In a group meeting the other day, someone asked about the change process. When might they start seeing results? How long will the change process take to finish?

These are common questions for those beginning their work to stop harmful or abusive behavior. I totally get why they, and their partner, want answers. I had similar questions when I set out to stop hurting the people I love.

Not the right answers

Before answering these questions, let’s address some incorrect responses. We can’t rely on change happening simply because a certain amount of time has passed. Time, by itself, does nothing.

Similarly, we can’t claim success simply based on taking particular actions. For example, going to counseling or enrolling in a certain program does not change us. Be wary of anyone who says, “I attended this program, and because of it, I know I’m fixed. See—I even got the certificate!”

Counseling or joining a group program might be effective, but simply showing up is not transformational. The person will need to learn from the material and apply their knowledge for their behavior to be different. Checking boxes on a to-do list means little.

Related: Ten Reasons Why Domestic Violence Offenders Don’t Change – and How to Make Sure You’re Not One of Them

Seeing results from the change process

When might you start seeing results from the change process? At risk of sounding evasive, the answer is, it depends.

It’s not unusual for participants in our groups to report changes in four to six weeks. They often describe situations they may have handled poorly before, but now are able to respond more constructively. Let me tell you, discovering this new-found ability is incredibly rewarding and motivating.

The speed of the change process really depends upon a person’s effort, engagement, and doing the right work. It’s spending time and sustaining that effort for as long as it takes. Vulnerability matters, too, because unless we get real about ourselves and apply concepts to our life, the knowledge never becomes wisdom.

Of course, learning information and practicing techniques won’t matter if they’re not the right ones. There is plenty of misguided “help” out there. Unfortunately, many court-mandated batterers intervention programs fall into this category. Engaging in counseling or programs that get to the source of bad behavior—often rooted in our identity—IS likely to be helpful.

When the change process is finished

Seeing light at the end of the tunnel is not the same as getting to the end of the tunnel. When is our work finished? When can we kick back, put up our feet, and say we’re finished?

Hopefully, the answer is never. Let me explain.

When we discover that we now have the ability to get better and better, why would we ever want to quit? The reality is, none of us will ever become perfect. This statement should not discourage you, however. It’s simply the truth about our human nature.

Related: How a Growth Mindset Makes Behavior Change Easier

The change process is a continual cycle of discovering areas for improvement, focusing our efforts on that characteristic, realizing growth, then beginning the cycle again. The fun part of this journey is that each time, we start from a better place. It’s like climbing a spiral staircase. Yes, we see the same scenery each cycle around, but it’s always from a higher vantage point.

Continuous change

The climb up our spiral staircase toward becoming the best version of ourselves starts with taking a personal inventory. That could mean getting feedback from others. Or, it might mean listening to the still, small voice inside that’s saying, “you can do better.”

What one or two areas of your life, behavior, or character most need improving? Be honest with yourself—the only one harmed by deceit at this point is you. Then, start there.

Next, try to identify which emotions and thoughts are driving your behavior. Why do you think the way you think and believe what you believe? How does this affect your behavior? Can you challenge those thoughts by thinking differently about your circumstances, which will create different emotions, and allow you to handle the situation differently?

Check out this blog post about How Change Happens for a more detailed look into this process.

A personal example

At the time I’m writing this, it’s been over 18 years since I was arrested for domestic violence. Much of my work, and change, happened in those first couple of years. What I learned about how to change, however, is something I continue to use.

If you think 13+ years of self-focus and work were enough to bring me to the finish line, you’d be wrong. Here are several things I’ve worked to address since marrying my wife Lynn five years ago:

  • Eliminating yelling. The number of times I raise my voice is drastically lower than it was 18 years ago. However, I was still raising my voice, even if not as often or loudly as before. I’m now working to take this unhelpful behavior to zero by catching my escalating emotions sooner. Lynn agrees I’ve made significant progress on it in the last 6 months.
  • Not correcting my wife when I think she’s said or is doing something wrong. I never considered these “minor” corrections to be offensive—I thought I was being helpful. She doesn’t like them, however, and that’s all that matters. I want a great relationship with her, so why hold onto this behavior? It helps to remind myself that we’re not launching a rocket to the moon or performing brain surgery. Perfection isn’t required.
  • Reinterpreting my wife’s quietness. I’ll admit, this was a new challenge for me surfaced by her unique personality. I interpreted her silence to mean something was wrong and I was in trouble. I’ve begun reinterpreting her stillness to mean she’s recharging and there’s nothing wrong.
  • Being patient with my wife’s delayed, yet highly thoughtful, responses. Sometimes, I talk or ask a question, and my wife doesn’t respond right away. I used to interpret this as disrespect. Now, I’ve learned to see her behavior differently—that’s she’s using the pause to process her response rather than blurting out an answer (like I would). That helps me be patient with her.
  • Pausing to determine my thoughts and emotions rather than blaming them on others who “made” me feel that way. To be fair, this is a flaw I’ve been working on for 18 years. I thought I had it down. There’s nothing like getting back into an intimate relationship that helps us discover we’re not as solid as we thought we were, however.
  • Soothing myself when I feel disconnected. Similar to the previous one, I finally realized I could take the initiative to reconnect rather than waiting for my wife to do it. Sometimes, however, it also means letting go of my desire to be together and allowing her to have more down time.
  • Being gentler. It’s funny how feeling upset comes out in our words, tone of voice, and body language, even if we’re not aware it’s happening. Taking time to fully settle my emotions before I speak, and planning my approach, are two key components to being gentler.
  • Complaining less, being positive more often. I’m shocked at how negative I can be. Sometimes, I don’t even want to be around me! My work here is to take every thought captive and evaluate whether my judgmental attitude makes anything better. If not, then how can choose to think about it differently or let it go?

A rewarding process

This isn’t a complete list, but hopefully you’re getting the idea: self-improvement has no end. Using the change process allows us to fix our worst traits, freeing us to focus on tier-2 and tier-3 flaws.

This process is not a sentence of self-hatred and fault-finding. In fact, it doesn’t feel bad at all. It feels invigorating to gain competence and confidence, much like the feeling you get when developing mastery of a skill.

I like the most recent version of me better than the previous one. You’ll like the new and improved results you’ll see in yourself, too.

Faith note

For those of us committed to following Jesus, everything discussed above is consistent to the life God is calling us into. When we hear that still small voice, it’s God communicating to us through the Holy Spirit. The areas we’re called to improve make us more like Him—which is God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.

What matters in our change process is not the rituals we do, religious or otherwise. It’s where our hearts are—the beliefs and attitudes we hold. Thinking like Jesus and seeing others like he sees them naturally leads us to right beliefs and attitudes. From there, our actions will reflect that better way of thinking.

When we mess up—and we will—God’s grace and forgiveness covers us. We can let go of the shame of our failures and more forward confidently, trying again to do better.

For those not committed to following Jesus, you’re missing a powerful force of positive change. Sure, you can try to do this on your own, but why? Why not have the guidance, power, and grace of the creator of the universe—and your creator—on your side? Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.