We live in a culture obsessed with progress. It’s the holy grail of any endeavor. We seek to chart it, measure it, and chase it around every corner.
The problem is that we don’t know what it looks like.
Here are 3 problems with our approach to progress.
Progress is rarely linear.
We often move backward before we move forward. In any moment when you seek to measure progress, you don’t know where you are in the arc of a project, or how long the timeline is.
The analogy I always come back to on this is organizing your closets. When you organize your closets, you pull everything out into the room. If someone walked into the room, they would see a big mess. It wouldn’t look like progress. That doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. Sometimes things get messier before they get cleaned up.
Progress is often illusory.
Sometimes, what looks like progress is not really progress. If you achieve a result in a way that isn’t sustainable, is that progress?
Last year, after weeks of hard work and training, I was able to climb a rope. The following week, I couldn’t climb the rope. The rope climb wasn’t progress; I’ve since learned that I have been moving my body in dysfunctional ways for years, using the wrong muscles.
My “progress” in climbing the rope and other activities wasn’t sustainable because I was using the wrong muscles. It wasn’t real progress. In fact, my muscle compensation patterns were putting me at risk of greater injury.
Progress is not always measurable.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is true. It’s important to have your eye on the results you want and have a system of measurement for those results that you can track over time.
That said, here’s another important consideration:
What matters most cannot be measured.
How do you measure a shift in mindset or belief? Is there a metric you can place on confidence level? Or a strong sense of self-worth? What’s the scale for inner peace and a greater sense of well-being?
The most important part of our progress — the inner work — has no measurement tools. In fact, we often don’t see progress because it happens under the surface.
It’s helpful to look out for progress, but don’t rely on it as a sign of anything.