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The Process of Change is not Linear

Updated: Apr 15

As a doctor and a health coach, I see a lot of people who have a desire to change their lives. They see the ways that their current habits aren’t really serving them, and they want to find a way to live in a way that’s healthier and more balanced.

A woman holding a weight in one hand and a donut in the other.

It can take a while to get to the point of truly feeling ready for change. But once people have worked through their resistance and they’re committed to making changes in their lives, they often expect the process to be linear. They see where they are, they see where they want to go, and they simply expect to go smoothly from point A to point B, progressing steadily until they reach their goal.

And then they discover that transformation really doesn’t work like that.

Change Is Not Linear

In general, the process of change is almost never a straight line. We don’t see something we want and then just move straight towards it. In fact, research has found that only 10 to 20% of change occurs based on a rational, linear process.

Instead, the process of change is much messier than this. It may take us a long time to conquer our fear and resistance to doing something, and then all at once we feel ready and make a huge leap forward. We may feel that we’ve conquered something and moved on – only to find ourselves thrown right back into that previous stage later.

For example, for myself, I spent years knowing that I should eat healthier. In my 20s, I used food as a coping mechanism. Whenever I felt difficult emotions like stress or shame, I would reach for some junk food to soothe my feelings. I gained a lot of weight, and soon I had prediabetes and high cholesterol.

It’s not that I didn’t know I needed to eat healthier. I was well aware of the negative effects of all that junk food. I knew I should choose vegetables instead of chips, but every time I started to feel stressed, I found myself reaching for the junk food anyway. It was frustrating, but I didn’t know how to change things.

When my son was born, I took a look at myself through his eyes. I wanted him to show up in the world authentically, and to live a healthy and vibrant life. But that’s not what I was doing at all. All of a sudden, I just couldn’t keep on living like this.

My health habits shifted very quickly. I went on a journey to learn as much as I could about health – especially skin health. Suddenly, I was finding it so much easier to implement what I learned. I did ask experts for help – for example, I started seeing a nutritionist to help me figure out how to get my diet on track. But instead of a pile of good intentions that vanished in a haze of emotional eating, I now found myself actually implementing them.

My new healthier habits reinforced themselves too. When I ate better, I felt better. Then I had more energy and more motivation to keep eating healthier.

So was everything perfect from then on?

Nope. Sometimes I’d have a particularly bad day, and I’d grab a container of ice cream. The old unhealthy habits would come roaring back.

The key was not to get caught up in shame when that happened. Yes, sometimes I’d feel like I’d gotten everything figured out, only to find myself feeling like I was right back to square one the next week. But as long as I gave myself grace when I messed up, I was able to jump right back into my healthy plan again.

I’ve seen a lot of coaching clients get tripped up at this point. When that big shift happens, they feel like they’re all done – they’ve finally made it. Then when a slipup happens, they feel like it was all for nothing. Sometimes, I’ve seen women give up at this point.

When we don’t realize that change is not a linear path, then when we do experience a setback, we feel like we must be doing things wrong. But the truth is that this is a normal part of the process. You’re probably going to make sudden leaps forward sometimes, and you’re probably going to find yourself right back where you started more than once. Just keep on trying, and know that in the big picture, things will get better over time.

Where Are You On The Path Of Change?

You might see yourself reflected in my story. Maybe you’re currently feeling frustrated and stuck – you know that your habits are hurting your health, but you keep on doing exactly what you don’t want to do. Maybe you’ve already hit that point where everything shifts. (And it’s not always a big event like the birth of a child that triggers it – sometimes you just wake up one day and you’re ready to change your life.) Maybe you made that massive shift, but then later you found yourself backsliding.

This doesn’t just apply to eating healthy. It goes for basically everything – getting over a breakup, shifting to a more positive mindset, sticking to an exercise program. The overall theme still applies – change is almost never a simple and linear process.

It’s really important to know this. We often spend a long time gradually breaking through our own internal resistance, only to make a sudden shift all at once. And we almost always backslide at least a few times. Know that your path to transformation won’t be a straight line. But when you take the long view, you’ll find yourself making progress over time.

The support of a healthy community can be very helpful, especially during those challenging times. That’s why I’ve put so much effort into the Mind Gut Skin Academy community. Our members can reach out to each other, to help each other stay committed to their journeys even when things get tough. If you’re looking for a community like this, you can check it out here. The brand-new version of the program will be opening soon, and you can join the waitlist to be among the first to be given access.

You can change your life. If you haven’t been able to break through your resistance yet, or if you’ve made a massive shift only to backslide later, this is just part of the process. Keep going. You’ve got this.

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