Generally speaking, problems don’t develop instantly. Especially emotional or metaphysical problems. There are exceptions: a blown tire or broken bone, for example, are instant. But the bigger issues – our depression, our apathy, our temper, our addictions, our maladjusted coping mechanisms – develop over a prolonged period. They start with a seed and grow until they’ve matured, often into a full-blown crisis.
Problematic behaviours and thinking patterns take time to achieve full their full potential, so why do we expect resolution to be instant?
How is it reasonable to look at a problem we’ve been living with for years, like an eating disorder, and expect it to be resolved overnight simply because we go to bed with thoughts like, “this is it; I’m done. Starting tomorrow, I will be absolutely normal in my eating. No more bingeing and purging, no more starvation. Healthy eating and reasonable exercise. I’m done with doing it differently.”
To successfully resolve a problematic behaviour or thought pattern requires time. The issue arose gradually, successful solutions will arrive the same way.
Expecting instant results, expecting the change to be easy guarantees disappointment and failure.
Change takes time.
Sometimes problems require dramatic interventions for health concerns, but serious follow-up has to occur or the changes will be unsustainable. Regardless of our altered actions, without internal change our thoughts will still follow the same problematic path.
I was thinking about that this morning, as I dealt with the after-effects of a binge. No purging was involved – the control on that remains – but the bingeing behaviour still lingers. It’s a frustration to me and yet as I sat with it, I realized anew that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
I’ve made a great many changes when it comes to my eating disorder behaviour.
I obsess over food less. I eat a greater variety of foods. My caloric intake is up. I rarely purge – the last gap was eight months long. I (mostly) don’t use laxatives. I’ve reduced my compulsive daily exercise down to a reasonable three days a week. I’ve stopped inserting exercise into every task (“stop your typing and plank for two minutes; do calf raises and squats while you brush your teeth!”).
I am not, however, healed. I still obsess over the shape and size of my body. I still struggle with believing I have value now that my thighs are a little bigger. I still have issues with banned foods (I haven’t had a glass of juice since I was eleven). The majority of my meal decisions are still based on calorie count rather than personal preference (“two bean burritos for a total of four hundred calories for dinner, good choice.”)
The eating disorder voice is still there and I’m frustrated. I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to. Shouldn’t I be better by now?
But as I sat there, hungover from the binge and semi-wishing that I’d thrown up the night before because now I wouldn’t be obsessing over getting fat, I started to think about the passage of time.
I spent almost four decades honing my eating disorder. It’s a lot to expect that the problematic thinking will disappear as soon as I make a few behavioural changes.
When I split up with my son’s father, the lawyer told me that truly getting over a relationship takes about half the time you invested in it. I scoffed but it turned out he was right. I was with my ex for a little over seven years and only felt fully free and heart-whole after three. I suspect a similar kind of math is at work when it comes to resolving our problematic thinking.
Behavioural changes are almost simple by comparison.
As is often the case, persistence is the key.
I thought for a long time that I was working recovery wrong. That I was trying to fix my problems in the wrong way. I thought if I was doing it right, they’d be fixed. I didn’t include time in any of my calculations. It was, “I want to be better now, so I will be better now”. Not particularly realistic.
It takes time. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk; you have to keep doing it even when it seems pointless. Keep the end goal in mind. Practice persistence until one day you feel the feels.
Do you expect your problems to start resolving the moment you decide to address them?