The vast majority of the projects and skills we work on in life do not progress in a linear fashion.
In the 16 years I’ve been doing flying trapeze and trampoline, I’ve often said that “progress” is one step forward followed by three steps back. There’s a detour to build a new skill, maybe a setback due to injury or time off, then slow baby steps forward again. This is true of most physical skills and activities that I’ve pursued.
This also applies in work and other areas of life. We’re constantly rebalancing, retooling, shoring up systems and foundations as we try to progress, even as we build upon our existing skills.
When progress comes in baby steps and is obfuscated by detours and side steps and regression, it’s hard to see it. Although, somehow, I seem to notice every setback I have, even while I’m in the process. Blame negativity bias.
We don’t get a full picture of where we’re at and what we’ve accomplished.
It’s like trying to see a building from the inside. You simply can’t get perspective to see the entire structure when you’re in it.
To see a building, you’ve got to get outside of it and ideally across the street. You need some distance from it to take it in.
Being outside and across the street lets you see the whole building. But you get a different perspective if you watched it go up, or if you know what was in that space previously.
The same is true for our progress.
Some people say it doesn’t matter where you were, it only matters where you are. There’s some truth to that, but it ignores the reality that human beings are in part motivated by progress. When we have moments of regression, we can stay the course by reminding ourselves how far we’ve already come.
We can get outside ourselves through meditation or other practices through which we take time out to observe and reflect.
Sometimes, we can’t see it on our own.
This is why it’s so valuable to work with coaches. Coaches remind us where we were, show us the picture of where we are, hold the vision for where we can go, and help us stay the course.