Why It’s Hard to See Progress in the Moment

Progress is only visible over time.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Only when you look back on the series of moments can you see movement.
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Only when you look back on the series of moments can you see movement.

Do you feel like you should be further along than you are?

Or that you’ll never reach that dream because there are just too many steps between here and there?

Or that you’ll never achieve a goal because the goal posts keep moving further away?

Progress can be difficult to measure and even more difficult to feel.

Zeno’s Paradoxes of motion are usually expressed in three ways:

  • You cannot travel from Point A to Point B because you must first cross the halfway point between A and B, then the halfway point between there and B (three-fourths of the way), then the halfway point between there and B (seven-eighths of the way), etc. There are an infinite number of halfway points, so it would take an infinite amount of time to cross them, so motion must be impossible.
  • You cannot catch a turtle that’s running away from you. To do so, you would first have to reach the point where the turtle was when you started. Then you would have to reach the point where the turtle was when you got to that point, etc. Every time you get to where the turtle was, it has moved on, so it must be impossible to catch a fleeing turtle.
  • Arrows do not move when you shoot them. At any moment in time, an arrow in flight is in one place. It’s not moving. There are an infinite number of moments during an arrow’s flight. During none of those moments is the arrow moving. Therefore, the arrow must not move.

Each of these is obviously false. Arrows do move. You can catch a turtle. We cross from Point A to Point B all day long.

This is why they’re called paradoxes. Mathematically, Zeno proved that motion was impossible. Intuitively, we know it is possible. Yet this shows how easy it is to overthink a problem and decide that we’re powerless to stop it. Nothing we do is going to make a difference. We may as well not try.

At any given moment, it may feel like we’re not making any progress. It may be small, but it’s there. It’s not until we look back and see how far we’ve come that we realize how much we’ve done.

The problem is that results take time. At any given instant, like a single frame of a filmstrip, there is no motion. But when moments are strung together, motion comes to life.

When you look at a single frame, there’s no progress. It’s just where you are at that moment. That’s a static assessment. In order to see progress, you need another frame you can compare against—where you were a day, a month, or ten years ago.

We only see progress when we compare results over time.

My favorite telling of The Shepherd Boy by the Brothers Grimm is given by The Doctor in “Heaven Sent” (spoilers):

There’s this emperor, and he asks the shepherd boy how many seconds in eternity. And the shepherd boy says, “There’s this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it and an hour to go around it, and every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.” You must think that’s a [heck] of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a [heck] of a bird.

It might take a long time. The bird kept at it. Be the bird.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That’s the easy step. The hardest step is the final one, not because of anything about that step, but because of the 4,223,998 in between.

You’ll get tired. You’ll have to talk yourself out of quitting, out of giving up. You’ll ask yourself what you were ever thinking.

If you keep at it, you’ll get there. There are only so many moments separating you from living your dreams. Gradually, the snapshots change. Gradually, you’re living a little closer to your dreams.

One day, you’ll notice you’re not the same person that started this journey. One day, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. One day, you’ll cross the final halfway point and prove Zeno and all the critics wrong.

Question: How do you keep going when you just want to quit? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.