The Difficulty of Recognising Progress


Confession: I am rubbish at recognising my own progress. I am much more likely to list all my failures.

Who better to teach you all about how to recognise your own progress? Yes, I know. Let’s call it therapy.

The British Way

I am so British it hurts.

We don’t do tooting our own horns here.

Difficulty of Recognising Progress - deep excavationThe second you come out of the womb, you apologise for causing your mum so much pain.

You can see why I have a problem with acknowledging my progress. Add to that being brought up in a ‘Proper Working Class Family’ TM, and you have a heady mix of paralysing repression.

This stiff upper lip thing is so weird. When did Brits decide we needed to just tough stuff out and never receive praise or give it? I blame it on the era of corsets. Hear me out…

Corsets were a bitch to get into. You used them to make your lumpy bits spill out into the places which were more ‘acceptable’ rather than as muffin tops.

Before you even began, a corset was a sign of trying to cover up your apparent faults.

You squeezed your squishy bits in until you couldn’t breathe. There was no moment of enjoying that hourglass figure because you were too busy wondering when death by lack of oxygen was coming.

No wonder the Victorians were so repressed. They had been sucked in so much even their faces looked like they were sucking in too.

I am sure the woman who wore the corset was terribly British about it too.

‘Oh no, it doesn’t hurt a bit. I’ll just get a few ribs taken out.’

‘It took no effort at all [apart from four hours holding a bed post and being shoe horned into an instrument of Satan’s devising].’

Yep. Being British means we’ve been viewing progress as a negative thing for squillions of years.

The Propensity to Recognise Failure Rather than Success

This is probably a British thing too. Sorry, fellow dwellers. I’ll also put this down to many of us being brought up this way.

Self-deprecation isn’t always charming. Humility can be boring.

Sure, be a nice and unassuming person. If you take it too far though, people will want to boot you up the arse.

Pollyanna was an annoying child. Dare I say it? Okay. I didn’t care at all when she hurt her legs. If she’d stopped being so bloody nice and doing great deeds for others she could have been chilling on the sofa. There would have been no injury.

That said I realise that being a miserable, failing bastard isn’t a great alternative.

America, you are marvellous at bigging yourselves up. We Brits love to take the piss out of you for it but secretly we’re a little jealous.

You’re not afraid to tell others of your successes and progress. You may go on about it a little too much for our liking but at least you’re not wallowing in the river of failure.

I am rubbish at putting progress before failure.

If I manage to run a further distance than before I can hear my inner progress voice saying, ‘Well done. You did it!’ Unfortunately my failure voice is louder and a snide git.

Failure voice lists everything I didn’t do right: your legs ache, you could have gone further if you hadn’t eaten all the cake, that wasn’t far at all, you should be running further than that by now…repeat to fade…

As soon as my positive voice speaks, failure voice wants to ruin it all. I guess maybe progress voice is starting to win though because I finally recognise it’s happening.

The Fear of Progress

Difficulty of Recognising Progress - work in progressIt sounds ridiculous to fear making progress but many of us do. We convince ourselves we are comfortable with our discomfort.

I was once so unfit I could barely walk up the stairs. I was so overweight I couldn’t tie my shoe laces without having to take a breather afterwards.

So, the thing to do in that situation is to lose weight and start exercising? Right?

I convinced myself I was happy being obese. The world would just have to accept me for who I was, even if I couldn’t accept it myself.

I reasoned that I would never be able to exercise because I was too far gone. More troubling than this, I convinced myself that I liked being dangerously overweight and unfit.

There was no significant turning point. I just decided one day that I needed to try some exercise. I started a running Couch to 5k programme. I threw up in a bush after running for a few minutes. I thought I’d convince myself not to bother after that.

Somehow the progress voice won. I kept up with the programme. I got fitter. I shed a lot of weight. I am writing this down now because I still don’t always recognise the progress I’ve made.

As a writer, I think I’ve feared progress too.

My first novel was a steep learning curve. I wrote the first draft and did not progress. Depression had a lot to do with that but it was also about fearing progress. I didn’t want to learn how to re-draft and edit. I felt overwhelmed with having to make progress with my writing, uncertain where it would lead.

