Real Change Takes Time

Real Change Takes Time

As a young adult, I had a nasty habit that I detested with all my being. I had a quick temper. I could easily lose my cool at the slightest insult and would snap at the people I loved. It didn’t matter if my behavior was justified or not, hurtful words just flew out of my mouth. Perhaps worse, over time I became cold and distant to many people without explaining why. This baffled many family and friends, and I lost genuine relationships over my behavior.

When I finally owned up to my anger problem during my senior year of college, I found it hard to change. I saw counselors that gave me relaxation techniques, but I did not use them consistently. I read books and articles about ways to cool my temper, but only followed that advice sporadically. I would be okay for a week or two, and then something would set me off, and I’d feel guilty for not being able to control my feelings. I felt trapped by my own personality, and I began to hate who I had become.

We all have things about ourselves that we wish we could change. It’s easy to read stories about people who make radical changes in their lives – losing 100 pounds, overcoming alcoholism, starting a new business. These media snippets make it sound so easy: a person just woke up one day and decided to take charge and boom! They led newer, happier lives.

If you read between the lines of all these stories, though, you’ll find that the “easy change” actually wasn’t so easy, nor did it happen in an instant. It took someone 2 years to shed 100 pounds. The person overcoming alcoholism tried 5 different programs before finding one that worked. The guy starting the new business lost money on 6 different products before getting it right. These changes took real time and effort.

Yet, why do we continue to think we can change overnight?

What I didn’t realize back in college was despite appearances, I actually was improving. Sure, I would feel my ugly anger rear its head now and again, but I would use those techniques that the counselors taught me and succeed in squashing my anger 80% of the time. Even after a bad blowout, I would sit down and analyze what went wrong. I visually pictured myself being provoked and not losing my cool. I also started avoiding situations that would make me angry, and thus, found myself happier overall.

Today, I’m proud to say I’m a much less angry person. Taming my temper didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of trial and error with many setbacks to learn how to calm myself. There wasn’t just one “a-ha” moment when I realized that I had “conquered” my temper. In fact, I still lose it now and again, but now it happens so infrequently that it’s become the exception and not the rule. I can now even walk away in the middle of a flare-up, something I never dreamed possible before.

So if you can learn anything from me, realize that real change doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time for you to make progress, especially if you have a big problem or are working toward a big goal. If you understand this, hopefully you’ll feel less guilty than I did trying to make great personal change.

And if you think you’ll never get to where you want to be, give yourself a break. Don’t give up. Just count all the small victories you’ve made instead of always blaming yourself for the small losses. You might be amazed at what you can accomplish if you give yourself some time.

Photo by Jane Rahman

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is the Director of Educational Outreach for Spotkin, an educational games company that marries fun with learning.  She’s also the founder of Avalon Labs, which provides marketing consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses.   She carves out a significant portion of her time to raising her two younger daughters.

37 Comments

  1. I get you. As my husband often says, when will I learn. Habits took time to form, they take time to break and more importantly, finding enough of a reason to break them once and for all is a time consuming process. We tend to fall back on what are familiar patterns. And those patterns are what I call success thieves. Those things we do every day that rob us of what we really want and deserve

    Reply
    • Familiar patterns are extremely hard to break. It’s good that you have a name to put on them. I think it will help you realize what’s happening and, again, over time you can work on changing them for the better.

      Reply
  2. Hi Deborah,

    As I was reading your post, I could not help but think about Weight Watchers. I’ve always been a fan of Weight Watchers – I think they have some of the best coaches out there.

    Group leaders at the weekly meetings continuously recognize the small victories their members make while tracking the overall weight loss achievement. Their system demonstrates how we can step away from the tree in front of us and take a helicopter view of just how we have progressed in our life challenges once we have a goal chartered.

    Thank you for a wonderful read.

    Reply
    • It’s great that Weight Watchers takes an overview approach rather than having members beat themselves up over mistakes they might make day-to-day. It’s already great to have a coach or mentor who can help you see progress instead of just mistakes.

      Reply
  3. Great reminder that there will be setbacks as you work to change whatever you want to change. Just keep plugging away with your ultimate goal in mind.

    I especially like the way you visual potential situations. Good way to train your brain to react in the way you want it to.

    Reply
    • It’s funny, Mike, that I used to believe that visualizing situations was just a bunch of silliness. But once I gave it a try, I realized the power of how it can help you improve. I use visualization before interviews too. It really helps you keep on track and achieve your goals.

