The Bigger Picture
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The Bigger Picture

Persist When You Don’t See Progress

Progress is invisible. Trust your process.

I’m pretty hard on myself. Almost every morning, I wake up and ask myself if I’m moving in the right direction. It’s hard to progress and some days I want to give up. I hope this piece will give you motivation to persist, even when you don’t see progress.

Example #1: Lifting Weights

One of my favorite hobbies is lifting weights. Lifting is satisfying because progress is stupidly easy to visualize:

Step 1: Add a 5-lb. plate

Step 2: Lift the bar.

Lifting is equally frustrating when progress comes to a halt.

In the last few weeks, I haven’t been able to gain any weight on my bench press. Each time I workout, I expect to put an additional 5 pounds on each side, but I keep trying and failing.

The negative internal dialogue starts:

Am I not lifting hard enough? Do my genes predispose me to weakness? Should I start changing my routine?

Yesterday, I had a profound realization when I took a step back and looked at the big picture. I did some quick math:

If I put an additional 2.5 pounds on each side every month, I would increase the amount I can lift by 60 pounds in a year. Anyone would be thrilled to be able to lift 60 pounds more per year.

In this period of relative stagnation, I was still improving, even if I wasn’t putting extra plates on the bar. My form was improving, my muscles were adapting, and I was becoming stronger. Sometimes, progress is invisible. As long as we are working hard, progress marches forward.

Sometimes, progress is invisible. As long as we are working hard, progress marches forward.

Example #2: Writing

I’ve been writing on Medium for a year now. Like any other skill, practice improves writing. But, being the impatient person I am, I constantly am asking myself, “Is my writing improving? Can I ever become a decent writer?”

For a long time, the only metric I could measure my writing by was my “Read %” or “Clap” statistics on Medium. I obsessed over these statistics, checking them every hour every time I published a story.

Finally, one of my stories broke through, gaining thousands of views and many new followers within a few days. I was stoked. I finally felt validated. “Maybe my writing is good,” a little voice popped up in my head.

Unfortunately, the luck didn’t last long. My next few blog posts went back to the typical — a few views every day.

The negative internal dialogue started again. I almost quit writing.

Progress is there, whether we see it or not

Progress is never easy to see in the moment.

It took me a long time to realize that “Read %” and “Clap” statistics do not determine how “good” of a writer I am. In fact, I don’t think there is a good metric for “good” writing.

Even if I can’t tell if my writing has gotten better, here is what I do know:

  • I am less afraid of publishing my work
  • I’m getting better trapping my disparate ideas on a page
  • I’m getting closer to my true voice and my writing is getting more honest
  • Most importantly, I’m more proud of my writing.

Sometimes, we have to trust that we are improving. Progress is never easy.

Example #3: Personal Progress

The most difficult type of progress to visualize is personal progress.

The Paradox of Theseus’s ship: Theseus has a ship made up of planks, sails, and a mast. As Theseus is sailing the world, some parts get damaged. He replaces these parts. Slowly he replaces every single part of his ship. At point does the old ship become a brand new ship?

I doubt the sailors on this ship ever thought they had a different ship, even though every single part was replaced.

We improve ourselves every day. We change our values, ideas, and thoughts ever so slightly. But, it’s near-impossible to notice differences between today and yesterday.

I sat down yesterday and skimmed over my journal from one year ago, then two years ago. I cringed at some of my previous thoughts, judgments, and mentalities. I know I will cringe at my current writings in two years.

My smart relative told me, “If you look back at yourself two years ago and are not embarrassed about this previous self, you have not made enough progress.”

Even though I never feel like a different person, I know that if I improve a little each day, I will be a better person in two years, four years, ten years, etc.

Progress is like the aloof, but lovable neighborhood kitten. Progress only appears at certain times. You love seeing him, but you can’t be dependent on seeing him every day.

For months, I wanted to quit writing after seeing no tangible results. For weeks at a time, I wanted to give up lifting weights. Every day, I wake up and ask myself if I am moving in the right direction. I am, even if I can’t see in front of me.

Even if Progress is not visible, know he is there. Trust your Process, and know Progress will follow.



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Chronic Thinker, Science-Lover and Humanist. Writing to ponder big questions and reflect on life.