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Understand: Progress in Life is Not Linear

 Late sunset, early spring

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” ~Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Personal and professional progress is not linear.  See diagram:

not typical

We all go through setbacks as a normal part of life.  It is how we respond to those challenges that determines if we are going to spiral downwards, stagnate or grow and develop.

In my practice, clients often initiate therapy during some setback, such as a depressive episode, the loss of a loved one, a breakup, a relapse, etc. Many expect or hope progress to be linear—-that they should continue to feel better and better each day in a straight path upwards. However, it is more common for people to make progress, experience a setback, learn from it, recover, and then make progress again.  See diagram:


When a stressor or transition in life occurs, it is normal for us to experience this sort of regression—a fallback to old patterns, behaviors and ways of thinking. Part of psycho-spiritual development is learning how to recognize those “loops” in life and implement strategies to recover and get back on course. These include practicing self-compassion, self-care, accessing support, reflecting and learning from the setback, thinking positively and taking action to move forward. The goal is to have the regressions be fewer, less frequent and less intense.

Through nearly 20 years of counseling clients through their darkest hours to their greatest bliss, I have come to recognize that challenges are opportunities for growth, healing and development. Hardships promote insight, awareness, compassion, strength, resilience, and wisdom.

In my own life, my times of greatest personal challenge occurred after the deaths of my parents and the sudden parting of my former business partner at a time our business was experiencing significant financial duress. These experiences were profoundly traumatic and I experienced deep loss, tremendous fear, and uncertainty that I would be unable to to manage my life without their support. I processed my feelings through therapy, yoga, meditation, writing and other psycho-spiritual practices. The result of this hard work and some healing time was that I learned I was far stronger and more capable than I ever realized. I now have confidence in my resiliency.

If you are experiencing a setback or regression, do not fear that you are back at ground zero. Life is giving you an experience to grow. Remember, you’re simply going through a temporary phase that will pass, contributing to the evolution of your consciousness!

How have you experienced challenges as opportunities for growth?

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Understand: Progress in Life is Not Linear

Joyce Marter, LCPC

Joyce Marter, LCPC is the Founder of Urban Balance and public speaker. You may find her at her personal website here, or you may follow her on Twitter.

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APA Reference
Marter, J. (2013). Understand: Progress in Life is Not Linear. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Oct 2013
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