• Yvette E. McDonald, LCSW-QS

The Messy Middle: Slow and Steady

Ever feel like your progress is moving at snail speed? Feel like you’re putting in all this time, energy, and effort and your progress just doesn’t seem to reflect it all? Welcome to the struggles within the messy middle of your journey. The part where progress is slow and challenges your desire to keep going.


This part of the journey is all to familiar to me when I was attempting to get back to a healthy lifestyle. I knew that the process would be long and difficult. I knew that I didn’t get to where I was overnight and I wasn’t disillusioned to think that I would get where I wanted to get instantly. But, I never envisioned the amount of blood, sweat and tears that it would take on a daily basis to stick with and work toward my goal.


Connecting the Dots

When I started to process my journey I found there were a lot of similarities with regard to ones journey to getting emotionally healthy. With both it started with the realization that something needs to change and something has to give. I like to put it this way.....you come to the end of self. At the end of self one begins to recognize that life can't continue the way it's going. In simple terms the pain of staying the same starts to noticeably outweigh the pain of changing. Once in this head space one starts to both recognize and accept that it’s going to take some work to make the necessary changes for a better tomorrow. The issue is that once the work begins one never anticipates the element of the messy middle in which progress can be slow.


Why does progress become slow (or seem slow)? For various reasons.

  • Microwave mindset: Everything should be fast and easy, like cooking food in the microwave.

  • Unrealistic expectations: All change should occur in 6 to 8 weeks. This is what society bombards us with no matter what the change is that we are attempting to tackle. We create these expectations that we should be in a different place at this point in our journey.

  • Comparison game. Comparing our insides with other's outsides. We do this through social media, at the gym, work, church and the list goes on. We see others sprinting through change and reaping the benefits of that change.....or so we think.


So, what helped me in the messy middle when the progress slowed down? A mindset shift. I had to switch my thinking from that of a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. A fixed mindset has you sitting in the beliefs, feelings and thinking that change is impossible. A growth mindset is the opposite in that change is possible with commitment and hard work. Why does mindset matter? Do you have hours for me to explain? Probably not, so for the meantime the short and sweet of it is that your mindset is the game changer to the process of change, as it plays one of the most critical roles in how you cope with life's challenges. So, after I had my pity party a.k.a pause moment, regarding this part of the messy middle and grieved what was and was not, labeled my feelings and unpacked and processed my unhealthy thoughts (which I highly recommend). I then adopted five mindsets to get through this part of the messy middle of my journey:


  1. Determine your Why! Writing out my hearts Why was and is imperative to the journey. Determining why I sought this change and what I'm hoping to achieve remains the focus that drives me when sitting in the messy middle of the change.

  2. Create a plan. Writing down what I’m working on and creating a plan in which I write out the little small steps I need to do everyday to reach that goals. Intentionality and systems go a long way. This can look different for everyone, but one of my favorite ways of doing this is through journaling. Having a journal in which I highlight what my goals are and the small steps I need to take within a 3 month period to accomplish those goals. The journaling also allows one to celebrate the small steps as you can visibly see your progress.

  3. Put your feelings in a box. Weird thing coming from a therapist, right? I mean aren't you suppose to explore and process feelings? Yes, your right but if time has taught me anything it’s that feelings have a tendency to get in the way. Acknowledged yes! Trusted no! What do I mean by trusted? Well if I trusted my feelings and acted on them, they would have me sitting on the couch in self-pity as my feelings would be whispering to me "it’s too hard", "your never going to see the change you want", "what are you doing this for anyways"?

  4. Focus on the process of change. Recognizing that it’s not the destination but the adventure along the way. Numerous people have spoken about how they were so hyper focused on the end result that they lost focus of the journey and the adventure that was intertwined in the journey. The end result ended up being disappointing. Ralph Waldo Emerson states "Life is a journey not a destination". I’ve seen more people experience joy as they lean into the process of change and focus less on the end result.

  5. Recognize everyone's journey is unique. Everyone has their own stories, uniqueness, make up, experiences, external and internal challenges, strengths and weaknesses. They may sprint through change in some areas of life and struggle through others. We are all uniquely different and different doesn't mean bad.


This journey through the messy middle is that of a personal nature. What works for some will not work for others. My hope is that this gives you a push in the right direction in order to create your own personalized game plan for the messy middle's you encounter on your journey.



The Messy Middle


Which one of the five mindsets can you try when progress is slow and you don’t feel like you have what it takes to keep on the good fight?






Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for individuals helping them discover the person they were always meant to be, as they become the best version of self in their roles and relationships in the Port Saint Lucie and Martin County area.