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March 6th, 2020
When learning something big and complex, especially when it requires putting something together, whether that be a book or a woodworking project, or even some kind of proposal and especially coding projects, there come moments in the learning process that are downright paralyzing.
Some new detail arises and makes it seem as though you’ve been looking at the finish line through a telescope without knowing it. And now the little bastard seems to be giggling as it runs even farther away from you, taking with it that glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.
Next you look back at all the work you actually have done and suddenly it’s full of problems because of what you’ve learned. Either it all could have been done in an easier way, more efficient, or it actually needs significant upgrading in order to actually move forward.
These points hit like a double whammy, make you feel as though you’ve been pushed back a few steps and the goal itself has ballooned.
This is what learning is, unfortunately. We are constantly beset with this jolting progress. Making headway and then drawing a jail card. Often it’s happening on a much smaller scale as we negotiate the wording of this sentence, or the mis-measured piece of that piece of wood that now doesn’t fit. These smaller aggravations, we mostly take in stride, and we forget about them as soon as we have the next task at hand. But when things culminate and we have the same experience at an altogether higher pitch, it can be tempting to throw one’s hands up and try something new.
The good that causes these moments is easily overlooked. Such moments of reckoning are far less likely without a growth of perspective and ability in some way. It’s by virtue of our greater understanding that we suddenly interpret the situation as so dismal.
There exists a common parallel to this experience that is so spot on, it’s almost eerie. That’s working out. When you engage in resistance training, you’re lifting weights, and if you’re in tune with your body and you know what you’re dong, you’re generally pushing for a kind of max weight. It’s at these thresholds where muscles are pushed into growth.
But it’s also the time during a workout when even the strongest person in the gym feels at their weakest. We experience weakness only when we are at the limit of our strength. Bench-pressing the most weight you can possibly lift makes you feel weak, and in fact if anyone walked by and lightly pushed on the bar, you’d be done. But at the same time it’s an expression of max strength. The two are linked in this beautiful and paradoxical way. Weakness is always trying to encroach upon us. The more we push back against it, the stronger we become.
As is true in the gym so is true in the mind. Those moments when you feel like giving up are the crucial points that often lead into a watershed of progress.
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