Improving Over Time

IMG_0286I had a really busy day at work yesterday. Just going going going from when I got there until when I had to leave (late, since I had an interview scheduled at 4pm). But I knew throughout all that business that when I got home, I’d have to mow the lawn. Some things just wait for no one, you know? However, when I got home, TRC was already out going strong, and Denisa had gotten a good chunk of it done too.

In the end, I didn’t have to mow anything. TRC polished off the whole thing for me.

When I think back on the first time he mowed the lawn (one of my favorite blog posts of recent memory, actually), just last year, and compare it to how well he did yesterday, the difference is remarkable. That first day, TRC had to really work and struggle to get things done. He had a hard time identifying where the lawn had been mowed and where it hadn’t. Going in a straight line was tricky, and turns were even worse.

Yesterday? All of those things were gone. He knew how to handle turns, how to mow straight, where to mow. You name it. In my mind, I’d really been selling him short. Why was that?

As I think about it, it’s because what stood out in my memory was his first attempt last year. I’d pegged him at that level, even as he got a lot of practice as the year went on. Then we took a long break from mowing. When it came time to do it again, my memory defaulted to the clearest example of his abilities: the first time.

But all that practice had made him much much better than that.

I wonder how many times we do this in other areas. We maybe struggle with something for a while, and we decide that we’re just not that good at something, despite the fact that years later, after a bunch of practice, we’ve somehow become so much better.

It’s easy to miss slight improvements over time, but in many ways, those are exactly the sort of improvements that stick with you the most. Change too quickly, and it becomes too easy to change right back at an even faster rate. Look at weight loss, or New Years resolutions. Things that are done in a rush often end up poorly done. It’s the things that happen gradually that inevitably affect you the most. (Most of the time.)

I’ve found it helpful sometimes to take “snapshots” of myself or my abilities, so that I can compare them later on to how I’m doing. That’s when it becomes easy to see the growth. To tell that I’ve really been improving. It’s easy in areas like writing or blogging. All I have to do is go back to earlier posts or pieces to see what I’m doing differently. Videoing things can be another good marker of progress. Video a performance by a child, and then let them see that same performance a year later.

It can be a real motivator. A great way to prove to yourself that you’re getting better, and that you should stick with something. Because sometimes the greatest danger with gradual, positive change is that we don’t realize it’s actually happening. Faced with a lack of clear evidence, we might choose to give up doing the very things that are helping us most.

And that’s my deep thought for you this fine Thursday.

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