      Reply
  4. Marvelous Deborah!!! As a musician, I look back often at old pieces as an easy way to measure my progress. It is almost impossible to see my daily progress aside form the metronome and some days not even that will budge, but when I return to a piece after many years that I once struggled with and see hoe easy it is now, I realize that I have grown as a guitarist quite a bit.

    Reply
    • I’ve done this with my writing as well. It’s really hard to see progress immediately behind you, but so easy to see it if you stick with your skill and look back even 3 or 4 months.

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  5. Deborah, you really nailed it here. It looks like other people have changed overnight, but true and lasting change takes time. It’s never perfect, but it’s always better than just sitting and letting life pass us by. Moving forward is moving – and most of the time it’s slow, but it’s so worth it. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Reply
    • Tammy, for me it helps to know that even small victories are worth celebrating, especially early on. Even if others think you’re not improving, knowing that you are trying and keeping throwing yourself into the ring can make a huge difference in the long haul.

      Reply
  6. An ant can cover miles if she keeps going ( as she often does ever mindful of her daily chores ). Nature also works that way, quietly and persistently. We realize when a flower blooms after months of wait. Miracles happen only in mythological books or in child fiction.Patience and perseverance is the key, as wisely suggested by Deborah in the post.

    Reply
    • I love your analogies, Mahavir. The most beautiful and natural things take time, so why not change?

      Reply
  7. You are so right Deborah, real change rarely happens overnight but for some reason we all seem to want it to! I must say I’m pretty suspicious of any organisation that promises a quick-fix method – I think they are playing on the wish to not have to put in the work that is usually needed to make changes. Real transformation seems to require dedication, persistence and the ability to bounce back when we slip and as you say, encouraging people to look at each small step as a victory helps.

    Reply
    • I also have become wary of quick-fix methods. Doing a quick-fix usually at best means there’s a hidden drawback, or worse, it’s a temporary solution that will bring you back to your original problem. When the latter happens, you feel like you’ve failed even though you haven’t really tried tackling your problem.

      Reply
  8. Great point!

    Real change does take time. It is step after step, mile after mile. Change is a journey. It is a marathon, not a fast footrace.

    One problem people have with developing new habits is that they expect too much, too soon, and are disappointed and disillusioned. One of the essential traits of anyone who’s ever undertaken major change is perseverance.

    SJ

    Reply
    • I think people fall into this trap because when you read about success stories, they often gloss over the real work. If you know there is real work involved at the onset, you may be able to avoid disillusionment early on.

      Reply
  9. Great post, Deborah. I think we all need this dose of reality: change is possible, but it’s not immediate. I wrote a post on here called “The Slow Road to Lasting Change” a couple of weeks ago. I’m glad to see another honest post about the real work involved in change.

    Reply
    • I saw your post at the time, Dan, and perhaps I was subliminally inspired by it. I wrote this particular article after teaching a college course last month. It was focused on entrepreneurship, and many of my students were looking for a quick way to be super successful. I tried to teach that building a business takes time and involves a lot of setbacks. So it got me thinking about my own life, one thing led to another, and finally, this article.

      It is my opinion that the best things in life are those worth putting in a lot of effort.

      Reply
  10. Wonderful post Deborah. I agree fully. Even with powerful techniques at our disposal real lasting change can only be initiated quickly. Once you’re out of the gate dedication, hard work, and time, are all needed to sustain it.

    Brian

    Reply
    • I do believe most people realize the dedication and hard work, but the time issue alludes us. I have never been good at setting a time when I will reach the larger goals in life (such as finishing my first novel or changing my quick temper). These things took way longer than I anticipated, but once achieved with even moderate success, I valued them even more than I thought I would.

      Reply
  11. Deborah,

    This was a very encouraging and familiar story to me–I am also currently struggling with anger/rage, and I FINALLY started started seeing a counselor in January as a New Year’s resolution. I think it has definitely helped, but there are certainly those days where it feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back. I had one of those days very recently, and reading this reminded me that it won’t always be that way, I just need to keep my goal in mind and keep working. Thank you for posting!!

    Kaitlyn

    Reply
    • Good luck on your journey, Kaitlyn! It sounds like you’re taking all the right first steps. Don’t beat yourself up if you stumble along the way. Over time if you’re changing little things, it will add up and you’ll be happier with yourself overall. I know I am!

      Reply
  12. Hi Deborah thank you for this post. I can identify with that anger. Its not a nice place to be. But when our intention is to be better our heart moves us quietly behind the scenes, working all the time until some day we wake up and realise that there has been a change.

