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Why Change Takes Time

Here’s a piece of wisdom which really resonates: You can only move ahead as fast as the slowest part of you can go. It was said by a friend struggling with a thorny personal decision who heard it from her therapist and I’m happy to pass it on. Try reading the statement again and let it sink in before continuing with this blog.

Thinking about how to describe this truism, I picture a group of children waiting to be admitted to an event, but only when all of them, including the stragglers, are up at the entrance. No matter how quickly some of them get there, the fastest walkers will have to wait for the slowest walkers. Which leads to me recalling having gone out to dinner with a group of friends recently, some of whom were present at reservation time and some of whom weren’t. The hostess insisted that she wouldn’t seat us until our entire party was present. Again, one part of the group had to wait for the other.

In the same way that different people move at different speeds, aspects of ourselves zip or poke along on their own time tables. Often our cognitive abilities zoom ahead of our emotional abilities. We think, Ha, I can do that, easy-peasy. Then we sigh impatiently as our heart balks and refuses to take another step forward. All the while, of course, we’re yelling at it to get a move on. Or, alternately, our heart charges ahead and it takes forever for our thinking to catch up with it, alas, often too late. Both of these examples illustrate that we can only move as fast as the slowest part of us can go.

Nor is there a shortage of ways this concept plays out in the eating arena. For example, you swear you’ll never diet again and will follow the rules of “normal” eating for the rest of your life, especially the rule about stopping when you’re full. But when your good judgment made this decision, it hadn’t factored in your difficulty tolerating distressing emotions. Or your heart signs you up for a three-day crash course on intuitive eating and, when you get there, you’re overwhelmed with and frightened of all the hard, uncomfortable work your brain must do to change its thinking.

We act as if we must put our brains and bodies on a schedule to hurry up and change. Fact is, you can reason with or cajole yourself til you’re blue in the face, but there are parts of you that simply will ignore your pleas, prodding and threats and take their own sweet time getting wherever you want them to go. Which is not to say that you should stop trying to reason with or cajole them. It’s the locomotive’s job to press forward—as long as it accepts that the caboose will only get there when it gets there.