‘‘It takes time’’ An unhelpful statement in self help advice

Plenty of self help columns or books end with the statement ‘‘It takes time’’. It may seem fairly innocuous and you may not have paid much attention to it when reading a piece on how to lose weight, fall in love or quit smoking.

But I’ve always hated it. After all the ‘its in you’ and ‘you are stronger than you think’ rallying calls, showing me yet another obstacle I have to overcome injects some deflation. It’s the long groan you let out on a beautiful morning when you imagine the long day ahead attending a boring sales motivational seminar.

You have an extra painful bout of Dermatemeculitis. You’ll be okay, I know you can beat this…but it takes time.

It’s not like you are not aware of the time aspect when setting a goal, it’s just that the excitement and energy of the moment clouds it. According to science, this is a good thing.

When you are focused on your goals and not the amount of time it will take to achieve them, you are more likely to succeed. One reason for this is that it reduces the length of time your mind perceives as having passed.

When I was on a mission to lose 20 pounds, I did not realize that it had taken me a month longer than I had originally planned. I was so focused on the small progressions I was making each week that I forgot to care how long it took to reach my goal. I am sure that had I started thinking that it’s taking too long, I’d have lost the fight midway.

Another downside to bringing the issue of time to the fore is procrastination. An interesting study looked at the association between the mind’s perception of time and the occurrence of procrastination. The results showed that perceiving your goal as being in the far future, greatly increases the risk of procrastinating on it.

A good example of this are the new year resolutions many people never get around to fulfilling. When writing down your Year’s goals, there is a lot of focus on time. By march I…. By May I…. and so on. But because your mind views this goals as being in the far future, the calendar turns before you get started on anything. The only way to solve this problem would be to break down your goals into shorter time frames, i.e days, weeks and months so that they are perceived as being in the present.

When a self help column ends with, it takes time, your mind automatically files that goal into a ‘future’ folder. Not only do you get discouraged, often unknowingly, thus killing motivation, it also raises the possibility that you might procrastinate.

If you are a personal development expert, consider whether telling people the obvious is really helpful. Even a well meaning ‘you need to know that it will take time’ might douse the fire you just lit. When one goes all in to achieve a goal, be it losing weight or getting rich, does time really matter? The mind is already locked into a mode of relentless pursuit.

Another very common utterance that may also not be very helpful is ‘it takes a lot of effort’.

I was already psyched to give my all to achieving this goal. Being told that it takes a lot of effort (something I already suspect), creates a negative perception in my mind that 1. It takes much more effort than I had thought and 2. I am perhaps not capable of it.

Even if I have underestimated the effort it will take, my motivation and focus, and not prior knowledge of how difficult things will get, will take me through when the going gets tough.

Now that you think about it, would seeing these two statements in a self help book or column (or having them spoken to you) affect your motivation and focus in achieve a set goal?

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