4 min read

The three barriers to progress

The three barriers to progress

Achieving any significant goal entails navigating through a series of predictable yet personally unique barriers.

Each barrier presents unique challenges.

I have observed three distinct barriers to progress.

While they may feel similar, they emanate from different origins.

Barrier 1: The Lure of Inertia

Imagine you're embarking on a journey to transform your physical health through weightlifting.

The beginning is silent, uneventful, characterized by the weight of doing nothing—this is inertia.

It's not merely a lack of movement; it's an entrenched resistance, the comfort of the familiar, the couch's call at the end of a long day.

The initial challenge is to break away from this seductive ease.

For most, the act of going to the gym isn't defeated by disdain for activity but by the cozy allure of stasis.

Once you disrupt this inertia, step into the gym, and lift that first weight, a shift happens.

Not just physically, but mentally.

The world doesn't look different, but you might start to see yourself differently.

Let's say you are just starting out.

Maybe you bench press seventy-five pounds and squat ninety pounds.

You can substitute playing the piano, learning HTML, working towards running a 10k, or any other 'training ladder'.

After the first week, you showed up multiple times, and you now have a ladder to climb—whether it is lifting 20% more, playing a piano piece at a higher tempo after starting artificially slowly, or running one more kilometre than you did the last time.

You've beaten inertia and now have a habit.

This feels good.

Now all you need is to keep the training montage going, having beaten inertia, and eventually you will achieve your goal, right?

Barrier 2: The Echoes of Doubt

With inertia behind you and a new routine ahead, the path seems clear.

Yet, as you settle into this rhythm, a new barrier subtly introduces itself: doubt.

This is not the loud, piercing doubt of an antagonist in a story; it's quieter, more insidious.

You've been progressing, lifting more each week, feeling the thrill of growing stronger.

But then, life intervenes.

Perhaps it's an illness or an injury that breaks your stride—like catching the flu or traveling out of town, forcing you to miss sessions and lose momentum.

As you recover, the mental recovery lags behind.

Doubts whisper. "Was my goal too ambitious? Why am I focusing solely on lifting?"

You open YouTube.

If your goal is weightlifting, you might start watching videos with titles like "Why Compound Lifting is Overrated."

If you are learning piano, you might start to wonder if you are focusing too much on piano pieces.

Should you learn more musical theory?

Should I learn a few chords on guitar?

Why did I choose piano over another instrument?

Coming back to the weightlifting example, you start to doubt the mission.

People who are proficient in other areas may figuratively sit on your shoulder, whispering further doubts into your ear.

"Weightlifting is great when you are young, but yoga and stretching are better long-term longevity habits. You should slow down."

"Big muscles aren't that important; triathletes are the true fit people."

Should I incorporate more cardio, try yoga, maybe focus on flexibility?

These thoughts might cascade further.

"Is my entire approach flawed?"

This doubt can spiral, leading you to question the validity of your goals just when you need conviction the most.

You don't have a problem with "not doing it", but now have entered the world of:

Am I doing the right things?

Barrier 3: The Plateau's Persistence

Finding your way out of Barrier 2 is a complex topic that exceeds the scope of this piece.

Achieving escape velocity from the gravity of the second barrier is often a complex journey of speaking with coaches, experts, experimenting, refocusing.

It's a little bit harder than "just getting started".

The good news is that it can feel very rewarding to beat Barrier 2.

Barrier 2 is when someone who "just wants to hit certain lift goals at the gym" expands the aperture of their ambitions to include a more complex fitness plan that blends cardio, nutrition, stretching, and resistance training.

You expand your approach, learn to do more things, incorporate and embrace complexity, and continue on with more experience and planning.

More tools are in the toolbox.

Something like nascent "wisdom" in addition to "determination" is being forged.

Assuming you navigate through the swamps of doubt, you find a firmer path again.

Yet, as you approach what feels like the final stretch, another barrier emerges—the plateau.

This stage is deceptive; it's where growth feels all but invisible.

You've been pushing, adapting, overcoming, but now progress slows to a crawl.

This plateau can be frustratingly paradoxical: the closer you are to your goal, the harder each step becomes.

This is a common tale in any long-term endeavor, whether it’s mastering a skill, advancing a career, or transforming a body.

The last 20% of the journey often demands 80% of the effort.

It took you 18 months to achieve a 300-pound squat, and now it is taking you another 12 months simply to get to 335.

It took you 18 months to play a an intermediate Bach fugue and a Billy Joel song on the piano, and now it is taking another 18 months to just play something that seems like it's only a little bit more complicated. but the last 10% in an advanced piece feels impossible.

It's here that the earlier barriers seem almost quaint in retrospect.

The plateau challenges not just your strategy but your endurance, your will.

In the story of any significant achievement, these barriers are not just obstacles but milestones.

Each one you overcome is a testament to your growth—not just in pursuit of a goal, but in the evolution of your character.

Recognizing these barriers for what they are—integral parts of the journey—transforms them from impediments to stepping stones.

Beyond Barrier 3 is something great.