Progress Comes Incrementally Then Suddenly

Posted 04.04.2024

The picture that accompanies this post was taken this morning, Thursday, April 4, 2024. It’s the photographic record of my fourth annual birthday handstand. So, this is me at age 63. My yoga teachers would certainly point out ways that I could improve my form, but I’m happy enough with this one. Honestly, if you had told me on my 43rd birthday that I’d be doing handstands on my 63rd, I would have politely told you you were nuts.

Beginning my birthday with one this morning is an example of something I’ve learned through experience over the past decade – progress comes incrementally, then suddenly.

I started doing yoga in late 2010 because a knowledgeable friend of the family encouraged me to take it up to help manage the multiple sclerosis I had been diagnosed with in 2009. Our friend was right. After a few months of regular yoga classes, my balance and strength had improved dramatically from the year before when I was having a hard time walking around the block or getting up the stairs. I’ll never forget the class when I finally got myself off the floor in wheel pose (sort of like a push up where your belly is facing the ceiling instead of the floor) after months of futilely pushing. It turns out that all those attempts weren’t futile at all. I was making progress every class; I just couldn’t see it. Then, one night, all of the sudden, I’m doing wheel pose. Progress came incrementally, then suddenly.

The handstand journey was different. My first attempts were in yoga teacher training in the summer of 2013. The first time I tried, I was, frankly, pretty scared. It was a disorienting leap of faith to try to throw my feet up over my head even with using a wall as support and backstop. I’ve been working on it ever since, making incremental progress along the way. Learning how to extend my legs, center my weight over my hands, using my hands as little brakes to keep me balanced while upside down. Progress, progress, progress and then, suddenly, I’m doing handstands.

And, for me, that’s become a metaphor for life. I find it’s true as much on the organizational level as the individual level. Take large scale organizational change for example. The leadership team lays out a plan and goes to work. With luck, there are some quick wins. And, almost always, there are setbacks and failures. There can be days, weeks, and even months when it can feel like there is no progress at all. There is progress but it may be so small or tucked away somewhere that it’s imperceptible. You can’t see it yet, but it’s there. And, if you stick with the plan and learn and adjust along the way, the progress accumulates to a tipping point and, all of the sudden, there’s a breakthrough to a new way of doing things.

Progress comes incrementally, then suddenly. If you’re not there yet, give yourself credit for the progress you’re making. The breakthrough will come.

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