I keep seeing this shape.
This simple image of upward spiraling loops keeps showing up in my life.
Have you seen it before?
(I hope you love my Microsoft Word doodling skills by the way ;)
I first saw it in a book about addiction and sexual purity. The author claimed this is what the path to recovery or sobriety looks like: Progress forward, followed by steps backward, and then more progress forward, in a never-ending upward loop.
Then I saw it again while spending a week in Germany last month. In the years preceding the Nazi regime, European Jews started enjoying many more rights and serving in more civic duties. Then the Holocaust happened. The world said never again. Now this scar is a crucial part of German identity and young Germans are required to visit at a concentration camp during their schooling. We looped up, then down, the back up again.
I saw it again while reading Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life and Work. The loops illustrate his 5-step success model. We set an audacious goal, fail, learn why we failed, implement a solution, and strive toward ever more audacious goals. Again, looping up, down, and back up again.
There’s clearly a pattern showing up here, don’t you think?
Look at the path of progress in your own life. Do you not take two steps forward and three steps backwards? Are you not constantly facing new, unexpected problems?I know I do.
Look at the history of our country—does this not illustrate our historical path towards progress? I think it does, at least partially.
Do you ever get exhausted by this process? I do.
That, to me, is interesting. We don’t get exhausted that every 12 hours it gets dark. We don’t get exhausted that we get hungry every 4 hours. We don’t get exhausted that some days are cloudy and others sunny. These things just are the way they are.
Exhaustion implies something’s going on underneath the surface. There’s some unacknowledged conflict at work.
What’s that conflict? I propose the conflict is made up of three different elements: our mindset about the path to success, our desire for done-ness, and the various ways we interrupt the looping process.
What, then, is your image of the path to success?
Does it look something like this? One incremental, upward step after another with no surprises or problems? Is this actually true, or is your mental model at odds with reality? I know mine is.
Next is our desire for done-ness.
When working towards the solution of a challenging problem I often read about people who want to simply end a problem rather than engage in a process to solve it. The manager with a delegation problem who want to take a workshop and be done with it. The entrepreneur with a revenue problem wants to find that one magic pill product and be done with it.
Do you find yourself doing this? Ray Dalio says it’s really important that we fall in love with this looping process—especially the whole failure part.
The third is the way we interrupt the loops. This is either due to lack of striving, failure to act, failure to reflect and learn from failure, lack of striving again post-failure, or all of the above. If you never fail, if you never take action, the process stagnates. We stop evolving, we stop growing.
What about you?
Do you get frustrated with life’s loopyness?
If so, what about it frustrates you?
What would happen if you fell in love with this process?
What would happen if you loved the continual process of striving, failure, and striving again as much as you love your spouse, dog, or sports team?