I paradoxically believe I made progress by not progressing with that novel. It is, in truth, largely a humongous pile of steaming horse crap. I looked at it the other day and didn’t so much as cringe but rather die a little inside. Still, I’m proud I wrote it. I’d never written a novel before. That’s progress.

Looking Back

I’ve learnt that the only way to recognise progress is to track backwards. Living in the past isn’t healthy but using the past as a learning curve is.

When I think I’m the world’s worst runner with the speed of a sloth, I check my previous runs on Strava. I see fab runs where I was fast (for me) and ran well.

If I compare my last run to the first when I puked in a bush, there is most certainly progress.

Looking at that first novel recently showed me how far I have come with my writing. I have acquired so many skills and found my unique voice.

My first blog posts are so different to how they are now. I was finding my feet back then. Now I just spout on for a whole lot longer, you lucky, lucky people.

When you’re frozen in feeling you’ve not gone anywhere, look behind you. That’s progress, my friend.

Enjoy the Place You Are Right Now

Difficulty of Recognising Progress - woman at workVisit the past but always return to the present.

Everywhere you turn, people tell us to look to the future. Adverts implore us to get life insurance, arrange our funerals, and make wills – miserable bastards.

There’s nothing wrong with making plans for the future but do we do it to the detriment of the present?

Goal-setting is great. Targets give us something to aim for. Knowing how we want to progress in the future is helpful but we need to be mindful of where we are right now.

The present is like a step on the stairs. For me, it’s probably about halfway up.

Not many of us when going up and down the stairs, stop on one step. We either advance forwards to the top or trundle down.

Sit on the present step and check out the view from there.

It’s an amazing place to be. Enjoy the place you are right now.

From that step you can look behind you to the steps that brought you here. Above you, you can be excited about the steps to come.

More than this though, focus on that one step. Have a party on it because in this staircase of life, you will never stand on that step again.

Progress can happen within seconds. In the time of writing this post, I’ve already recognised many of my successes.

I am sitting on that step and lashing out at failure that comes from below me and impossibly high expectations from the steps above.

Get yourself some of those hiking sticks, throw some boots on, and make it a slow and steady ascent. Enjoy the scenery around you. You’re probably too busy usually to notice. The best part is, you have a crowd cheering you on.

Go find those cheerleaders. You’ll be surprised how many you have who already think you’re a bad ass god or goddess of progress.

Over to You

Do you recognise your own progress or do you find it difficult?

How have others helped you recognise your progress?

Any tips for others struggling with this?

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer and blogger. When not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, the cat, and the Husband. Not particularly in that order.

7 comments on “The Difficulty of Recognising Progress

  1. <3 I recognise this so much. Well done you on starting to recognise that negative voice for what it is, and learning to look at your progress instead. I definitely still have days when all I can hear is the failure voice – about *everything.* But I'm getting better at realising that its just a nasty little monster, and knowing that even if I can't beat it that day, the next will be better.

    Fantastic blog as always – and as someone who's been following it for a while, it's been lovely to see your voice grow and change!

    1. Thank you, Kim. I expect you have seen how I have changed as a writer throughout your faithfulness!

      I’m glad you’re also recognising the negative voice too. It’s amazing how long it takes to do so. I guess you have to live with someone or something for a while to learn their nasty habits.

  2. Lisa – Validation from others, although we attempt to brush it off, matters. Your readers have no problem validating you. Our respect and admiration for your talent is a given. My British friends would concur that they don’t always recognize their progress. As a Canadian, I am always apologizing for mine. 🙂 Great article with good insight.

    1. Thank you, Janice. You’re right. We do want approval, all of us, no matter how much we deny it. We want to feel like we matter. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  3. Lisa my writing is definitely a work in progress I tend to be too good at thinking I’m getting nowhere even though I didn’t even think I could do this writing lark at first. My progress may be slow but you know the old cliche, ‘slow and steady wins the race.’

    1. I can relate, Debbie. We do need to look at where we’ve come from to see how much progress we’ve made.

      We will get there and then keep on doing it! Thanks for commenting.

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