Nothing recedes like progress.
E. E. Cummings
1894 – 1962
Have you ever observed someone running on a treadmill? Usually, they’re putting forth a good deal of effort, yet they aren’t physically going anywhere; they continue to stay in the exact same place as when they started their workout.
For me, this image provides a good analogy for the way so many people live their day-to-day lives: they’re constantly expending effort — possibly a great amount of effort — but they don’t make any forward progress.
To some extent, stagnant progress is inevitable, because there will always be setbacks in life: the unexpected illness, the appliance that breaks, the clothes that wear out, and even the favorite product that gets discontinued all result in moments when we have to take action to get ourselves back to status quo. And while these events are frustrating, there’s only so much we can do to avoid them. They’re simply part of life.
But unavoidable setbacks aren’t the only reason we can end up staying at square one in spite of all our efforts to move forward. Let’s look at some common pitfalls and solutions, using an example most everyone will recognize: going on a diet.
Probably the most common issue impeding people’s progress is a lack of planning. Lack of planning can result in doing tasks in the wrong order, delaying action due to missing or unavailable resources, or taking actions that aren’t necessary or don’t provide real benefit. For instance, using our dieting example, you’ll want to plan healthy meals before you shop, plus clear your house of junk food before you get a late-night craving; the last thing you want is to come home after a long day at work and discover that your only dinner option is pizza delivery (or a bag of cookies). You also don’t need to count every calorie you put in your mouth, which can be both onerous and stressful; focusing on healthy, sensible food choices and portions should work just as well.
Lack of information can also effectively derail progress. Continuing with our dieting example, there are plenty of misconceptions about healthy eating. For instance, unsalted nuts are a very healthy snack, but they’re also calorie dense, so they need to be eaten in moderation; knowing the right portion size can keep you from inadvertently sabotaging your efforts.
Your progress can also suffer if you don’t enlist the allies you need to move forward. In the case of diet, you need friends and family who support your healthy eating habits rather than encouraging poor food choices.
Finally, lack of regular, ongoing evaluation can result in staying on the same path whether it’s the right one or not. You need to periodically review your efforts to see if you’re making progress toward your goals and what actions are helping or hurting you. From a dieting standpoint, that would mean weighing in once a week plus taking note of what isn’t working, then finding a solution. If your willpower is low on Friday nights, don’t try to force yourself to cook meal when you’re exhausted; find a healthy take-out alternative you can have as a treat. Similarly, if you know having coffee with a friend will mean you both get dessert, look for another activity you’ll enjoy that doesn’t involve ingesting an extra meal’s worth of calories.
If you feel like you’re working hard but never making progress toward your goals, stop and consider if you’re falling short in one or more of these areas and start taking corrective action. The sooner you make adjustments to your approach, the sooner you’ll start seeing results.
All change is not growth; as all movement is not forward.
1873 – 1945
Copyright © 2015 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor