Have you ever watched a young child learn a new task or physical movement? At the beginning, their attempts can seem entirely futile — they’re nowhere near their intended outcome. They stare at books, “reading” for hours before comprehending the alphabet. They fail repeatedly. Their results are suboptimal. Much of their effort appears to get them nothing. But unless they get too frustrated, they’ll generally continue trying. With every attempt, they learn something new. They stumble their way through mental, physical, and emotional trial and error — discovering what doesn’t work and what gets them closer to their objective. They sit with what they’ve learned, take time away, then return and adjust subsequent attempts. Eventually they have a breakthrough. Something clicks and they leap forward. Maybe they master the task or get so much closer that they now understand concretely they’re making progress.
This is how we learn, how we change, how we grow.
This summer I learned that my weak shoulders and improper posture are the source of carpal tunnel pain I’ve experienced for a couple of years. As part of my treatment for that pain, I began physical therapy exercises and upper-body weight training. One of the best exercises for shoulder, back, and core strength are pull-ups, so I added them to my routine. Because my upper-body is relatively weak, I needed 35 pounds of assistance to do one pull-up when I started. After countless repetitions over many weeks, I only need 16 pounds of assistance. I developed little calluses on my hands. My progress is slow but notable and my wrist pain is fading. Eventually, I will do pull-ups (and cure my wrist pain) but only with a lot more effort.
Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t celebrate the process (effort, struggle, failure, resistance, time) required for growth. In fact, we do the opposite — we glorify pacification, status symbols, and the quick fix. We avoid discomfort. We fear failure. We give lip-service to learning, growth, and personal development. But when we avoid the growth process, we stagnate and regress. We develop “chronic conditions” (like carpal tunnel).
Most of us, myself included, have found ourselves at some point in a rut of deterioration, not growth. Physical deterioration leads to pain and disease. Mental and emotional deterioration often manifests as dissatisfaction. Although the dissatisfaction can register with us consciously, sometimes we don’t know why we’re dissatisfied and feel unfulfilled.
Dissatisfaction and unfulfillment fuel consumerism. Marketers pray on our discontent by offering their things as an antidote — if you build the right wardrobe, drive a luxury car, own a big house, have an impressive job title, you’ll be successful (and happy, satisfied, beautiful, fit, and young). They market the easy buttons, leading us to believe that The Good Life is possible with the right combination of buttons — the right product, program, diet, exercise routine, vision board. But when the easy button fails (as they always do), we give up, feeling more dissatisfaction than before. It’s a vicious cycle. And it’s sold to us every day.
The truth is, if we focus on growth, as we pull ourselves out of deterioration or stagnation, the pain and dissatisfaction will start to fade.
No thing will dampen discontent and there is no easy button for growth.