Why Does It Take So Long to Make Progress?
Part of the spirit of human nature is a desire to make progress, or positive change. We all want to improve some area of our life. Perhaps we want to improve our finances, relationships, health, or education. We may want to control our emotions, develop self-disciple, or grow more tolerant. But why is progress so slow?
Part of the reason lies in asking the above question. That is, rather than ask what’s holding us back, we shrug our shoulders and sigh, “Well, I guess that’s what is meant to be.” However, what happens to us is not the result of what is meant to be, but the result of the actions we take or fail to take. So, if we find ourselves in less than satisfactory circumstances, let’s start by considering the major roadblocks to our success. And once we have identified them, let’s ask ourselves how we can overcome those hurdles. Finally, after arriving at a solution, let’s act on it.
Thus, a simple 4-Step Plan can launch us on our way:
1. Identify what is holding us back.
2. Figure out what steps we need to take to overcome the obstacles.
3. Take action! Implement our plan.
4. Monitor the results of our actions, tweaking them for best results.
Major Roadblocks that Slow Our Progress
1. Living by default instead of by design. That is, rather than plan our actions, we usually just automatically respond to whatever happens to us at the moment. And when we act automatically, we just continue doing what we have always been doing, which is the definition of NOT making progress. The solution is to stay alert, vigilant, and think before we act. Before acting, ask yourself if what you are about to do will improve your life, keep it the same, or make it worse.
2. Making excuses instead of making plans. Success is not a matter of luck that happens to us. Rather, it is created by us because of the actions we take. When we accept responsibility for our actions, we empower ourselves, but when we deny our shortcomings and rationalize our poor behavior, we condemn ourselves to mediocrity or failure. for as Shirley Chisholm wrote, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
3. Listening to our Inner Child instead of our Inner Adult. We constantly hear two voices within us. One suggests how we can improve our lives. This is the voice of our True Self, Inner Adult, or Inner Wisdom. Unfortunately, the inspiring words of our Inner Adult are often drowned out by our Inner Child, which is the stored memory of our childhood. Our Inner Child is a Fraidy Cat or scaredy-cat. It is afraid to try anything new or to step out of its comfort zone. When you act without thinking, you usually turn over control of your life to your Inner Child. To succeed in life, we need to listen to our Inner Adult and act courageously.
4. Being afraid of being wrong. As children, we were afraid of making mistakes, being criticized, denied affection, appearing stupid, breaking the rules, or being punished. For when we were ‘wrong,’ we were made fun of, humiliated, or scolded. Unless we remain vigilant, these childhood fears will carry over and direct our present action. Remind yourself that you are no longer a child and resolve to act courageously.
5. Being afraid of our own inner power. We all sense that we have vast inner power. We know this by observing the great deeds of others. For we share the same human nature. If others are capable of greatness, so are we. But we are afraid to use our power. Marianne Williamson explains:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Why are we so afraid? Here are some reasons:
a) If we acknowledge our power we have to accept responsibility and can no longer make excuses or blame others for our failures.
b) We may be afraid of working hard and prefer to loaf.
c) We may be afraid people will expect too much from us or take advantage of us.
d) Friends may become jealous of our success and abandon us.
6. Lacking self-reliance. In childhood we learned that we could not take care of ourselves. We relied on mom and dad to provide us with food, shelter, and safety. They told us what we had to do, when we had to go to school or see the doctor, when to go to bed, when to go out and play, and when to study. As a child we came to believe we could not look after ourselves and we had to rely on others. If we do not remain careful, remnants of those early beliefs will remain, and as adults we will continue to search for help outside of ourselves instead of relying on our inner resources.
7. Chasing after what we want rather than what we need. For example, satisfying our craving for sweets instead of our need for nutritious food is self-defeating and will sabotage our plans for good health.
8. Making wrong choices. For instance, students who party instead of study, young working men purchasing expensive sports cars instead of saving for the future, and families spending more than they earn and going heavily into debt. Wrong choices weaken our stance and make us ill-equipped to handle future emergencies.
9. Allowing our past to rule our present. Tom’s parents divorced when he was just three years old and his single mom had to work two jobs just to survive. Tom received very little guidance from his mother because she was away working most of the time. Today, Tom is confused and not very successful.
“I can’t help it,” he says, “I never received proper guidance, so I’m all screwed up and don’t know how to succeed.” Tom is allowing his past to rule his present. It’s true that we cannot change our past, but we can change how we perceive it. Instead of focusing on the lack of guidance he received from his mother, for example, Tom could have focused on his mother’s self-reliance. Even though Tom’s father wasn’t paying child support, his mother worked hard enough to raise him. He could learn a lot from his mother’s devotion, dedication, and perseverance.
