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Progress is Not Linear

Backslide: to lapse morally or in the practice of religion; to revert to a worse condition.

We know this already, but it bears repeating: PROGRESS IS NOT LINEAR. BACKSLIDING IS PROBABLE.

I’m not particularly religious, but I did backslide yesterday. The secondary definition is apt, and likely applies to us all–perhaps more frequently during a yearlong pandemic.

The entire day played out like a giant middle finger aimed at my life, goals, recent progress, or the sound advice I would offer a friend, loved one, or blog follower seeking a more enlightened path.

Despite a solid night of sleep (I aim for 9 hours and feel like a half-decent human being when I actually get it), I woke up irritated, almost imperceptibly. The sun was shining during an unseasonably balmy March day, which should have been enough to kickstart my spring optimism.

Nope. Over the course of the day, the irritability worsened.

I picked a fight with my sweet husband about a perennially cluttered closet. He didn’t take the bait, but instead saw my valid, if shrill, point and made an effort to organize.

That didn’t help. I did not truly want to solve the problem in that moment; I wanted to lash out, and for no apparent reason.

So, I sat down to write. That always improves my mood and helps me feel connected. Except…

Every. Fucking. Idea. Was. Lame.

Or so it seemed.

Why bother? Maybe I’m not really cut out for this writing thing, I told myself. I’ve only been doing it for decades, have two degrees in the subject, and have published a plethora of stories. Enh, that’s irrelevant. Clearly I have no talent and am exposing myself for the fraud I really am.

Great self-talk, right? The opposite of what I would encourage any advice seekers to say to themselves.

Steven Pressfield would call this Resistance. Jennifer Pastiloff might call it the Inner Asshole (IA).

Regardless of the name, it caused me to abandon the Word doc and transition to online yoga, a no-fail way to move my body, clear my mind, and feel better.

My usual adorable, genki yogi led me in a kundalini chant, which I gave a lackluster attempt. I made it seven minutes into the video before the instructor emitted a giggle that would typically earn a wry smile. Instead, I thought, “Oh, just shut up!”

It felt like mentally scolding a wood nymph faerie. Only an asshole (inner or outer) would do that.

In that moment I realized that I–not writing or yoga or my husband or anyone else in my sphere–was the problem, and the common denominator in my hot mess of a day.

The obvious solution?

Pouring myself a chilled glass of pinot gris and mixing up some green cookie dough for St. Patrick’s Day. Except, I knew that regressive response would exacerbate the situation.

Honey badger don’t care. I was determined to drown out the discomfort with vino and sugar and butter and green food coloring, knowing they would further aggravate it. Old habits die hard and self-sabotage lurks around every blind corner, especially when I’m on a trajectory of healthy, productive choices.

The bane of my existence

What invoked the resistance, awoke the IA, provoked the shit-talking inner editor?

Hormones? Probably.

Change? Sure, even welcome transitions can throw me off my game.

Missing cat? Yah, my little feline wandered off a few days ago and hasn’t yet returned.

Who knows? The cause is secondary to the lessons learned during this stint of regression.

For me, backsliding looks like:

  • Self-doubt
  • Wining and whining
  • Sugar (and Netflix) bingeing
  • Stressing about disorganization
  • Telling online yoga teachers to shut up
  • Nursing a cookie-and-booze hangover

Do any of these sound familiar? What does regression look like for you?

Follow up question: What does progress look like for you?

For me, it is reminding myself that success can, and often does, take a meandering course. I’m not a linear person, and my path of progress isn’t going to be a linear one either. The faster I see that in the moment, the more enlightened I feel. Accompanying greater enlightenment are compassion and humility.

After waking up feeling full of green cookies and wine, tired, and worse off, I decided not to lose another full day to poor choices.

Instead, I took these baby steps:

  • Went for a walk (not run, not HIIT, not yoga)
  • Posted flyers of my lost cat around my neighborhood
  • Called my sister for our weekly accountability check in
  • Apologized to my husband for misplaced blame
  • Gave him a long, oxytocin-inducing hug
  • Brewed a mug of herbal tea

And this image posted on social media by a friend, who didn’t know how I was feeling yesterday.

A little boost I didn’t realize I needed

Guess what? I felt better. Only marginally, but noticeably, and encouraged to continue taking baby steps toward incremental improvement. It was preferable to another cookie binge and self-loathing.

It’s all in the wiggle of the squiggle.

I sent this diagram to my sister and her response was, “It’s all in the wiggle of the squiggle.”

Yes indeed. In the squiggle is where all of the magic happens. That is where we plant seeds, grow, learn, develop character, cultivate compassion, connect with others, recognize our shortcomings, and develop patience.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Regression provides contrast, data, and choice. It creates an opportunity to appreciate the distance I’ve come.

All of that is taking place in the squiggle. The messy, disorganized middle part of the arrow is where richness lies. It’s where most of life takes place.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. Would you?

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