“I feel I’m back to where I started.”
“I can’t believe I’ve failed.”
“It’s like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back.”
My clients often find themselves getting better, but then inevitably they “relapse.”
When you commit to improving something in your life, you do get better at it with practice and time. However, practice does NOT make perfect. Think of a sport. An athlete that trains daily and works hard at improving their performance, can become an all-star, but even they will have bad game days. Do their mistakes imply that they’ve lost their skills?
Just like the all-star athlete, we all have bad days or moments of deterioration. But here’s the thing: no bad day or “relapse” can take away what you have already advanced and accomplished in the past.
Unlike math, change in human beings is not linear. We have ups and downs. If we were to graph our progress when we are working on becoming better versions of ourselves, this is what it would look like:
Notice that on some days (dots) will be above average, while others will be below. If you draw a line through your progress data, which direction will it go? Are you headed up towards improvement, stuck in the middle, or in a downward spiral? You’re in constant movement, but you’re always moving forward. Even when you’re headed the wrong way (downward), you still have the wisdom you’ve acquired in the past. This will give you an advantage when you choose to change direction.
I ran the Miami marathon three years ago, but I stopped training consistently and lost my endurance. At times, I wonder how I was able to run for 26.2 miles straight when now I can barely make it to a mile. You would think I’ve gone backward, but I’ve only gone downwards in performance. Going back would mean I wouldn’t believe myself capable of running great distances, which I know isn’t true because I have. I am not able to run far today, but I have in the past and therefore I know I can in the future if I choose to. If I want to become a better runner, all I need to do is change the direction of my graph by training and focusing on one-mile-at-a-time.
If you want to persevere and grow, focus on progress instead of your end goal. It’s easy to get discouraged if your eyes are on the 26.2 mark because you can’t do it overnight. You will, however, accomplish your goal if you manage to increase your performance one mile at a time.
The majority of the significant goals in life are a byproduct of the way you live your day -to -day. Hence, if you engage in habits that are aligned with your goals, it is just a matter of time before you achieve them. Unfortunately, our habits are often counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish. Just like being a couch potato won’t get me to mile 26, having the habit of eating sweets after every meal won’t lead to a thin figure.
Habits are automated and profoundly ingrained, and it can be challenging to unlearn preexisting bad routines and replace them with new, healthy ones. Nonetheless, if you start with one day at a time, the daily victories and accomplishments you experience in the present will accumulate to create the ultimate success. It is the conglomeration of days, weeks, and months of daily decisions that will transform your life.
Change takes time and starts within. People around you may not notice your transformation until you’ve created a long-term habit. If you go to the gym one day for five hours, you will not get home and see a twenty-pound thinner version of yourself in the mirror. One week of kindness will not erase the wounds of years’ worth of aggression. Similarly, it will take more than a month of a positive attitude to change your reputation as a bitter pessimist.
If you are going to the gym, you are being kind, and you are working on your positive attitude, there is progress being made.
FOCUS on your PROGRESS. Pay attention to the day-to-day actions that will become habits with repetition. Are these moving you upward in the graph of your progress?
Seeing nothing doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.
Progress IS happening.