Go Slower to Get There Faster

The phrase "go slower to get there faster" is an important component of personal growth.

We all generally want to achieve our goals quickly, right? Magazine covers are filled with tips for "losing weight fast", and the desire to "get rich quick" is compelling. Yet it's common knowledge that weight quickly lost can be easily regained, and the idea that "fast money" can be earned with little investment is a major reason the housing market tumbled and investment earnings evaporated almost overnight.


In therapy as in life, sometimes quicker is better. I consistently encourage my Atlanta counseling and psychotherapy clients in their efforts to make rapid improvement toward the goals that bring them into the counseling process. It's one of the reasons that I pay particular focus on what we are trying to achieve and ways to measure progress. (I long ago learned that one of the primary reasons why psychotherapy becomes less productive is due to either poor goal planning or what I call "therapeutic drift", the tendency to wander off course without commenting upon it).

Sometimes just a few meetings are all that is needed to turn around a situation that may have initially seemed very dire. These are occasions for great rejoicing. But it's also the case that sometimes people settle for a cosmetic appearance of improvement when a deeper and more sustained level of effort is required for lasting change.

But other times, both in a counseling relationship as well as life in general, hurrying through an endeavor often carries needless risks. Even right now, as I type these words, I find that I've made several typographical errors simply by going too fast on the keyboard. When I slow down I save time by not having to go back to correct so many mistakes.


The most effective change is often achieved gradually. Many problems didn't occur overnight and it's unrealistic to expect that they will be overcome immediately. I like to use the analogy of crooked teeth: braces take years of fairly continuous pressure to bring about the proper alignment, but the end result is worth the effort.


I've written before how slight improvements can bring about great results, either by engaging in a novel effort or implementing a small change over a longer period of time. One significant benefit of incremental rather than dramatic change is that it allows for adjustments along the way. An idea that initially seems excellent can turn into a nightmare later on if it's acted upon too rashly (one of the many reasons against marrying a person soon after a divorce.) As the old saying goes, "act in haste, repent at leisure."


New homeowners who want to landscape their property with various trees and plants often ignore spacing recommendations and arrange everything too close together. While the design may look attractive for a season or two, once the plants mature and start to crowd into each other the investment of time, money and energy can be a source of great regret.


Many skills suffer when an attempt is made to learn them too quickly. Most games of sport benefit from a methodical approach to learning the fundamentals; otherwise poor technique will hamper a person's future ability and enjoyment. It's harder to 'unlearn' a bad lesson than to develop it correctly from the beginning.


Attempts to go around rather than through a difficult process often backfire. Whether it's addressing long-held relationship problems, developing healthy eating habits, working the '12 steps' of addiction recovery, seeking a better employment opportunity or practicing anxiety-reduction techniques, there is rarely any substitute for a gradual, sequential, developmental approach. Bypassing any crucial step in the process is likely to hamper the quality of any future benefits, resulting in disappointment and frustration.


This is not permission to dawdle. For many of us, there is little time to waste if we want something better than what we've had. But persistence is not procrastination, deliberation is not delay, and steady is not stuck.


Knowing when to act quickly and when to slow down can be confusing in the middle of a difficult situation. This is when a trustworthy source of guidance is invaluable. Someone who has frequently been over the same terrain that you're just beginning to travel can be of immense benefit. It's no surprise that I think an experienced counselor can serve such a role, but anyone with wisdom and objectivity can guide you.


So there is time to be the hare, and time to be the tortoise. Harness the power of both and you will go a long way in just the right amount of time. If you're truly committed to personal growth then you're in it for the long haul. Pace yourself and enjoy the scenery.


Bill Herring is a psychotherapist with lots of letters behind his name and a penchant for examining the margins, and this is his first blog post.