How do you know when to persist in a project, a prayer, or a goal, versus when to give it up and move on to something new?
You won’t know.
Not for sure, anyway.
I WISH there was some easy way to tell when we’ve done everything we can do, and when it’s just time to let something go. As those who follow this blog know, I’m an enthusiastic proponent of letting things go when that’s the thing to do.
It’s realizing that letting go is “the thing to do” that tends to be the tricky part.
As much as I believe in letting things go, I’m also a believer that many people tend to give up too easily when their results aren’t as instant and gratifying as they expected or would prefer.
Our culture, for better or worse, has kind of led us to this place where we expect instant results. We can barely handle the WiFi not functioning the way it should for a few minutes.
The times when someone might be expected to persist in focus or prayer or effort for days, months, or even years seem very, very far away.
Yet, persistence in the face of no immediate results is often exactly what we need in order to achieve the goals we’ve set.
Around the Doyle Practice, one of our primary mantras is “patterns over time.” I encourage everyone who works with me, professionally or as a patient or client, to focus not on the immediate ups and downs they observe, but to focus on the patterns they’re observing over time.
If someone is dieting, one instance of uncontrolled eating is one instance of uncontrolled eating. In itself, it’s barely a blip on the radar.
Thirty five instances of uncontrolled eating over the course of a week is a pattern over time. That’s the target we’re interested in.
If a couple has an argument or exchanges harsh words with each other, that’s one occurrence. It may not mean anything in itself.
If a couple is mostly communicating via arguing or exchanging harsh words with each other, that’s a pattern over time. That’s the target we’re interested in.
If you get freaked out and neglect to use your grounding skills one time, that sucks and is probably unpleasant, but it’s just a thing that happened.
If every time you get freaked out and neglect to use your grounding skills, that’s a pattern over time. That’s what we need to change. That’s the target we’re interested in.
Patterns aren’t going to shift overnight, nor should they. That’s why the whole phrase to remember is “patterns over time.” Time seems to be the one tool so many people in our age of instant gratification simply refuse to use, often because they feel like they shouldn’t “have” to.
“Shouldn’t have to.” Says who?
It’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment, by the way. I don’t believe in hitting one’s head against any given wall for any longer than one might have to. If you can produce a result in quick, emphatic fashion, be my guest.
Teach me how to do it, in fact.
But the quest for excuses to neglect the “time” part of the “patterns over time” equation usually winds up with people hurt, frustrated, and— most importantly— with their goals unfulfilled.
Maybe you won’t know exactly when to abandon the quest to change a pattern over time. It’s true that we’re often called to abide and persist and believe in a state of results-less purgatory for what may seem like intolerable periods before we start to see shifts.
But it’s also sometimes the case that when we don’t see results after a period, it’s a sign that we might need to reevaluate our goals and priorities.
That judgment call is yours, and it’ll sometimes be imperfect.
Let it be imperfect.
Perseverance in focus, prayer, and effort; hacking away at patterns over time; judiciously choosing to switch up your goals or reevaluating your priorities; these are all tools you have available to you in building your life experience.
None of these tools is inherently better than any others. Just like the array of tools in a physical tool box, they each have their purposes and limitations; they have things they’re good at and intended for, and things that you can’t do with each of them.
And knowing when to use each tool takes training and experience.
Give yourself the time to learn to be a craftsperson.
And remember: patterns over time.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter and never miss a blog or social media post!