Beneath the Surface
I was speaking to a friend this week about change. She was frustrated with her lack of progress in what she was trying to do and I was encouraging her not to give up.
It's a common feeling that we all have: Why am I not seeing progress? Why is what I'm doing not working? What's the point of continuing?
What I said to her, and what I realised for myself in that moment, is that just because we can't see a result immediately does NOT mean that change isn't happening.
It may just take a while to show in a way that we expect.
It's like weight loss. We have visceral fat around our organs and sometimes this is the first thing to reduce before anything on the surface which comes later.
The same with muscle-building. The tiny fibres need to be challenged so they repair themselves, bit by bit, which isn't seen immediately.
Mindset change, too. We can form a new neural pathway in our brain but it doesn't become the new default automatically. The new one has to be laid down then used until it is firmly in place.
And, one close to my heart, decluttering. How can it seem that we throw out so many things and yet our homes still feel cluttered? Why don't we live in a perfect home after all this work?
The problem in all of these examples is mindset. We expect the end result (a 6-pack, guns of steel, a new attitude, a perfect home) straight away. And we assume we are not making any progress whatsoever if we don’t immediately see something happening.
What we forget is that surface change is the result of deeper change. A lot of life and growth takes place beneath the surface. Quietly. Unseen.
A baby in the womb, neurons in our brains, and, one of the biggest examples, plants! A tiny shoot might be all that's seen above the earth but by the time that happens a lot of germination and growth has taken place down there in the dark.
Jeff Olson puts it a great way in The Slight Edge (and there’s a nice review of that book linked to below). We plant the seeds but then we immediately expect the harvest. We forget the need to cultivate our seeds, to allow time for the gradual changes and growth to take place.
If we give up too soon we never get to that. How sad to abandon a germinating seed just because we’re frustrated it’s not immediately a flourishing plant!
We need to stop judging ourselves just by what we think we can see.
Through exercise, the visceral fat is reducing. Through strength training, the muscles are developing. Through new thought processes, new brain pathways are being laid down and through decluttering, tiny bits of space are appearing.
There's a bit of trust needed to believe in what we can't see.
And even when change does become seen, it might not arrive as a massive transformation or with the big fanfare that we also tend to expect.
It will, one day, quietly and almost unnoticed, start to show on the surface. It can easily be missed, if we're expecting more or focused only on the full harvest and frustrated at why it's not here yet.
It's like conceiving a baby and wishing it was a 5-year-old immediately. Planting a seed and next day expecting a courgette. Expecting to be ripped after a few healthy meals and a gym session. And we do this all time!
As well as trusting in the growth beneath the surface, we need to be grateful for the slow, measured progress that's leading to the change we want.
And experiencing the joy that this can bring! Watching the seed develop its first shoot, then more and more until it eventually becomes the plant.
Looking back at where we have grown from instead of always forward to the eventual harvest that we want.
Readjusting our expectations and learning to trust.
And if we do this; stop measuring only the visible and have faith in the growth beneath the surface, then we will get our harvest.