Do you ever feel like you’re going nowhere fast? Like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel or walking the wrong way on one of those moving walkways in the airport?
That’s how I feel on the tougher days. Those days when I feel like it doesn’t matter how hard I work, I just can’t seem to make any progress. My to-do pile at the day job is growing faster than my done pile. I practiced over and over, but I still can’t seem to get that move right in my dance lesson. I’m doing “all the things” to grow my business, but the return still feels small.
It’s frustrating when you think you’re not making any progress, or you’re making less progress than you think you should. Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s the point?! I’m doing all this work and spending all this money to become a better dancer and I still can’t figure out how to keep my stupid core engaged! And I’ll never look as good as so-and-so.” Sometimes I look at my blog’s following and compare it to another blog that started later than I did but has a significantly larger following. When I really want to torture myself, I’ll run the actual numbers of money and time spent and think about how I wouldn’t have any debt and I could be living in a nicer apartment if I didn’t have these crazy ideas about being a ballroom dancer and writer.
Maybe I should just give up.
Of course, I don’t give up. I think you know me well enough by now to know I don’t wallow in the comparison trap (at least not for too long). The self-pity party is always over before even half of the hors d’oeuvres are eaten.
It can be easy to go there though. The urge to throw my hands up in the air, declare “Fuck it!”, and collapse on the couch to binge on Netflix is strong, especially when I’m physically and/or mentally tired. Basically, my inner toddler really really wants to throw a tantrum.
If it’s the first roadblock I’ve hit in awhile, it’s less effort to shake it off and keep going. No journey is without its challenges. Life is full of ups and downs. Longer term slow or no progress is a bigger challenge. Not only is it frustrating, it can be very demotivating. That’s when the thought “maybe I should just give up” pops up in place of the toddler who just wants to binge watch Star Trek.
Luckily, I have some prepared responses to that more deadly thought. First thing I do is remind myself why I’m spending all this money or doing all this work that is apparently not making a difference. I started this journey for a good reason and revisiting that starting point, when things were fresh and exciting, is a great way to get myself back on track. I acknowledge that things may suck right now, but that reason for starting is too important for me to let a few challenges stop me.
Looking back also forces me to recognize how much progress I actually have made. Maybe I’m struggling with the mountain currently in front of me, but look how many mountains I’ve already climbed and conquered! I’m reminded of a meme that has floated around the internet.
It’s a good point. My success rate at surviving Life and all of its bad, good and in-between days is 100% so far. That’s a damn good track record! So odds are I’ll succeed at getting past any new challenges as well. The math is in my favor.
Last week’s lesson was a good reminder that it’s also possible to feel like I’m not making any progress, when in reality I am. Teacher and I have been working on my core and how I should be engaging it through different moves in our Open Waltz routine. I get stuck on the concept a lot because when I tried to engage my core for an entire dance, I got tired very quickly and even if I did keep it engaged, I would feel stiff, like my range of motion was limited. How am I supposed to stretch my movement if all of my core muscles are squeezing as hard as I can squeeze them?
Finally, it hit me last week. It’s not about squeezing or tensing up all of the core muscles all of the time. First of all, I needed to let go of the word “tension.” Even when I would say “engage” or “activate,” I would act by tensing the muscles to the maximum I could muster. Then, of course, I would get frustrated when Teacher would tell me to use my core even more. I’m maxed out, how do I do more?
Last week’s lightbulb moment was that it wasn’t so much about when the core engaged or relaxed, it was about how the energy shifted among the muscles. There was always energy, but sometimes it was stronger on my left side or in my lower abs. So engaging or activating my core didn’t mean essentially making a tight fist with my ab muscles and holding it until the music stopped, it meant sending energy through the muscles so they would be poised to act when needed. It’s kind of like a machine with multiple engines. All of the engines are turned on. Some are idling in neutral while others are revved up.
Getting back to the idea that I can be making progress even when it feels like I’m standing still, once I applied this shifting energy concept to how I was using my core, the figurative needle on my progress meter jumped. I just needed that last bit of information for the clouds to clear and reveal how much progress I’ve been making along this difficult section of trail.
It’s similar to my efforts to increase my flexibility. One of the big markers of being flexible is being able to do a split, right? Well, I’ve been stretching every single morning for at least a couple years now, but I hardly ever tried doing a split. I was doing light stretching for only 5 or 10 minutes when I first woke up. It felt good to start the day with a healthy habit, but I was convinced I’d have to add more stretching for longer periods to really make any progress. Then in November, Blogilates hosted a stretch challenge and the first week ended with a split stretch. When I compare to how I ended the Journey to Splits challenge back in 2015, there’s a big difference. I’m almost to the ground now!
Of course, if I had incorporated longer stretches into my daily habits, I would be on the ground. The point is I was making progress without realizing it.
Comparisons like that help me keep the faith that even when I feel like I’m going nowhere or going backwards, progress is happening.
So don’t give up. You’re making more progress than you think. Keep going and soon the clouds will clear and you’ll see how far you’ve come.
This blog post brought to you by the Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing! 😉 Now through December 25, we are giving back to those who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by donating 25% of all sales to Rx Ballroom Dance.