Regression is easier than growth.
It’s easy to lower your standards, reduce your effort, and accept something that is “good enough,” a standard you might describe as mediocrity or passable. It’s much more challenging to envision a higher standard, do the work to create that standard, and maintain the new state you have created for yourself.
You might regress in different areas of your life, accepting a lower standard as it pertains to your physical health and well-being, your emotional health, the output of your work, your financial results, or your relationships. When you were passionate about something, you were inspired to grow and create a higher standard. As your passion waned, so did your standards. Instead of continuing to grow and improve, you regressed following the path in the opposite direction.
While I am not suggesting that such a thing might be true for you or me, you might have seen this phenomenon when you observe other people. What causes us to regress, and what causes us to grow?
The Forces of Regression
I once visited with Ken Wilber, the most cited American philosopher in American academia, the result of his work in Integral Theory. While sitting in his loft, I questioned him about how individuals and cultures grow. He was very patient while I outlined my understanding of his work by explaining that someone like Jesus, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr. transcends their existing culture and, in doing so, pulls people up to a higher level.
When I finished with my examples, he smiled at me and said, “Yes, but remember, more people are pulling them back down.” The forces of regression are many.
- Lack of Physical Energy: I can think of no cases where creating and maintaining a higher standard doesn’t require greater physical energy. You regress when you lack the power to spend on growth. A better result requires more energy. You cannot grow without expending more energy, and so you reach stasis, eventually regressing.
- Lack of Emotional Energy: When something is new, your passion sweeps you away, and your high interest and high energy fuel your growth. Over time, the emotional energy declines, and you start to go through the motions without the previous accompanying passion. Instead of growing, you regress. When you become bored, you retreat, the natural result of not continually reimagining your work.
- Lower Standards of Your Peer Group: You are surrounded by people who have low standards for themselves, their lives, and the people with whom they spend their time. They expect nothing more from others than they expect from themselves. My personal experience is that people with low standards do their very best to invite as many people as they can into their world. How could it be otherwise when they have exceedingly low standards. I was never more warmly welcomed into any group in my life than those with no standards.
- Cultural Standards: You are constantly and continually under the cultural norms of the greater population. Following what your culture dictates provides you with identity and belonging, kind of like the white headphones that accompanied the iPod when it was released; those who couldn’t afford the iPod bought knock-off brands. Wilber is correct here; more forces are pulling you down and causing you to regress than those insisting and inspiring growth. Growth means fighting against the dominant and prevailing forces.
This list could continue for days, but there is no reason to belabor the point.
The Forces of Growth
Let’s turn now to growth.
- Vision: Of all the forces of growth, this one might be the most difficult. You have to start by seeing the better version of yourself, the person that comes after the person you are now. I know you are perfect just the way you are, but couldn’t you also use a little improvement. As far as I have been able to discern, the deal provided you at birth is that you get one life, free and clear of all obligations, to become who you want to become. Seeing the next, better version of yourself is the starting point for growth and avoiding regression.
You are pure potential. You always have been, and no matter what season of your life you find yourself in now, you always will be. Transformation is always and forever available.
- Goals and Disciplines: I am not sure when goals fell out of fashion. At the end of this year, I am going to launch a program on goals and disciplines to make sure we make 2021 special. Providing yourself with a target and a deadline, you create a force that will cause you to grow. If who you are now was capable of producing the result you want, you’d already have achieved it. Goals require you to improve yourself, a worthwhile effort, even if you don’t reach them.
You also need a set of disciplines, a list of things you do without fail because it moves you towards your goals, ensuring you do the work necessary to grow and produce the result you want.
- Five Friends: There is an old saying that you are going to become the composite of the five people you spend the most time with and the books you read. You can—and should—identify a group of people you spend time with who are continually growing, striving to improve every area of their life, and who refuse to allow themselves—or you—to regress.
As a child, you might have had teachers or coaches who saw something more in you and insisted you grow, but as an adult, you have to do this for yourself. Replace your peer group with a group of people with a vision and drive, and who will expect you to grow.
Throughout the crisis, I have witnessed many loud and influential voices suggest that there is a “new normal,” the incredibly pessimistic idea that we are going to regress, lowering our standards and accepting something less. Without recognizing they are doing so, they are feeding others their fears, suggesting we take the status quo without so much as a whimper.
Always and forever, you must ignore anyone who suggests you lower your standard and allow yourself to regress. The value of adversity is that is provides something to push against, and in doing so, it makes you stronger and increases your capacity to be and do more.
There is no value and no honor in regressing in the face of a crisis. To do so is to accept the downside without capturing and benefiting from the upside.
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