When You Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress, Remember This

You plant a seed into the ground. You water it and tend to it, day after day, and nothing happens. It doesn’t sprout. What do you do?

We’ve all heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Would continuing to water the plant be the insane thing to do in this situation?

Perhaps not. Not if it’s the Chinese bamboo tree.

You see, bamboo is different from other plants. In fact, it’s so difficult to grow that only a certain type of person would see it all the way through.

Here’s what happens:

You plant a bamboo seedling into the ground and for five years, nothing happens. Water it, fertilize it, take perfect care of it daily — it still won’t break ground. Looking at it from above, you’d think there wasn’t anything under there at all. Then suddenly, after five years, it sprouts and grows 80 feet in the span of just five weeks.

There’s a reason why a single bamboo stalk has more tensile strength than a steel cable of the same size. Because when it seemed like nothing was happening, the bamboo was actually developing a root system that would be a strong enough foundation to support and sustain its growth.

But if you had stopped watering the plant when it felt like all your efforts were futile, it would’ve died and you would’ve missed out on the chance to reap the rewards of your hard work.

Progress in our personal endeavors is much the same. Often, when we are in the thick of working diligently towards a goal, it can be hard to see daily visible signs of change. And that can be discouraging — especially if you’re an impatient high-achiever.

The Myth Of Overnight Success

At first glance, it might seem like the bamboo tree grew overnight. But it took five years of repeated daily care, and an extraordinary amount of patience on the farmer’s part, for it to get to that point.

When we look at the achievements of certain successful people who suddenly came into the spotlight, we sometimes say they had overnight success. That’s just not true. That’s discrediting the ridiculous amount of work that had to be done, away from watching eyes, to build the skill sets necessary to achieve something extraordinary.

“Greatness is often built when no one is watching” — Anonymous

We’ve been conditioned by modern society to crave instant gratification. We place an order on Amazon and we receive it in less than two days. We go on Netflix and stream movies instantly. We order food through an app so when we get to the restaurant we don’t have to wait in line. When we don’t get what we want quickly, it frustrates us.

This is why so many people give up on their goals when the going gets tough. But the truth is that you have to put in an inhuman amount of work if you want to have exceptional results. And it takes a lot of monotony and boredom and chipping away at the same marble stone to bring something of value to this world.

And here’s the thing: Progress isn’t linear. You might take one step forward and two steps back only to have a breakthrough that pushes you further along in your journey. And sometimes, progress is invisible.

One of the habits we have to cultivate along the way is hope. Hope is powerful medicine. Without it, it’s difficult to have the tenacity required to go after a goal with everything we’ve got — which is essential because true greatness demands all of a person. You can’t go all-in if you don’t believe you can actually make your dream a reality.

The Miracle Equation

Hal Elrod, the author of The Miracle Morning, has this equation for success:

Unwavering faith + extraordinary effort = miracles

He says that if you maintain unwavering faith and extraordinary effort, on a long enough timeline, you can’t fail: “You may stumble. You might experience setbacks, but your success will ultimately move from possible… to probable… to inevitable.”

You can have a compelling vision but if you don’t take daily action towards that vision, it will always only exist as a figment of the mind. And if you don’t believe that your dream is actually possible and that the gap between where you are and where you want to be can be bridged through persistent hard work, you simply won’t feel like putting in that amount of effort to begin with.

When faith and effort work in tandem, then there’s a real chance at a “miracle,” which is simply “an extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”

Faith

“Faith is the ability to see the invisible, believe in the impossible, and trust in the unknown.” — Nelson Mandela

Faith in the fruition of your vision is what is going to enable you to face adversity after adversity without giving up. Setbacks are inevitable. But if you cultivate self-reliance and trust in your own ability to persist, you won’t drown when you fall into water — you’ll climb your way back out.

Confidence comes from keeping the promises you make to yourself; it comes from having self-integrity, from the knowledge that you’re going to do that which you say you’re going to do. If you make a vow to yourself that you’re going to take the vision you have in your head and do your best to bring it out into the world, no matter how difficult the journey gets, you’ve won half the battle. You’re already further along than most people who don’t have a strong enough relationship with themselves to trust their own word.

Once you have faith that your dream can actually be realized, the next step is to take massive action and execute against that dream.

Extraordinary Effort

“The most certain way to succeed is to always try one more time.”— Thomas Edison

It’s always more daunting to think about doing something that scares you than actually doing it. Often, what scares us most is just the first action. The interesting thing about the interplay of extraordinary effort and unwavering faith is that the more you show up every day and grind, the more you believe in your ability to fulfill your dreams. You slowly start to break through any limiting beliefs you might have.

Of course, motivation will wane. Even self-discipline will wane. But all that matters is that you keep redirecting yourself towards the pursuit of your ideal future. Just like any habit, faith and hope have to be cultivated and reinforced daily. The work is never done because the mind is always trying to get you to revert to doing nothing — it’s the law of inertia. It says that “it is the natural tendency of objects to resist changes in their state of motion.”

If we want to achieve extraordinary results, we ourselves have got to be the constant force acting on our brain’s desire for comfort and familiarity. We’ve got to keep going back to our gardens and watering our bamboo plants, even when we can’t see any visible signs of change. If we keep fertilizing our dreams, and our faith in that dream, it will have no choice but to materialize. It’s only a matter of time and patience.

We all want quick results but the things we’re able to obtain in an instant can be taken away just as quickly. It’s the things that take an arduously long amount of time to build that are truly valuable and fulfill us deep within our souls.

Life is a game of inches and those inches come down to what you do every day.

And just as Hal Elrod says, happiness doesn’t come from hitting the goal, but rather from the person you become in the pursuit of that goal. The kind of person that gives it their all, despite every setback; despite anyone who tells you it can’t be done; despite your very own fears and inhibitions.

Because when all is said and done, what matters most is what you think about yourself when you’re by yourself. If you can sit with pride for the kind of person you’ve molded yourself to be, the kind that trusts himself not to give up in pursuit of what matters to him, that’s when you know you’ve won the game.

Now close this computer screen and go water your seeds.

About the author
An old soul trapped in the body of a millennial. Follow Shirin on Instagram or read more articles from Shirin on Thought Catalog.

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