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How to swim in an ocean of progress

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Let’s imagine you’re getting fired up about a new adventure to a place you’ve only imagined. It sounds amazing. You've heard it described as Progress Pond.

It’s where you’re going to go after your goal—where you’ll show up, dive right in and fully immerse yourself in swimming toward your goal of reaching the other side.

You see yourself swimming gracefully across the pond, reveling in how beautiful it is, how good it feels, how well you are adulting. Sure, it’ll take some strength and endurance to cross that pond of progress, but you believe you can do it. And you can’t wait to reach the other side, where you’ll feel so proud of yourself. Happy. Confident. Like you can do anything! #winning

As you prepare yourself to head to the pond, you feel more and more excited. You’ve put some tunes on, you’re singing to yourself—you know you look good because you got a new suit to swim in—you can’t wait to jump in that pond!

Then you get there, to the edge of the water.

“That’s weird,” you think to yourself, “Progress Pond seems like an awfully big pond.”

Standing at the edge of the water, your excitement about diving in and making progress starts to be tempered as you look out at this body of water.

For one: It’s a lot bigger than you thought it was going to be. It’s hard to see the edges. You’re a decent swimmer, but LORD. It looks like a long way to cross. You find yourself squinting, trying to see if you can make out where you’ll land on the other side. Why is Progress Pond so damn big?

And two: WHAT is with the waves lapping at the water’s edge? You were under the impression this was going to be a much smoother passage. This isn’t quite what you thought it was going to be. Maybe Progress Pond is more Lake Progress.

Huh. Well, OK. You feel a teensy bit of anxiety mixed in now with your excitement. But, hey. You’ve come this far. Your goal is important to you. Screw it. You’re gonna go for it anyhow!

As you walk into the water, you exhale a bit abruptly — you'd thought the water might be a bit warmer. But you keep going, awkwardly sort of stumbling forward until you get to a depth you can start swimming in. OK! You’re doing it! You’re on your way!

While it takes a bit for you to find a rhythm, you start making progress. Sure you choked on some water. Yes, your nose is running. But you’re not kidding around. Swim on, you shall!

As you make your way further out, you notice you’re reaching the edge of the cove from where you started. The water is getting a little colder and a little choppier. You keep swimming, though, making progress toward your goal of reaching the other side. Then as you come around the edge of the cove, you get a glimpse of what’s in front of you.

HOLY HELL.

This Lake Progress is starting to look a lot like an Ocean of Progress. And you’re getting a leg cramp.

As you roll over on your back, stretching out your leg, you wonder, “What the hell am I doing? This is hard. This is going to take a lot more swimming than I thought. Whose idea was this, anyway? I’m not sure I’m up for this. What if I can’t make it? Maybe I should just swim back to shore.”

***

My Dears, this imperfect fantasy illustrates what humans do when it comes to making progress. We get really excited about going after goals, we imagine ourselves in action, navigating circumstances with poise and determination.

Then we get started. We start actually swimming toward what we want. We realize that the reality of making progress does not always feel as easy as we’d hoped it would be. Conditions are perhaps not ideal. While some stretches may be easy enough to move through, other patches are downright choppy.

When making progress doesn’t go the way you want it to go, your Clever Brain (the source of relentlessly clever thoughts that point out every reason why you should turn back) sounds the alarm. It turns up the volume on self-doubt. It recites all the reasons you are not going to reach your goal, choosing whatever thought combination will convince you to give up.

And you will get to choose.

You will have many, many opportunities to choose to give up as you swim beyond your comfort zone. Where there are waves and tides and other obstacles that do not make it any easier for you to swim. Where there are all kinds of reasons to abandon your goal of reaching the other side.

And yet, there remains only one way to swim: One stroke at a time.

Because that's how humans swim. Even superhumans like Michael Phelps and Jenny Thompson swim one stroke at a time.

Each stroke is a next right step forward. If you don’t take it, you don’t make progress. You just stay treading water. You may feel tossed about, subject to the tides when you’re not moving. The only way to get moving again is to take a stroke. Then another one. And another one after that.

No matter how much water is in front of you, you will cross it by swimming through. It doesn't even matter how deep it is—the only thing to do is swim through.

Sometimes you’ll feel energized and confident. Sometimes your strokes will be strong and sure. Other times you’ll not be feeling it. You’ll feel like you’re swimming in place. Or even backwards.

All the things can happen. You can feel the whole range of feelings. You can think any number of thoughts. Yet the only way to make progress is to take the next stroke.

This takes courage, Dears.

Legit progress toward hard goals is like swimming in the ocean. It's exhilarating and terrifying. Feels both amazing and exhausting.

And it is absolutely doable. The other shore can be reached.

In the effort it takes us to reach our goal, we get lots of practice swimming. We build muscles we may not have been aware we had. We gain confidence in ourselves for being able to overcome obstacles and keep going. We forgive ourselves when we’re swimming ugly with our arms failing. Perfection is not needed to make progress—that only slows us down.

But when we do reach that distant shore, we are not the same person who got in the water. We are more grown. We are stronger. We are proud of ourselves and walk a bit taller. We prove to ourselves that we can do hard things and trust in our ability to come through.

Only we don’t realize this all at the outset, when we're setting our goal and imaging what it will be like. We don’t really know until we get in. Until we start swimming. And we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re tested with the unexpected — when “something happens.”

But when we start to understand more about progress and adjust our expectations, then we don’t have to be upset about the pond really being an ocean. We can get excited about swimming in the ocean and the adventure it brings. We can surrender to that which we can’t control and concentrate on what we can: Our next right step.

Water temps will vary, as will the weather. Conditions are ever-changing. That’s not a problem, it’s just what is.

Waves are not bad, nor are tides. They make the adventure challenging and interesting. We learn to work with them.

Because no one can swim for us; no one else can take the strokes we need to take. We have to swim for ourselves, accompanied by our own thoughts and of course, our Clever Brain, whose only job is to resist any progress by trying to change our mind about pursuing our goal.

These are things that we learn as we practice making progress on purpose.

***

As someone who swam competitively for 13 years, I can tell you, it’s a hell of a lot easier to swim long distance when you have a Coach. Someone to teach you what you need to know, to hold you accountable, to cheer you on, and to encourage you when you want to quit.

As a Progress Coach, it’s my job to help you swim across large bodies of water and reach your goal on the other side. It’s my joy to be alongside you, guiding you, and supporting you with whatever’s needed so that you go further than you have before.

So whether you're in the midst of swimming toward your goal right now, or you're only thinking about trying on a swim suit, I've got some ideas that can help you on the adventure of making progress toward your goal.

In fact, I've create a guide to make it much easier for you to get started!

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