The next several blog posts are going to be dedicated to the Sustainable Progress framework itself; how it works, how to use it, what pitfalls to avoid and how to accurately assess your progress. However, there is one more topic that has to be both discussed and endorsed before an informed evaluation of the framework can take place – and that is why strength matters. Like the importance of properly understanding sacrifice which was discussed in the most recent blog post, understanding the enormous value of strength and why cultivating it in yourself is so essential for sustained progress, is absolutely critical for developing properly throughout your life.
In an age where strength isn’t necessarily viewed as something that is essential to develop over time, I think it is important to counter that narrative. For years, I was swept along with the ‘You are Enough’ and ‘Positive Vibes Only’ brigades amongst others, and it brought me neither progress nor happiness. In fact, not only did I not progress, I became less able to face up to the challenges that I encountered because I did not have an accurate understanding of myself, the situation I was in or the likely outcome.
These “philosophies” encourage multiple points of view which I feel are particularly detrimental to sustaining progress over time and should be refuted. Before I delve into them, I want to make sure to be clear that while I do think these views of the world are both negative and unhelpful in the long-term, I don’t think that is the intention of those who promote them to hinder people who follow along. I think they genuinely believe that the more happy people there are in the world, the better. And that life should be enjoyed. And while it’s hard to disagree that happiness is good and something we all enjoy when we experience it, unchecked pursuit of short-term happiness can be detrimental to long-term satisfaction and fulfillment.
Moving from one fleeting positive emotion to the next, at the expense of our responsibilities and achieving long-term goals or priorities, does not equate to a happy life over time. If happiness is the ultimate goal in every moment, then surely drugs that produce an artificial high would be the logical solution? But we know this is not true because the negative effects of drugs far outweigh that short-term emotional state. While that might be an extreme example to highlight the point, the same can be said for smaller and less detrimental sources of short-term happiness. They can still prevent progress which reduces the likelihood of longer-term life satisfaction and fulfillment.
Philosophies to Avoid
Honestly, it’s hard to know where to start with this one. I fell for this for a long-time and it in no way helped my life. I’d like to think I’m naturally quiet a positive person but there are negative things that we all have to go through in life if we want to grow and evolve and become a more complete and well-rounded person. Do we like it when people call us out for something we have done? No, most likely not. But what if the behaviour needed to be called out? What if in the long-term, that momentary discomfort caused us to adjust our behaviour or attitude such that we behaved much better in similar situations in the future. Surely then, that situation which seemed negative in the moment was actually positive overall?
For example, while in the company of several people you say something to Friend 1 that they take great offence to. You don’t realise that you’ve offended them and continue on with your day as normal. Later on, Friend 2 tells you in front of others that what you said to Friend 1 was very unfair and that Friend 1 is annoyed at you. You’re startled and feel very uncomfortable in that moment because you had no idea that you had said anything wrong. If you’re part of the ‘No to Negativity, Positive Vibes Only’ gang, you’d go home and tell yourself I need to spend less time around Friend 2 because they shouldn’t ever make me feel that way. You wouldn’t want to ask Friend 1 if they were hurt because you don’t want to feel guilty and so you end the day with two issues instead of the zero problems that you would have had if you had just gone to Friend 1 to sort it out.
Now imagine doing this with multiple different areas of your life, several times over. Avoiding problems or difficult situations just to avoid feeling bad is a quick way to a more difficult life. This is my issue with the pro-positivity movement; just because a situation feels ‘negative’ in the moment doesn’t mean it’s actually bad overall. There are many reasons why we could be perceiving it incorrectly – we don’t have a full view of the situation, we needed to be called out on something we said or did.
Or even when a situation is genuinely quite negative e.g. a family member is quite sick or a natural disaster occurs in your hometown, unfortunately sometimes that is just the way the dice rolls in life. We don’t all experience the same things but we all experience hard things. Avoiding them prevents growth and progress.
Again, this is a view of life that possibly has significant negative consequences for its followers. It conflates two different meanings of the idea ‘You Are Enough’. If it is said with the intention of conveying the fact that all human beings have an inherent value, regardless of what they do in their lives then yes, I can get on board with that idea because its true. But if it is meant to infer that you never have to change or improve anything about yourself because you are already just fine as you are, I think that is a dangerously naïve view of the world.
