they might not be able to adequately formulate their question, but the secret hope is that the counselor will be able to step in and provide a simple, all-encompassing solution.

In pretty much any other sphere of life people realize they can’t expect success that quickly. Whether it’s a sport, hobby, or intellectual endeavor they know it’s a long road to get to where they want to go, but for some reason in the context of general functioning they don’t think the same rules should apply.

Of course the same rules do apply. Growth takes time and there is probably no clear cut answer to that question that has been gnawing at you, no quick fix to repair whatever is broken. A mindful attitude is your best defense against the frustration and disappointment that can surge up from feeling like change isn’t happening fast enough. If you are focused in the present you will be more sensitive to small changes that would have escaped your attention when you were hoping for the stars all at once. You will come to realize that the cumulative effect of all the small changes will be a large, noticeable change.

An analogy I like to use with clients is how practitioners improve at yoga. Hoping to go from almost no flexibility to bending over backwards all at once is futile and will only leave you feeling like a failure. The key is to stick with it, to go into each class mindfully, a strategy that allows you to note small increases in flexibility over the days and weeks. These increases might not be noticeable to the outside observer but they are to you, your body feels different, and they are undeniable proof that you are progressing. Eventually the results will be what you wanted all along, and others will remark on your skill level, but you’ll never get there unless you stay with it and accept that increasing flexibility happens in minute increments.

Another parallel is that many practitioners find that change is slow and steady for a while, and then all of a sudden something clicks and their practice improves at an exponential rate. As you get more comfortable with new insights and different behaviors the same thing is likely to happen for you. But it takes time to get there and the hope that it can and should happen all at once only leads to disappointment.