When I first sat down to write Big Picture Living: A Guide to Finding Fulfillment (Even When Everything Sucks), progress was slow. The first four chapters were a challenge. Each word I put down felt like a meticulous choice. I doubted myself and questioned each sentence that I put on paper.
As I went through and edited the book for the first time, I realized that my uncertainty as a writer translated into awkward prose. Less than a month ahead of our launch, I remember reading over the first chapter and thinking, "Oh gosh, I'm going to have to throw out and rewrite everything."
Thankfully, I didn't have to throw it all away. Plus, when I made it into the last half of the book, the content didn't require as much editing. Everything flowed easier, the prose was more concise, and the chapters better conveyed their core focus. Editing the book and reworking the early chapters made me realize how much I had to write before finally hitting my stride.
Our personal growth often functions in the same way. When we start to work toward a new goal, it often feels like we're trudging uphill. Each step is laborious, and if we pause to reflect on our progress, it's easy to feel defeated. However, if we're consistent and push through with a sense of grit, we eventually reach a point where the pieces of the puzzle click together. We finally reach a vantage point where we realize we've covered a lot of ground and are doing quite well.
When beginning a new endeavor, it's those early steps– much like the first chapters of my book were– that can trip you up and make you doubt yourself. Like the classic turn of phrase suggests, there's no way through it but to do it. While grit and sticktoitiveness are the key elements of the equation, there are a few things you can do to make it easier to get to the other side.
1. Focus on your Process, not Progress
A surefire way to trip yourself up in the early stages of a new endeavor is to quantify your progress or compare it to someone else's pace. Progress, when thought of as your proximity to your end goal, seems like it'd be a reasonable metric. The problem that we run into is that progress is entirely relative.
Most of our undertakings will have a steep learning curve. Making progress toward an end goal will likely be minuscule at first. However, as you get more comfortable with the process, your progress will accelerate. For example, with this website, I tracked my growth by the tens of visits for the first year of its existence. In the second year, I saw tens grow into hundreds. By the third year, I watch it grow by the thousands. Had I given up when progress was slow and not trusted the process, I wouldn't be where I am today.
2. Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People
The company you keep defines you. It's often said that your personality is the sum of the five people you are closest to. While I don't know the psychological validity of that statement, I can attest to the simple fact that the company you keep will influence your behaviors.
By keeping the company of people who have similar goals to you, you'll create a support system. Having others nearby understand your challenges, have strengths that complement yours, and provide contextualized feedback is hugely beneficial. Doing so will push you to better yourself and create a sense of accountability, even if you're not actively checking in with each other.
3. Journaling & Critical Self-Reflection
I am adamant about the power of reflective journaling, and it's not just a matter of personal bias. Research shows that practicing critical self-reflection through journaling is tied to an increased sense of empathy, mastery of one's skills, and confidence.
As you're focusing on an area of your personal development, take a few minutes each day to write about what you're experiencing. Don't be afraid to dig into the details about where you're struggling, what you enjoy, and where you excel. Defining these details will enable you to gain a new perspective on the skills you've acquired and the areas in which you need to improve.
4. Get Outside, Unbiased Feedback
Similar to surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, communicating with an outsider generates new ideas and reframes your outlook. Having someone who can reflect what you're saying back to you and ask questions about your thinking and processes will enable you to see new facets of the situation at hand.
Coaching is an incredibly powerful way to recontextualize your outlook, so that's what I would recommend as a starting point. If working with a coach isn't available to you, explaining your project to a friend or coworker who isn't well-versed in the area can be a helpful exercise in practicing communicating what you're working on and see new aspects of it. Just make sure you pick someone who is a keen listener and isn't only going to feed you sugar-coated snippets.
5. Ensure You're Taking Time to Rest
Rest is the unsung hero of progress. I first realized the importance of rest through my fitness journey. For a while, I tried to go to the gym each day, even if my body was inflamed or sore. I thought that meeting my fitness goals meant that I had to overexert myself. Rather than getting the biceps of my dreams or a six-pack, I got a severe shoulder injury that kept me out of the gym for nine months.
Exercising and getting in shape relies upon a cycle of stressing your muscles through exercise and then letting them recover. The same is true for our personal development. If we spread ourselves too thin or overextend our efforts, we end up burnt out and frustrated. Make sure–regardless of what area you're focusing on improving– you take time to rest. Incorporate a well-rounded diet, plenty of sleep, leisure, and social activity into your daily schedule to make sure you're in the best position possible to continue making progress.
6. Don't Look for Shortcuts
If you stop focusing on getting your process right and start looking for shortcuts or easy wins, you're going to absolutely gut your success.
Within the self-improvement and personal development space, there are dozens of companies and individuals claiming to have some miracle elixir that cuts out the need for hard work. Nootropics, weight loss pills, get rich quick schemes, and bogus "courses" are all over the place.
Remember: if something sounds too good to be true, it is. As alluring as it can be to think there's "one trick to land million-dollar clients" or a pill that will allow you to "drop three pant sizes in a month," shortcuts very rarely pay off. You are much more likely to save money and time by putting your energy into building a solid foundation of necessary skills for yourself and working hard. Cutting corners leads to shoddy outcomes that aren't scalable or sustainable, and they're likely to have negative consequences as well.