By Jimmy Warden
There’s a saying that’s been around for quite some time that states, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. It’s a saying that still holds true to this day because its meaning is that greatness doesn’t happen overnight. Rome was one of the strongest of the ancient civilizations before its catastrophic collapse.
Despite most people having this knowledge, we expect to build our ideal selves in a day, which sets us up for a lot of disappointment. Far too often, we want to achieve our goals immediately, without a full understanding of what it truly takes. Progression isn’t a linear concept, it is actually very erratic. Therefore, we must be resilient enough to push through on the tough days where our best doesn’t feel like our best. Through this consistent action, we give ourselves a better chance of becoming the person we want to be. Within this consistent action, there will be loads of micro-progression that we achieve along the path to our overarching goals or dreams. It is important to take pride in these micro-progressions, so we can keep moving forward in the right direction.
Micro-progression is making small improvements in an area, or areas, of our life. Some examples might look like the non-exerciser going out for a five minute walk, or a person reading a few pages of a book to start creating a new reading habit, or someone connecting with a friend who they haven’t spoken to in awhile to start building better relationships. It could also take the form of a person taking a few deep breaths amidst frustration if they are trying to improve their emotional regulation. All of these examples are snapshots of actions we need to take in order to make a large change over time, to become the person we want to be.
The challenge with these moments is that we don’t always recognize them as progression because we have our eyes set on the end goal of our ideal self. However, it is important to recognize when we show ourselves glimpses of that person. When we don’t, we just get back into our old ways that have made us feel like we’re not doing something meaningful with our lives. We yearn for the big changes that await us when we set goals and want to become better, but we don’t always realize the big changes are disguised as many micro-progressions compounded over time. Therefore, in order to achieve the big changes, we must celebrate and take pride in our micro-progressions, because they are checkpoints along our journey of improvement.
In order for us to begin these celebrations, we need to cultivate awareness of when we make micro-progressions. Some ways that we can do that is by asking ourselves some questions to get a roadmap of what we’re trying to accomplish. We can ask questions like, “What do I want to improve upon?”, “Where is my position on the improvement scale?”, “What position on the improvement scale do I want to try to get to?”, and “What can I try to do today to creep towards that position?” By asking these questions, we give ourselves a better opportunity to take some thoughtful action by coming up with a plan for the day and subsequent days. It is important to at least have a plan rather than no plan because a bad plan beats no plan, considering it can be changed after it is implemented, and failing to plan is planning to fail. Often, we freeze ourselves in the process because we feel our plan needs to be perfect, but the perfect plan doesn’t exist, so it’s best to make a plan and take some action to learn how well the plan works or does not work. This will help create some motivation to reflect in case we need to change the plan, and it is important to reflect frequently on our plan implementations.
Some ways that we can be reflective about our plans for micro-progression include, but are not limited to, actions like habit tracking or reflective journaling. Habit tracking will help us get a concrete visual of whether or not we are taking consistent action in trying to make changes, and reflective journaling can help us write out the thoughts that we’ve had along the way that might help improve our implementation of our plan. We can do this by reflecting on questions like, “What seems to be working?”, “What’s getting in the way?”, “How can I minimize or overcome interference?” Lastly, when we see we are making micro-progressions, we need to celebrate these small wins, and try to reward ourselves appropriately. Without rewards, behavior often does not get repeated, due to the lack of an incentive. These rewards do not have to be tangible items, they can simply be words of encouragement in our journaling or internal dialogue. Sometimes, it is the tangible item reward (new asset, cheat meal, alcoholic beverage) that becomes interference of progress. The more frequently we reward ourselves in appropriate, beneficial ways, the more consistently we’ll engage in attempts to improve. There is also no shame in sharing our success with someone because that can help build inner confidence for our efforts.
There will be times when we’re trying all of these things, but it doesn’t seem like we’re making any progression at all. If that’s the case, the chances are that we are lacking patience. It is important to be patient throughout this process because progression is not linear, and even if the progress is minimal, it is still progress nonetheless, and that should be noted. There is also the potential that we get stuck in the trap of dwelling on our failures. This is a dangerous trap because dwelling on failure can be paralyzing to taking action. It is better to try to acknowledge the failure as a learning experience in order to make any adjustments necessary to improvement plan and keep moving forward. Once we can get in the habit of making these adjustments and continue that forward movement, we’ll have an easier time staying out of our own way. More often than not, we’re the ones holding ourselves back with the decisions we make that are not in alignment with the changes we want to make. For example, there have been times in my life when I’ve wanted to be more consistent with journaling before bed, but there have also been many times where I did not follow through because I told myself I was “too tired”.
We need to overcome these obstacles we put in front of ourselves with our thoughts and internal dialogue by changing that conversation, and remembering our reasons for wanting to improve. Remembering our why can increase our motivation to push through challenges and failures. In order to change this conversation, we should try to remember that anything we do is bigger than ourselves because we could provide a spark for others with our consistent actions. For example, improving our emotional awareness and self-awareness doesn’t just help us, it also helps others around us because we’ll be more authentic in our interactions, which others will pick up on. Staying physically healthy will help us live longer and allows our relationships with others to also be longer in their duration. Increasing our knowledge doesn’t just open our minds, but it opens other minds too when we share our learning.
All of these various ways to keep motivation high will help us become more intentional with our actions each day, even when things get a little bit sloppy. And sometimes, we have to accept our best for what it is that day, even if it is not as good as it has been in the past. Our best will look different each day because of how different each day is. As long as we can trust the compound effect amidst the variation, we will give ourselves a better chance to stay consistent in our actions, knowing the small decisions we make today don’t just help present us and present others, but also future us and future others, because we’ll be closer to the person that we want to become with each correct decision we make. Others will sense that and they just may join us for the ride.
In sum, we must try to keep the perspective that great things take time to be created, and our personal growth process is no different. The more patience that we can practice, the better off, we’ll be. Our expectations that we place on ourselves will be more rational as a result, as we won’t be expecting something that is vastly beyond our true capabilities. As we’re patiently working, we’ll be making micro-progressions, which are small improvements, but all of these micro-progressions will compound over time to create a change that we set out to make at the beginning of our journey for self-improvement. The more aware we can be of this, the more likely it is we’ll stay the course on that journey, even when the roads get bumpy, or we take a wrong turn. On our journey, we should be taking thoughtful action, and take the time to engage in thoughtful reflection to consider what we can change to make the journey better, and allow ourselves the best opportunity to improve. We cannot forget to celebrate along the way, no matter how small the improvement, because improvement is the goal, not perfection. We just have to learn to accept micro-progression. Once we do, it will eventually lead us in the direction we’d like to go.