    Reply
    • I don’t know about you, Karen, but for me, I tried to channel that guilty aftermath into something positive. I knew my intentions were better, and I knew I could be a better person. When I let go of some of the guilt and turned that into determination, I was able to stop my quick temper more and more. But again, for me at least, it’s not completely gone, but I have more control over it.

      Wish you the best of luck on your journey, even if you are close to the finish line. I can empathize with what you’ve done to make any sort of progress.

      Reply
  13. Great point. I think it took me 6 months to loose 30 pounds. I heard so many stories of people loosing 10 pounds very quickly to get back 15 more shortly after that I do not mind to have chosen the slow path. It is true that it is not always easy to see the improvement during the improvement process itself. It is little like climbing a mountain and we can’t see exactly where we are until we are at the top and see the nice view.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear your story of “slow but steady wins the race.” If you’re losing weight by denying yourself something you will eventually go back to, then you’re going to put on the weight quickly once you begin the habit again. Changing real habits takes a lot more time than temporary denial.

      Reply
  14. Hi Deborah, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article as I was able to connect with you on many levels. I have recently accepted that I have anger management issues and am working towards gaining control over it. So far, I’m not able to achieve much success, but your story motivates me to keep trying and move ahead with smaller, more achievable goals. Thank you!

    Reply
    • I fully appreciate your situation, Cme. Give yourself lots of time. Controlling anger will not likely be conquered in a day since you’re fighting against a lifetime of habits, but I do believe you can get there.

      Reply
  15. Great post Deborah! I fully agree that we need to allow ourselves the time to change, reflecting on the small victories as we go alone. I’m currently working on being more mindful of how I present to the world, a journey for my lifetime, I think!

    Reply
    • It may be a journey for a lifetime, but after some dedication, you will be surprised how far you can go. Good luck!

      Reply
  16. Hi Deborah, yes you’re right, all emotion is energy and it can be channelled into different avenues.
    A good point. One I will remember.
    Is there a finish line, I think its all a process. But we are perfect as we are.
    Take care.

    Reply
    • I think you can make a “finish line,” but oftentimes, your results won’t turn out the way you expect. I thought I could completely change how I feel and handle my emotions, and that’s not necessarily true. I have always been a person who reacts strongly to emotional situations, but now I have better control on how that affects others. I’m happy with the end result, but I’m always making sure I don’t stray too far into an extreme response.

      Reply
  17. You are so right, everyone that has achieved a great goal has found many obstacles in the way before arriving at something that works for them. Congratulations on your determination on achieving your goal.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Val. I think it’s important to note that everyone chooses a different path to finding the “right way” for them. There’s no one size fits all for everyone.

      Reply
  18. Thanks for the post. It is so very true that change isn’t easy and it does take time and dedication. My husband and I got married in our early 40s. Both of us had anger issues. When one would get angry the other followed. We both set out to change. Now, occasionally if one gets angry, for the most part, we have learned not to react.

    I went back to school and got a masters in psychology, thinking that would give me the answers. I learned the principles, but then I had to apply them, not so easy. I learned to use my emotions as an indicator that my thoughts were distorted and inappropriate for the situation. I began changing the automatic thoughts that would pop into my mind. I began to analyze what I felt about myself and the world around me. As I realized that some of my reasons for getting angry we’re valid I began replacing my negative thoughts with positive more realistic thoughts. When I did my anger began to disappear.

    My husband used some of the same principles for change. Our relationship has become much more loving and caring instead of angry and controlling.

    Reply
    • I’m happy to hear that both of you have been committed to working through your anger issues. That is a huge task. And it sounds like you used some positive techniques similar to what I was taught in counseling. Always great to hear success stories from people who have struggled with things that I’ve dealt with.

      Reply
  19. Great article Deborah,

    It’s strange how we put so much pressure on ourselves to change who we are overnight. One thing I really dislike about movies is the technique of the montage. In all kinds of underdog and sports movies, we see a massive build up of events that inspire/necessitate that a person change, then we get a 3 minute montage, and then, all of the sudden, voila! The main character is a changed person and is ready for a hard fought battle. In realty, the “montage” is the hardest and longest part, that’s filled with high points, low points, failures, and successes!

    One of my favorite quotes, I belive by Jim Rohn – “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.”

    Take care,

    Chad
    Co-Founder
    http://www.buildthefire.com

    Reply

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