It happens. One day, for whatever reason many of us find ourselves way out in the wild. Lost, confused and disoriented as to how we got here, we start to look for the way out. Then a funny thing happens. We forget how long it took us to get so deep into the woods in the first place. Maybe we’ve eaten our way into being 30 lbs overweight, or we’ve spent 10 years drinking too much, or we ignored our budget and now find ourselves buried in credit card debt. We’re deep in the woods and it took us a while to get here. When I find myself talking to people in that difficult place of realizing just how far off the path they have traveled, their first thought is the irrational idea that it should take less time and less distance to get out of the woods than it took to get in.
Generally speaking, if you hike four days into the wild, it’s going to take you four days to get out.
When setting healthy and realistic recovery, or life change goals, this is an important concept to embrace. As an example, it’s unlikely that a person who has spent years indulging in unhealthy relationships, various forms of addiction or any other mental health condition that leads to unhappiness is going to undo the effects of those behaviors quickly. One might think to themselves that they have quit drinking (it’s been only a day), but after drinking for many years, that person might have lost their house, their family, their job. We try to get “the life” we had back on track, but losing the house is not the worst of it– it’s the entrenched mindset and habitual coping skills. A lost mindset is the result of years of choices compounded by unhealthy thinking patterns/behavior that have been habitual, and even worse, entrenched into actual neural networks. The neuron clusters in your brain vie for dominance and if you habitually choose the unhealthy choice, that choice becomes second nature. You have experienced this when you drive the same route everyday to work, but one morning you have to go somewhere different and you find yourself on your usual road. After years of practice, it is these networks of habits that are the longest and most difficult to change. An alcoholic who stops drinking can experience immediate and positive changes in their lives simply from abstinence from alcohol itself. However, the relationships, environment and other areas of the persons life will take longer to see the lasting effects of the new healthy approach to life.
This is not meant to be discouraging.
We’ve seen amazing and profound changes in peoples lives very rapidly once they embrace taking responsibility for themselves and taking positive action on a daily basis. Things change, when you change them. Many people become discouraged with the thought of how long it may take to get “the life they want” once they begin a course of positive change. We believe that knowing how long the conditions have existed (prior to change) can provide relief from self doubt and panic while embarking on the journey of positive change. If it took years (as is usually the case) to slowly drift off track in your life, don’t pressure yourself into thinking that it will take days, weeks or months to get back to the ideal life you think you should be living. Much of this can involve unrealistic expectations and the temptation of magical thinking that now that we are “doing good” everything should fall into place as we want it to.
One of the enduring challenges of any type of positive personal development, or recovery is to acknowledge the gravity of our own dispositions to pull us away from the good in our lives. Daily maintenance of our personal lives seems tedious, however, after some time we often find we have moved the mountain that has been the obstacle to happiness. What is important to keep in mind is that moving the mountain, even with a spoon, is still moving the mountain.