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How I Made Friends with Inner Progress

Every year, my boyfriend's tree produces these delicious oranges. And every year, I eye that tree all year long, waiting and checking and re-checking on the tree's progress to make the oranges.
Every year, my boyfriend’s tree produces these delicious oranges. And every year, I eye that tree all year long, waiting and checking and re-checking on the tree’s progress to make its (my) oranges. Impatience at its finest….

I suspect I was born impatient.

While I have no idea if infants have the ability to form memories at birth, to this day I would swear my first-ever post-birth thought was, “Oh no – not this again!” (this being uttered at the very same moment I was pulled out of my mom’s tummy, naked, grumpy and oh-so-resentful of that initial breath-producing whack on the rear).

I also suspect I’d been viewing a spoiler right before I emerged – an unwelcome and way-too-late-to-go-back-now glimpse of the bullying, the depression, the anxiety and the eating disorder that would begin to unfold sooner rather than later in my young life.

As it turned out, the spoiler was incredibly accurate. It also didn’t mention that this uncomfortable setup was necessary for all kinds of reasons that wouldn’t make sense until the “spoiler years” were far behind me.

In the meantime, I tried to hide from my fate, tried to fit in, tried to appear “normal,” but I didn’t have it in me. Everything in my life seemed designed to ensure I stuck out.

As an example – I was a full head taller than every other kid in my class (including the boys) all the way through the end of fifth grade.

I also tried to climb into my locker and pull the door shut from inside on my first day of kindergarten.

Things didn’t improve much from there. 

By age 10 I was beginning to battle depression and anxiety. By age 11 I had developed anorexia. At age 19 I became bulimic. The depression and anxiety had by then joined forces in cyclical cycles. When they disagreed about whose turn it was, I got suicidal.

Of course, no one really knew any of this but me, and I didn’t have the words to sanely say to one of the many responsible adults in my life, “Oh hey, I need to get some medication for my depression and anxiety and I’d like to see a therapist for my eating disorder too, please.”

If only. Nope, all I knew was there was this horribly mean and very confident little voice in my head that never slept and definitely never ate and its only hobby was talking to me 24/7 about what an awful failure I was as a person.

It talked so much and so loudly that over time I barely spoke at all.

But then I met someone who became a mentor to me and changed the course of my trajectory forever (I share a lot more about that in my first book, Beating Ana: How I Outsmarted My Eating Disorder and Took My Life Back).

Of course, the moment I perceived there might possibly be even the teensiest chance to take my life back from the perpetually peeved inner critic, I wanted to get on it ASAP.

So basically, this left me chomping at the bit for about two decades as I sorted out the disaster that was ages 0 through 26.

Today, as I am turning 46 in just a few days, I can look back and clearly recall all the moments when my longtime current mentor, Lynn, would be forced to remind me yet again to have patience.

Time and time again, she would remind me that the types of big outer shifts I wanted to make in my life must first be preceded by little and then big inner shifts.

Then she would remind me that making big shifts – outer or inner or both – takes time. Sometimes they even take a lot of time.

A gifted gardener, Lynn would sometimes explain that the reason her vegetable garden grew so well was because she would plant the little seeds and nourish them and give them time to grow. She would say to me, “Do you think it would help them grow faster if I stood over the tomato plants and yelled at them, ‘GROW!’?”

Of course not (although I was willing to try it, to be honest).

But then again, this was a tomato plant we were talking about here, and I was a human being with a big and active prefrontal cortex. So I got it, and yet I didn’t get it.

It didn’t help that I was tremendously impatient.

I was impatient to feel better in my body and mind. I was impatient to get away from the mean little voice. I was impatient to be more like Lynn and less like me.

And I was impatient for tomatoes, already. I mean, REALLY. How long precisely do the little suckers need to grow, anyway?

This is the way it has been for me – nearly all my life. In the sucksville early years (the first two or so decades) I was impatient for every day to end simply to find out if I would still be there for the next.

Over the last two decades in particular, I have felt impatient to feel even better. Each little iota of progress has reliably bred an intense and insatiable craving for more.

More feeling better. More progress. More sanity. More safety (from the little inner voice and also from the mean people in my outer life who still sounded so much like it). More, MORE, more….more of me and less of the inner self-awfulness. More trying new things, following my dreams, saying “yes,” saying “no,” discovering I am really not all that awful, after all.

More self-confidence. More self-control. More stability. More joy.

These days (thanks mostly to Lynn’s tireless reminders) I am better able to remind myself that these kinds of big inner transformations take time. I have also learned they actually tend to take a lot more time than the outer transformations that typically follow.

This is because the inner transformation is when the soil has to be tilled, the seed has to be planted just-so, the water and fertilizer and sunlight and nourishment has to be offered and accepted, the little seed has to crack open (and then avoid being eaten or drowned or crowded out by the ambitious carrot or potato plants from one bed over) and produce its tiny shoots, which then have to begin to grow and so forth and so on….

The actual “Oh wow look – a ripe tomato – let’s have it for lunch today!” part takes no time at all by comparison.

I share all this because this year has been all about inner progress. Very little tangible outer progress has really been visible.

But during this past year, something huge has shifted on the inside, and that is this: I no longer mind not being able to immediately see the inner progress I am making in my outer life.

In other words, these days, I am finally able to experience greater fulfillment and joy from simply being able to sense inner progress. I don’t need “proof” right away in my outer circumstances (although eventually some proof is still always nice).

Today, I value inner progress even more than I value outer progress, because today I finally understand that inside me is where the really good stuff is going on.

After 45 complete years of life to study and learn from, I have become fairly certain that once I’ve made a certain amount of inner progress, the outer progress is pretty sure to follow.

So I know that each day that I make more and more inner progress, it is only a matter of time before my outer life begins to reflect this also.

And that is pretty good – great, actually – like watching a movie where, no matter how gripping the drama gets (and it can get quite gripping at times) you already know it will all work out splendidly in the end.

These are my favorite kinds of movies.

As it turns out, this is also my favorite kind of life.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself really impatient for some shift or change you can sense but can’t yet see or “prove?” What helps you stay the course and cultivate patience for taking the small daily steps that can produce big inner and outer change?

How I Made Friends with Inner Progress

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). How I Made Friends with Inner Progress. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Dec 2016
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