One of the greatest joys in life – in my experience and opinion – is the feeling of making progress, of getting better at something. Of being able to do something you, only a short while before, could not do (or could not do as well).
Examples are endless. A few that come to mind:
- Practicing a musical instrument. Sometimes you can have the experience of being able to play something you previously could not (or play it significantly better) after only a single session of sitting down with your instrument. Certainly, regular practice only makes the experience of progress quicker and more frequent.
- Building physical endurance or strength. Running, or weight lifting, for example. You gradually/systematically push your body slightly beyond what it has previously done. Then, after internalizing the gain through rest and recovery, you’re able to do even more the next time.
- Overcoming a fear. Through repeated exposure, you lessen your anxiety about doing something you want to do (say, public speaking, or giving blood), and then feel good about yourself afterwards for having done it.
These are positively reinforcing experiences. They make you want to keep going. To continue making even more progress!
Now, of course, progress isn’t always linear. You are likely to have “good days” and “bad days”. You don’t always improve each time you do an activity. Sometimes, you even have the experience of feeling as if you’re backsliding. That’s normal. That is part of the process.
Progress and process are intertwined. In order to make progress at something, you have to surrender to the process. If you can learn to enjoy the process (and not just the tangible, verifiable progress you’ve made), you’ve won. The irony is that once you let go of your attachment to progress at something, you are actually increasing the likelihood of achieving it.
Whenever possible, and whatever the activity, my “goal” is to get better at enjoying the process, and not just my progress. After all, most (if not all) of life is process. Therefore, the best progress I can make at living is to increasingly enjoy – or at the very least, make friends with – the process of it.
Or, as Harry Chapin once put it in song: “It’s gotta be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.”