Changing Habits is Hard
How Long Will it Take? This is a question that many starting therapy, or any new endeavour, may ask themselves. The answer’s not straightforward, but having said that there are some guidelines.
Let’s assume you’re coming to therapy to work on your relationship (or an addiction, depression, or other ongoing issue) and that you’ve tried what you can to fix the problem – and still feel stuck. You are probably coming as a last resort rather than as the first thing you’ve tried.
And in a world of fast paced work and rapid transfer of information we all tend to expect quick results. We might otherwise feel we’re failing, or that the process isn’t working.
But the reality is: changing bad or entrenched habits is hard.
You may’ve been doing these things for a long time and the research suggests that habits form brain patterns that are hard to break. It takes time and concerted, conscious, consistent effort to change.
New Neural Pathways
The good news is that we can change. Neuroscience talks of creating new neural pathways. New pathways allow you to change and create new behaviours, over time, that serve you better than the old ones did. It takes work and time to create these changes. No matter how well you do at first, if you don’t keep up the good efforts you can easily slip back into old behaviours.
You have to really want the change. Changing because someone else wants you to change, or because it seems like a good idea, will not create the desired result. You have to want it enough to do whatever it takes to get there.
The latest research suggests that it takes 6-9 months to create the new neural pathways that support a long term change in behaviour. That sounds scary but it’s really not so bad.
The Benefits Start Now
Just because it will take time to cement change, doesn’t mean you’ll not experience benefits immediately. If you are able to stop the vicious arguments with your partner, are able to stop smoking or to eat more healthily you will usually notice great benefits quickly. What we want is for you to sustain those changes over the long term.
When you notice benefits it makes it easier to stay with the work required. But there are other hidden factors too.
Unpacking Why You Do What Do
Your current behaviour is there for a reason, or you wouldn’t be doing it. This can be hard to swallow, but it’s true. Whether you’re a workaholic, 10 kilos overweight, or have anger management issues — your current situation is serving you somehow.
So take some time to think about this. Whether the need is relaxation but the behaviour is binge drinking, or the need is recognition but the behaviour is overwork, you first need to identify what need is being served by your current behaviour.
Once you have the answer, you can work out how to meet this need in another way, smoothing the path to change.
Support and Commitment
Therapy can create a supportive environment to explore what you really want, what you need to change, and ways to do exactly that.
It is also important to recognise change and progress as it happens. There will be many steps along the path to your goal and it is important to integrate the changes and build on your successes. It will keep you more focused on the target.
It’s known from positive psychology and neuroscience, that you’ll have more success when you move towards something positive than away from something negative.
Let Us Help Along the Way
Since we are only human too we know what it’s like to struggle with an issue and have to put in hard work to change. We know this both from personal experience and from the clients we have worked with.
If you are willing to put the effort in we are happy to help support you in your change process.