This afternoon, I got an email from a parent who is now four lessons into Cam & Leo’s Emotion School. “I am hopeful,” wrote this parent of three, ranging in age from 6-11, “but so far, I’m not seeing much change in the kids’ behaviour.”
They had just had one of “those” mornings.
I get it. I empathize. We all have “those mornings”, when everyone is provoking each other and letting their Cam (amygdala) take the lead. We’ve all been there – the senseless fighting, the tantrums, the not listening; it’s all too familiar.
“Rest assured, this kind of change takes time,” I wrote to her. “There is no quick fix. It takes a while to see the proof in the pudding.”
There is a good reason why it takes time. Behaviour is the manifestation of a tangle of internal unconscious intra-personal and inter-personal operations. Achieving deep and permanent positive behavioural change – and intergenerational emotional evolution – takes a literal rewiring of the brain, as old neural pathways die off and are replaced with new ones; a slow drip of awareness; and a ton of intentional practise bringing undesirable unconscious impulses under conscious control. It’s hard work. And it takes time.
At the same time, the prevailing culture increasingly conditions us to expect fast results; quick fixes. Lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks. Ready in 3 Minutes. There in 30 min. or your money back. We live in a time of instant gratification. Patience is an eroding virtue.
Lots of things can be fast. But, not rewiring your unconscious impulses and changing your behaviour. That takes time - to sink in, metabolize, practise, and adopt. It takes time to see the proof in the pudding.
There is a silver lining. It gets easier as you go. As automatic go-to responses, thoughts, and feelings begin to change, and you begin to show up differently in the world, the world fills with love, peace, and happiness. Slowly but surely, others’ provocations bother you less. Unpleasant emotions don’t run as high. You don’t fall as far or for as long, emotionally, as you once did.
While slow and gradual, the change that can be achieved through this self-work is deep and permanent. “Good behaviour” is not a temporary response to fear, domination, or the drive to crowd-please, but instead belies an Unconscious that is at peace with reality, perceives with clarity, and responds with empathy.
Better still – this emotional recalibration sets the stage for a next generation of emotionally intelligent parents and children.
Finally, at the end of the day, we don’t have a choice. Given that there are no alternative quicker fixes, the best we can do is be on the path to change, and focus on the journey, rather than the destination.
And one day, you will be buzzing along, doing the work, and out of the blue, that 9-year-old middle child who used to scream in agitation at her brother’s chewing at the dinner table, will instead take responsibility for her own irritability, pick up her plate and finish dinner at her desk.
Your oil-and-water brother-and-sister will, of their own volition, decide to separate and deescalate themselves before resuming a contentious discussion about movie night.
Your little guy will close the door to the family room behind him when he watches TV “to not disturb his brother”.
And you – you might find yourself empowered to offer a helping hand and a warm smile to a surly fellow grocery shopper, who’s struggling with their bags (and their emotions).
It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But if you stay the course, you will see the proof in the pudding.