Reminders on making progress

Reminders on making progress
Photo by Lindsay Henwood / Unsplash

It’s been a turbulent time lately. I’ve found myself reflecting on concepts that I come back to in times like these.

A few that I’ve focused on recently are:

  • Effort does not equal progress
  • Keep getting closer, even if I don’t see the end
  • Decisions don’t need to be perfect

Effort does not equal progress

“Working hard” can be a valuable skill. But without some kind of focus or direction, that work can become wasted. Especially in times of uncertainty, it can be easy to lose that focus, which is precisely the time to pause and reset and make sure the energy and effort aren’t misplaced.

I ran across a simple (but brilliant” visualization of this in Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which depicts the power of focusing energy.

The extension of this that I have, is even a little bit of energy, focused in the right direction, can make more meaningful progress ten times that amount of energy.

The end doesn’t have to be in sight

I commonly hear people take comfort that “the end is in sight”. I totally get this, but it can also come with risk of its own. I like to ask a few questions when I find myself focusing on the end:

  • Am I just uncomfortable and looking for a way to justify resting? Maybe I just need to rest a bit. Maybe I need to push through the pain. Either way, “the end” is not magical, it’s a helpful way of thinking about things.
  • Am I ignoring signals that this is now the wrong finish line? It is human nature to be lured by the sunk cost fallacy. Just because I was making progress toward the right thing, doesn’t mean circumstances stay constant.
  • Am I worried I may have gotten lost? Seeing the end isn’t always a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean I know where I am or exactly how to get there. Heck, sometimes it can be more demoralizing to see the end but realize it’s further than I hoped or has obstacles in the way.

Even if I thought I knew where the end was, those details can change. With that in mind, why stress myself out if I can’t see the end in this moment?

Decisions don’t need to be perfect

I keep a regular practice of planning for the future. As part of this, I consider many different time horizons and circumstances I think I’ll find myself in. In my experience, the destination, and so many steps along the way, have evolved from what I originally envisioned. I’m grateful that they have. I consider decisions to be temporary.

This is true even when I’ve made a good decision in the first place. Sometimes it takes the experience of walking down a path to be at peace that it’s not for me. This is easy to forget, yet such important perspective when making decisions!

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that “because decisions are temporary they don’t matter”. They do—and I strive to make thoughtful and good ones. The nonpermanent nature of decisions is a benefit, but they also have consequences. Some of these will limit the viability of some options in the future. With this in mind, I err toward inclusive and conscientious options. Said plainly, I prefer not to burn bridges or negatively impact others.

With these frames in place, there is a lot less pressure about making perfect decisions. Remember to embrace the imperfection, celebrate those I got right, learn from the ones I’d do differently, and be at peace through the process.

Looking forward

I don’t have a good way of knowing how long things will remain turbulent. In addition to the above, I try to keep in mind that I am not alone. You’re not either.