If you want to get stronger, you might lift things up and put them back down again. How do you determine how much to lift up, and how often?
In the most general terms possible, you lift up stuff you can handle without hurting yourself. Then you wait until you’ve healed up from the micro-trauma you’ve gone through and get bigger and stronger. Eventually you’ll be able to handle stuff than you could before. Occasionally you might try to do something that was more than you were ready for, and you pay for it in a longer time recovering.
If you reread that last paragraph and think of almost anything in life it will still apply. Progressive loading, or the application of gradually increasing amounts of stress in order to strengthen an organism, is EVERYWHERE.
The things that feel difficult will make you able to handle more things without breaking. My favorite podcast is the Aubrey Marcus podcast. In a recent episode, Mr. Marcus posited that, “Comfort is the worst thing to ever happen to the human being.” While I stop short of calling it the worst thing ever, I agree that comfort changes things. Everything in the world consists of a stimulus and a response. When you add a stimulus, you get a response. When you take away a stimulus, you’re actually still adding one, and you get a different response.
Taking something away doesn’t mean you create a void. Something fills that space. There are no vacuums in this plane of existence (sorry, Bissell). Everything you do or don’t do has an effect on you, but you never stop existing and responding to whatever it is you do and experience. If you only touch soft things, your body will adjust so that most things feel rough to you and your skin may tear easily. It has no reason to hold a cellular structure that can withstand things it never encounters. If you avoid dealing with mentally tough situations, you never learn how to work through them because you’ve never had to adapt. You get to make these choices all day, every day.
When I’m working with clients I draw attention to and ask them to work on things that they are prepared to work on. In my experience, simple instructions for things that make them mildly uncomfortable are the things that kickstart the biggest growth opportunities and get them closer to the goals they set with me.
Also in my experience, it’s best to build on the outer limits of strength versus the outer limits of ability. Set goals that are easy to reach. Create momentum. Figure out what will build confidence quickly and advance faster with fewer doubts. If you ever need to fall back, you’ll fall a short ways on to a strong broad structure. If you keep building with a focus on height alone, your inevitable falls may send you crashing down many layers of aesthetic progress. I always picture a dense building versus a narrowing pile of sticks reaching upwards. The sticks can support you as you climb up but the latter will withstand many more unexpected storms. Build solid on top of solid and have fun dancing on the top.
As my friend Kate Galliett says, “where are you going?” You have [only?] so much time here, but you’re going to be here for as long as you are. There is no rush. You will grow. You get to choose where you put your efforts. And as Alan Watts said, “In dancing, you don’t aim at one particular part of the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance!” The process is life. Perhaps that’s why I don’t often set goals at all. Perhaps that’s why I don’t often set goals at all — I want to thoroughly enjoy where I’m at before looking anywhere else.