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.