Instead of interpreting his past as depressing and discouraging, he could have found it inspirational by learning from his mother that we can survive even in very tough situations. Besides, Tom is no longer a child. What’s to stop him now from going to the library or bookstore to get the guidance he didn’t receive in his youth? If he were to do so, he would be receiving guidance from the top experts, giving him the edge over most of his peers.
10. Harboring the wrong mindset. It is surprising that many people continue to believe that their suffering is caused by external events, failing to realize that it is their attitude that is the cause of their problems. More than 1,800 years ago Epictetus taught “Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them.”
Similarly, around the same time, Marcus Aurelius taught, “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” Instead of bemoaning your present problems, why not rejoice, which you can do simply by adopting the attitude, or mindset, that no matter what happens to me, I’m going to benefit from it one way or another.
11. Postponing future success for immediate gratification. It’s silly to deny ourselves the exhilaration, satisfaction, and pride of lasting success for temporary pleasure. But our brains are programed to favor pleasure over the ‘pain’ of making the effort to succeed. That’s why procrastination is rampant. But procrastination is the postponement of life. That doesn’t make sense does it? Despite our programing, we can override it by making conscious decisions to make the effort to succeed. After all, the rewards of success far outweigh the ‘rewards’ of partying, TV, playing games, and other diversions.
12. Being unwilling to pay the price. We don’t seem to mind paying for the tickets of sports events, concerts, and the theater, so why do we resist paying the price for success? We cannot succeed unless we first recognize that anything worthwhile has a price. So before you begin any endeavor, cheerfully promise yourself that you are willing to pay the price for success. If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort, you’re just wasting time dreaming about success or making halfhearted attempts.
13. Avoiding problems. Problems aren’t the problem, but avoiding them is. Why don’t we already have the degree of success we want? Because there are problems, obstacles, and hurdles blocking the way. Isn’t it obvious that we have to solve the problems before we can succeed?
14. Lack of resilience. The path to success is not smooth. There are bumps in the road. We are bound to stumble, trip, and, perhaps, fall. Successful men and women are resilient. They know how to get up after each fall and how to maintain a positive attitude, regardless of the difficulty. If you could use more help in developing resiliency, I heartily recommend this book: The Resilience Factor, 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte Ph.D.
15. Undervaluing the significance of small steps. Consider this, if we were to improve by a mere 1% per day, at the end of the year we would experience a 37.8% improvement (1.01 x 365 = 37.8). Any business that grows by 37.8% per year would be considered phenomenally successful. Shouldn’t we feel the same way about the business of our life?
Also, be forewarned about the disastrous effect of allowing ourselves to do 1% less per day. If we were to do so, by the end of the year we would lose 97% of our accomplishments (0.99 x 365 = 0.03)!
Yes, repeatedly taking small steps is extremely important. That’s why Buddha taught, “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.”
16. Giving up too easily. Difficulties and problems are not stop signs; they are simply alerts warning us to prepare for additional work. They also promise additional strength, knowledge, and success to those who are willing to tackle our daily complications.
17. Not choosing our friends wisely. We become like the people we associate with. So, it is crucial to hang out with people who are already like the person we wish to become.
18. Not taking into account the Pareto Principal (the 80/20 Rule). That is, if we had a list of ten things to do, two of those items would be as or more important than the other eight items combined. Another way of putting it is many of us spend 80% of our time working on the unimportant stuff. If we wish to be productive and successful, it is necessary to prioritize and focus on the 20% that is important.
19. Lack of active listening skills. Many mistakes can be avoided and valuable lessons learned simply by listening to the people we are interacting with. Active listening means listening with full attention and regularly confirming that our understanding of what is being said is correct. Remember, our ears are for hearing and our mind is for listening.
20. Dreaming instead of scheming. A dream, or vision, accompanied by goals and action lead to success, but dreaming in the sense of wishful thinking without planning (scheming) is a surefire way to arrive at a dead-end.
Finally, another reason for the importance of making progress is that we are either progressing or regressing. There is no standing still in life. Charles Caleb Colton explains: “He that is good, will infallibly become better, and he that is bad, will as certainly become worse; for vice, virtue and time are three things that never stand still.”
License to Live: A Manual For Getting Past Life’s Roadblocks by Elvin Dowling
Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success by Dr. Theo Tsaousides
Coach Your Own Life: Break Down the Barriers to Success by Jeff Archer
The Inexplicable Laws of Success: Discover the Hidden Truths That Separate the ‘Best’ from the ‘Rest’ by Virend Singh and Verusha Singh
When Your Mind Sabotages Your Dreams: Turning Your Critical Internal Voices Into Collaborative Allies by Ike Lasater, John Kinyon, and Julie Stiles