July 16

The trap of pursuing progress


For as long as I can remember, the most important thing in life has been to make progress. Now whether that comes from my educational background, or my upbringing, or my life in corporate work, or as an entrepreneur, the question has always been: “Am I making progress?” (or someone asking or telling me “it's okay as long as you're making progress”). This looks and sounds like a great idea doesn't it? As the watchword for a successful life, “just show up”. Isn't that what we're told? That the secret is in just showing up, whether you feel like it or not?

I think I've conflated these two things to have the same meaning, but they don't. This pursuit of progress at all costs, however small, has a dark side. When your focus is on making progress, it becomes all encompassing. “Whatever happens, I'm only okay as long as I'm making progress”. “Enough” is almost erased from the vocabulary. It's hard to stop working. Because when you stop, you're no longer moving. And by definition, you're no longer making progress. While this can be energising - fun even - it becomes all consuming, to the point I've now reached where a day without progress is a day of failure. A day without progress shows personal inability, personal inability to get stuff done, inability to just show up, inability to keep going. No movement equals no progress, no progress equals no future equals no happiness equals no satisfaction. To put it another way, misery.

A different perspective...

So, if all this attention on progress leads to misery, what could be better? Here are some initial thoughts that might still provide some useful ways forward. There, I did it again! Moving forward is just progress masquerading as something else. There's another school of thought which is more connected to goal and goal achievement that I've seen recently, which says: define the outcome, and then focus on the process. This way of thinking is built around the process being the only thing you can control. As you can't control the output, seek to control the inputs and the process instead. 

It strikes me as useful when thinking about the antidote to a life built on making progress, so for the next week, I shall focus on process rather than progress. And within that, put my efforts into purely focusing for a predetermined block of time. In my case, probably around three hours a day. For a goal of three hours focus being the mark of success may release me from the shackles and the misery of a progress-focused life. Will you join me?

Let me know what you think by tweeting me or leaving a comment below!

Process over progress...

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burnout, focus, hustle culture, process, progress, pursuit of progress

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