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Gradual is Good: You Don't Need to Drive 100 MPH on the Road to Health Improvement

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has talked about gradual transformation vs. peak experiences. In "Getting Unstuck," she said, "

"[Peak experience] never happens to me. I've always wanted it to happen. It never has, and I still want it to happen, but I am beginning to realize that it doesn't matter.

People tell me their stories constantly and breakthrough experiences don't always add up to much. They come and they tell me something, and I think - wow, wish I experienced that. And then the next day they're completely hooked by some [new problem or narrative].

And so gradual is good. ... It's like willing to lose half a pound a week until you've lost the 150 pounds you need to lose, rather than try to lose 20 pounds a week and keep adding it back all the time. It stays off."

The point with this comparison between peak experience and gradual is two-fold. Gradual progress gives you time to learn, make little changes that reflect this learning, be mindful about your process, and not get hooked or entranced by the glory of success. Gradual is how sustainable habits are built. Peak experience can feel great and can blow your mind, but it doesn't form habits.

Secondly, when progress is gradual, you spend lots of time in the "beginner phase" of the change that you are making. It's tempting in these early stages to compare yourself to other people who are moving more quickly and seeing results faster than you or compare yourself to people who are much farther along in their journey. Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle or your gradual progress to someone else's rapid progress. As Teddy Roosevelt said, comparison is the thief of joy. Your process is your process. Enjoy the journey and move at the pace that works best for you.

Change is stressful just by itself. You don't need to add more stress to the mix. It's more stressful when you feel urgency around changing quickly and getting results faster. Take it slow and learn from what you're doing. Every action that you take on the road to health will spark a response in how you think about yourself and your journey. What is your internal narrative telling you about this change? Can you hear it? Take the time to understand what's working for you, how you respond to success and failure, what's sustainable and what's ineffective.

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