If you are ‘enough’ at this moment in time, perfect just as you are, then you can never be better than you currently are because if you could, then you wouldn’t currently be ‘enough’. I don’t know about you but the idea that I can’t be better than I am now is a depressing thought. It also subliminally suggests that the actions of people are equal because we’re all the same and we’re all enough just as we are, which we obviously know is not the case. If your mum or your best friend says this to you, fair enough. If it’s being said in the context of not letting people treat you badly, then it absolutely has merit. But if someone says it in the sense that you are already all that you can be, beware. They may have good intentions but the truth is we are all so far below the best expression of ourselves, we can’t even imagine what we could theoretically achieve.
I fell for this one too. Throughout most of my 20s, any time I found something too hard, it would give me comfort as I gave up to think, ‘I am already enough, I don’t need this to be happy’ (there’s that ‘Positivity Only’ shtick again!). The thing is, maybe I was right to stop working towards that particular goal because it was the wrong tool for my progression. But I wasn’t giving up because I knew it wrong for me, I was giving up because I found it hard and in the absence of any self-reflection, telling myself that I was fine and it was the problem, helped me to minimise its importance, whether it was the right decision or not. I didn’t properly evaluate the situation or analyse what caused me to find it difficult. I just ignored it because ‘I was enough’.
Was I just not trying hard enough? Were my expectations too high for the level I was at? Was I trying to learn something that I knew was irrelevant?
I never asked myself any of these questions because ‘I was enough and ‘it’ was irrelevant’. I did this many times over with various different goals and I became weaker because of it. You don’t always have to finish everything you start but if you don’t learn from it then you’re destined to make a similar decision again. Why? You won’t know, because you never thought about it. Beware those who tell you you’re already as good as you need to be when you know deep down that you could be better. Sometimes these people want you to stay at their level because your growth only highlights their lack of progress. Read that last one again!
Ok, so that might have been a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean. I’m not going to tell you that you aren’t special or that you don’t matter. Everyone matters to someone, if not quite a number of people and as discussed in philosophy 2, every human being has an inherent value. Where I think this can go wrong is when you begin to think that there is something special about you therefore things will obviously work out in your favour. Having an inflated sense of self for no reason, is one way of describing this. Being unreasonably positive about what the future holds for you without doing any of the work necessary to achieve said future, is another.
Amazing results basically never come to those who don’t work for them. You might be able to think of a few examples to contradict this statement, I can think of three such scenarios involving other people as I’m writing this but again, most of us don’t have something so special about us that we’re going to become extremely lucky in life. And that is what you are counting on if you have this view of yourself in life, luck. And by the time you figure out that you haven’t been as lucky as you always believed you would be, it could be too late to achieve some of the things you wanted to achieve.
A naïve view of what it takes to achieve what you want won’t make your life easier. I learned this one the hard way, realising at 30 that I had done very little with my 20s in terms of achieving my true priorities in life. I had to take stock of where I was at, where I thought I would have been by that stage and what caused the (massive!) divergence. Then I had to start figuring out what I should do to get back on track. Three years later and I can now see the progress I’ve been making, even though there’s still a long way to go.
No matter your age, you can achieve progress in the direction of your dreams but you have to be realistic about life, where you are at in yours and what it will take to achieve those dreams. That is why I am so against the philosophies discussed above. They delay progress in favour of short-term happiness. They weaken over time instead of strengthening, all to avoid ‘negative’ emotions. Our emotions are guides, they highlight something that we should take note of. They are not supposed to be ignored.
At 30, more than a decade on from being introduced to these philosophies, I was decidedly less happy and nowhere near where I thought I would have been in my life. I was weaker from both the avoidance of difficult things and a false sense of security that things would work out perfectly in the end. I was less happy because I knew deep down things wouldn’t work out unless I changed and I wasn’t able to change until I could see beyond Positive Vibes Only.
Strength is what allows progress, because without strength, progress cannot be sustained. When you avoid things that make you stronger overtime, you don’t just avoid getting stronger. You actually get more fragile because those around you get stronger and you drop even further away from the leaders of the race. As you become more fragile, you become less able to cope with the challenges and trials of life. The cycle continues and compounds.
Life can be hard. There are times when we suffer. There are times when we face very bad luck through absolutely no fault of our own! The Sustainable Progress framework is cemented in the idea that the best chance you have at having the life you want despite all the tough situations that you might face, is by developing strength. By becoming stronger. By working to understand yourself, your personality, your strengths, your weaknesses and your goals. And then using your particular make-up and the Sustainable Progress framework to forge your own individual path, in your own way.
Until next time,