Fifteen steps backwards

There are many things that make changing personal habits very hard. But, one that makes this process supremely frustrating is the fact that, after some initial success, you start by taking fifteen step backwards for every one step forward.

We’ve all been there. The first week of our new exercise routine goes great. And, then comes the lull. Two weeks go by. We’re struggling. Should we just give up?

Maybe that’s why personal change is the hardest kind of change there is. Dealing with the obvious conflict between our rational and emotional selves can drive us nuts. And, try as we might, there really isn’t an easy solution. There are no hacks that can solve the problem. There is only awareness, thought, patience and consistent effort.

Take one step forward and fifteen steps back. Then, try again. And, again – maybe it will be fourteen steps back this time. And, yet, you’ll continue to feel that stubborn force pushing you back.

Steven Pressfield called this force the resistance – the force that acts against all personal change, progress and creativity.

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Overstatement or not, we often find it easier to conquer environments, nations and organizations than to conquer ourselves.

Looking for the next mountain

Life has a way of making sure we face a continuous stream of ups and downs. It is akin to mountain climbing. If you are on top of the mountain right now, you’ve probably endured a lot of hardship as you made your way uphill these last weeks. And, if you’re currently enduring hardship, you’ll be at the top in due time.

The wise realize this and ensure they don’t get too high when they reach the peak and feel too low when they’re stuck in the weeds. This perspective keeps them focused on the bigger picture. The important thing is to keep climbing.

The one trait I have observed in people who seek to make a dent in the world is that they don’t wait around for life to hand them the next mountain climbing assignment. Instead, they go look for it themselves. They take up new responsibilities, start projects, attempt to drive change and make things happen. This means they sign themselves up for more intense climbs than most and fail to reach the peaks they want more regularly than most.

But, as you might have gathered, it isn’t in the peaks that life is lived, but in the climbing. And, people who make a dent go out of their way to find new mountains and keep climbing. Yes, they fail. But, yes, they also learn how to be relentless in their pursuit of the next thing.

And, it is thanks to that relentlessness that great things happen.