Three steps forward, two steps back

Working through the most hairy, worthwhile problems typically ends up with us taking three steps forward and two steps back.

This is almost always the case. Think back to worthy habits you’ve built – exercise, reading good books, eating well, better organization, prioritizing your work, among others. I bet they didn’t just stick the first time you tried.

No, you started with a few days at the gym. Then, something came up and you had to restart the habit again.

Three steps forward, two steps back.

The lessons for me from this pattern are two fold.

First, remind yourself of the progress you make when you feel demotivated after the two steps back. You are one step further than you were before and you know what it takes to take three steps forward again.

And, second, expect stops and starts as you deal with hairy problems and worthwhile habits. Let it not be too much of a big deal when either happens. Instead, keep optimizing for learning and plugging away.