Friday, March 31, 2017

Progress Comes Dropping Slow

One of the great risks of our modern society with its almost instantaneous action and results is that we come to undervalue the nature of our own personal progress.

It seems logical enough, of course. We have come to a place where our water is heated within a minute and our questions on almost anything can be answered within seconds. Our materials desires are now only days or even hours away from fulfillment, thanks to on-line ordering and overnight delivery. We are living in an age of instant gratification.

And so we are often surprised by the fact that personal development of any kind takes far longer than we anticipated – and we may lose sight of the progress we have made when comparing it with the world around us.

A real world example: as part of my weight training program, I am directed to vary the number of my lifts every week. This week is 12 x lifts (e.g. 12 of the lift, moving upward in weight until I fail of exhaustion. So far I have done Squats (12 x 220 lbs, previously 12 x 200), Push Press (12 x 95 lbs, previously 12 x 75) and Bench Press (12 x 140 lbs, previously 12 x 130) – (Dead Lifts are today). My first thought last night was “I do not feel like I am the least bit stronger”.

So I looked back at my training log. When I started 1.75 years ago with this program, I could do 5 x 100 lbs Bench Press, 5 x 65 lbs Push Press, 5 x 155 lbs Squats, and 5 x 130 Dead Lift. So obviously, I am stronger because by simple volume it is more (Bench Press 500 lbs versus 1680 lbs, Push Press 325 lbs versus 1140 lbs, Squats 775 lbs versus 2640 lbs). But why do I feel that I am not making any progress at all?

Because real progress is slow.

Real progress – can we say natural progress – is slow. Look at the natural world around us. Trees take years to grow, cows take years to reach their final weight, gardens take years to reach their full potential. The natural world is slow – maybe because it (literally) moves at the speed of life. And we, being part of that world and and bound by its laws, make progress slowly as well.

But we perceive this to be wrong – perhaps that we are not making progress at all, because in the world as we life it things happen so very quickly. If things are not happening quickly, we perhaps think, they are not happening at all.

This is not true, of course – the progress is there if we will look for it and acknowledge it. It just may be slow and imperceptible in our day to day lives, viewable only over a panorama of time.

It is difficult, this living in the two worlds of speed and slow, of gratification and personal progress. But we make it infinitely more difficult on ourselves when we confuse the two in our minds: we mistake progress for something which should be immediately visible but is not, missing what has occurred in our rush to reach a place at a speed that simply not possible.


Rain said...

I agree with you about the instant gratification and for me, it's such a huge turnoff. I've never been the type who NEEDS something NOW. I've always wanted to work for what I have, to take the time to make something, bake something or grow something. I do admit I wait eagerly by the flower pot to see how my seeds are doing, but it kind of makes me sick to my stomach, our modern age.

And congrats on your exercise program! YOU ARE progressing! This makes me think of a friend of mine. She is obese and expects that one or two weeks of gym visits will show her the big difference that she needs to see to keep going. I told her it might takes years and she continually gives up and tries low calories "fasts" to get her you can imagine, she gains it all back and then some because there was no real work put into it.

I think that's why I'm moving gradually towards the life of a hermit, self-sufficient...just my boyfriend, me and our pets living a simple homesteading life. I can't stand the modern attitude and the modern world, though I do appreciate the internet I a hypocrite? LOL...

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

I think our culture helps a great deal in this need for instant results and gratification, Rain. It almost trains us that this is the way the world should work. I remember a day (if you can believe it) when one actually had to mail away for items and then wait for them to arrive.

Physical changes and mental changes are the hardest, I fear. The body and mind only work at the speed of nature, but our entertainment (especially) trains us to believe that strength develops in days, mental abilities in hours, and all cases are solve in 45 minutes or less. It never works that way in real life, of course.

I am fortunate - my strength coach has never pretended it is anything but an effort over time - "Putting in the work whether you feel like it or not", as he says. And my fellow students of his are the same way - we celebrate the victories and PRs, but we have no illusions that this process will ever take anything but time and effort.

My Iaijutsu Sensei consistently describes our art as a lifetime challenge - that we will never completely arrive as we always have the ability to improve on something. It seems to me that this would be a far more helpful philosophy for our society to embrace.

Rain said...

I agree with your Sensei's philosophy, but I think that there are too many people in this world who won't (can't?) relax their brains enough to even process that philosophy. Too wired in. But you know, selfish as this seems, I've long given up on society and hoping for change. Instead I focus on myself, my boyfriend, our pets and our home. To me, that's the most important "society" that matters. I think that once people (who want to) unplug from what our culture trains and find a simpler way of life, then that life becomes gratifying and fulfilling. Otherwise, there always seems to be something off...something missing. I can only speak for myself of course. :)

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

I suppose sort of sadly enough, I have given up on hope of change as well, barring something of epic proportions that will force people to change. Certainly your experience is mine as well: the less and less I concern myself with the world at large and the more I focus on that which truly matters, the happier I am.