If our culture believes anything about personal growth, it’s the “ah-ha!” moment.
You know. The big, dramatic moment where everything suddenly becomes clear. When the scales fall from our eyes. When realizations crystalize. When lightning strikes, and we’re never the same.
The “ah-ha!” moment has been dramatized in our culture, almost to a comical extent. Many of our favorite movies and other stories include a variant of it. You know the part of the movie I mean— the moment where the hero suddenly has a revelation, accepts their quest, shifts their identity. That one, magic, golden moment.
I can’t tell you how many people have come into my office waiting, looking, earnestly searching for their own “ah-ha!” moment. The therapeutic breakthrough. The part of “Good Will Hunting” where Robin Williams grasps Matt Damon by the shoulders, looks deep into his eyes, and repeats, “It’s not your fault, Will,” until the latter embraces him in a sobbing heap of therapeutic progress.
It’s beautiful, man. And those dramatic, corner-turning moments do happen, in and out of the therapy room.
But they don’t tend to be particularly dramatic.
And, if we’re being honest, they don’t tend to be particularly important, for that matter. At least, not as important as we want them to be.
In fact, the “ah-ha!” moments we seek, and sometimes find, often set us up for disappointment.
Why? Because no matter how dramatic your “ah-ha!” moment may be; no matter how profound your revelation may strike you as; no matter how fundamental a change it may signal…there’s still a moment after it.
And a moment after that. And even a moment after that.
Unlike movie characters, our lives tend not to be one dramatic moment happening after another, as it turns out. The reality is, most of our lives deal with habit and routine, not earth-shattering turning points.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good “ah-ha!” moment as much as anyone. Hell, I have ADHD, thus my brain is, if anything, more susceptible to moments of heightened drama and emotion than most. It’s not that there’s something wrong with “ah-ha!” moments, or craving emotional breakthroughs. Seeking those moments are often what drive people into therapy in the first place.
However, there’s this delusion in our culture that once we have our “ah-ha” moment, the bulk of our work is done. As if the task of personal development is all about building up to that moment, gaining momentum, preparing ourselves for it, and once we crest that wave, our goal is accomplished— the spell’s been broken, the world is different, the credits can roll.
If only that were the case.
Yes, it’s the dramatic high point of the story when the prince kisses Sleeping Beauty, bringing her out of her slumber. It’s a beautiful moment when the Rebels blow up the Death Star. It’s a stunning development when Christ rises from the dead and appears to the Apostles. And I love it as much as anyone when Jerry Maguire solemnly tells Dorothy, “You complete me.”
What those stories don’t elaborate upon, however, is that now the prince and Sleeping Beauty have to figure out if they’re well-suited to live happily ever after.
Or whether the Rebels can make an intergalactic government, which in its previous iteration had fallen prey to corruption and infighting, halfway functional.
The Apostles, in the wake of the Resurrection, were now looking at the logistical problems of establishing a new religion and on the verge of centuries of bloody persecution.
And none of Jerry and Dorothy’s fundamental marital problems were actually solved by his player getting a contract and him deciding that she “completed” him.
Moments of profundity are important. Breakthroughs can be beautiful. Those glimpses of high emotion are often what we fantasize about when we set off on our journeys of personal growth, and what propel us along the way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to experience those highs.
But the real work of therapy lies in integrating those profound “ah-ha!” moments into our daily existence. Modifying our ways of living, routines which have been conditioned by day after day, year after year, of thinking, feeling, and behaving in certain ways, to accommodate our new insights.
Chase your “ah-ha!” moment, by all means.
But know that that exciting moment is where the real work only begins.
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