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Getting through the tough times of personal change

posted by Joshua on August 3, 2011 in Blog, Tips
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A client wrote me about frustration with a personal development project he was working on with a mentor in his field. I felt my response applied generally to personal change so I think it may help others.

I’m reading two parts to your message — one is asking for specific advice on your project; the other is about anxiety with the pace of change.

I’ll address the second part first. For context, I’ve been working on [a related project] for about four years. I still get frustrated at how much more I have to learn and how after all this time I still feel like some things I’ve never gotten down. I’d wager even [your mentor] feels the same way sometimes.

I’ve found a couple relevant life lessons.

The first is that meaningful life change always involves periods of self doubt where you say something to yourself like “I’ve been at this for six months/a year/a decade and I’m still not where I want to be / or I’m no better off than when I started”. If you don’t feel something like that, you’re probably not making a meaningful change. So I’ve learned to look forward to such feelings. No, they don’t feel good, but yes, they mean I’m doing something meaningful.

The second is that the greatest frustration tends to precede major advances. When I first start a new direction it’s exciting. I learn all sorts of new things so I feel like I’ making quick progress. But for the new direction to take root, something old — whatever didn’t work — has to go. But before it goes, I don’t know which old thing has to go. So multiple models are giving me conflicting thoughts and unclear progress. Such confusion is the heart of frustration.

I’ve learned those are the periods to stick with the basics of structure, discipline, and an experienced coach if I can find one, as you have with [your mentor]. Even if I can’t see the route to the finish line, I know if I follow the path of someone experienced and successful, I’ll get there.

The result is my mind sorts out which new models and behavior to use and which old ones to let go of. Then the conflict goes away. Sometimes there is an a-ha moment but not always. I still have to work to progress from there, but the progress is less frustrating.

So I don’t mean to imply you should enjoy being frustrated, but people who never feel that frustration never reach the goals you want to. Those who find ways to find reward in it do.

I’ve written a bunch without addressing your specific question. Is the above helpful?

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