No, I'm not talking about the pandemic.
What I am talking about is how two years seems to be an almost magical length of time when it comes to so very many different things.
It's when the sharp edge of grief begins to fade.
It's how long it takes to raise a good dog.
It's how long it takes to remodel the fascial (connective tissue) Spiderman suit that we wear under our skin that rules our habitual posture.
It's how long it takes to know if a business idea will succeed or fail.
You can often tell if a romantic relationship will be good for you or not by then.
And, in my experience of working with people to change their minds and bodies, it's how long true change takes to happen.
Most of us have a lot going on. Let’s pretend like we’re a person that has a full-time job, a house that is not completely descended into chaos, and we take care of a parent, child, partner, or dependent animal. All of that takes a lot of time and energy. Then in today’s world, we’re also supposed to be becoming our shiny new selves and mastering a new skill, and on and on.
So again two years. A lot of people want what takes two years to happen in about six weeks. Plus that’s what all the advertisements tell us. And in six weeks, if you take time away from the other responsibilities in your life which is a totally fine choice, and you really focus on your new goal for hours every day, you can make amazing strides. But that level of progress is often not attainable long-term, and most of us can't take six weeks off from our normal routines to transform ourselves. We need to find a way to slowly make the changes and have them fit in with our lifestyle and environment.
Real change takes several steps, and each step takes time.
The transtheoretical model, first used in 1977, breaks it down into six stages:
As Dr. John Norcross explains them:
"Stage 1: Precontemplation (not ready to change)
People at this stage do not intend to start the healthy behavior in the near future (within 6 months) and may be unaware of the need to change. People here learn more about healthy behavior: they are encouraged to think about the pros of changing their behavior and to feel emotions about the effects of their negative behavior on others.
Precontemplators typically underestimate the pros of changing, overestimate the cons, and often are not aware of making such mistakes.
Stage 2: Contemplation (getting ready to change)
At this stage, participants are intending to start the healthy behavior within the next 6 months. While they are usually now more aware of the pros of changing, their cons are about equal to their Pros. This ambivalence about changing can cause them to keep putting off taking action.
People here learn about the kind of person they could be if they changed their behavior and learn more from people who behave in healthy ways.
(NOTICE: we are already about a year in at this point!)
Stage 3: Preparation (ready to change)
People at this stage are ready to start taking action within the next 30 days. They take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives. For example, they tell their friends and family that they want to change their behavior.
People in this stage should be encouraged to seek support from friends they trust, tell people about their plan to change the way they act, and think about how they would feel if they behaved in a healthier way. Their number one concern is: when they act, will they fail? They learn that the better prepared they are, the more likely they are to keep progressing.
Stage 4: Action (current action)
People at this stage have changed their behavior within the last 6 months and need to work hard to keep moving ahead. These participants need to learn how to strengthen their commitments to change and to fight urges to slip back.
People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behavior with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.
Stage 5: Maintenance (consistency)
People at this stage changed their behavior more than 6 months ago. It is important for people in this stage to be aware of situations that may tempt them to slip back into doing the unhealthy behavior—particularly in stressful situations.
It is recommended that people in this stage seek support from and talk with people whom they trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and remember to engage in healthy activities (such as exercise and deep relaxation) to cope with stress instead of relying on unhealthy behavior."
What is the most interesting to me about this process is the time it takes just to go through the pre-contemplative and contemplative stages. I often see people have a lot of poor self-talk in these stages because once you can see that a change will be positive (in the contemplative stage), we often get down on ourselves about not taking action soon enough.
When I talk to clients in this stage, I remind them that true change is like turning an ocean liner. You have to slow down the direction you are going, make a big, wide turn, and then start slowly in the new direction before picking up speed. Some of us also have to learn to steer the boat in the first place.
I also see these first two stages as when your subconscious gets on board with your new idea. While it is true that our minds can perceive new ideas quickly, taking action on them and changing our day to day to behavior is another matter entirely. Our logical minds often are ready to go full steam ahead while our subconscious patterns are not prepared to change course. That's why it's important to take your time and allow the different stages their due.
There is more to you than the bit of your brain that likes to boss you around. There are older, deeper, more subtle spaces in your awareness that need time to weigh in and comprehend new ideas. This is especially true when new ideas are important and have the possibility of changing your self-identity or your life circumstances.
In the next stage, preparation, we are getting the resources together we need to be successful. These may be very practical things like new running shoes, a notebook, or art supplies for a new hobby. Or maybe you realize that you need more knowledge so you sign up for an online course, hire a coach, buy a guidebook, or attend a class.
And then: the leap of faith in yourself. Preparation is over and it's time for action. And with action come failure and learning and trying again.
Oh, how brave we are.
At first glance, two years can feel like a long time. But when taken into the context of our overall lifespan, it is not that long. You are worth the time investment.