Cyclical Progress

Have you ever started a new sport and became enthusiastic about it right away?

I have. With rock climbing.

I was fully and completely convinced, this is my thing! I signed a 2 year contract with the rock climbing gym, although I already knew I was about to move away in a few months. But those were the best people to learn from. Simple. I went out and bought ALL the equipment necessary. I mean, ALL of it. I got 2 climbing shorts, 2 specialized tank-tops made from the best fabric, 2 pro ropes, a belt, chalk and the most advanced shoes available. If you do something, you do it right, right?

I was at it for half a year, 3 days a week plus every second weekend, and made some good initial progress regarding my grip, strength and climbing intelligence, but then the move came and it just faded away. Somehow.

Climbing pals flaked on me here and there, the distance increased, priorities changed and a few weeks later I lost interest. Sort of. I payed another year for my membership without ever going again. I put the equipment bag on the top of my closet, where it stayed untouched for 2 winters.

A year ago I stumbled onto it again and realized, I actually quite enjoyed climbing. The sweat, the persistence necessary, the complimentary full body workout, the buddies. So I started going to the gym again. Just every once in a while. Just for fun. The last time I went was this past weekend.

It’s funny, but my lack of drive and determination made me realize the concept of cyclical progress, which since then helped me as another piece to the puzzle of understanding myself and the world a little bit better everyday.

I found that my approach to rock climbing is actually quite common for us humans.

Cyclical Progress

When we start out, we tend to go full extreme about something. We go everyday, we buy all the equipment, we commit in advance.

Then something happens and we move into the other extreme of not doing it at all. Letting it fade.

After a while we return with a more moderate approach and eventually find a balanced middleground that’s sustainable.

You can observe this everywhere. Guys hitting the gym for the first time, going 5 days a week. Then they get a girlfriend and drop bodybuilding completely. Then they get dumped and return to 2 days a week, because they want another girlfriend, but this time realize extremism won’t work if they want to both maintain a girlfriend and their physique.

You can observe this, when someone starts to learn a new language and buys the Rosetta Stone course, the Pimsleur course and 3 others at once. They start to learn the basic structure of the language and the most rudimentary vocabulary. They plan to visit the home-country of their desired language, but then something happens and they don’t get to go there at all. So they rationalize it’s not that important anymore and stop with their harsh grammar regime. After some time has passed, it dawns on them, that they actually enjoyed learning and speaking that language and get back at it again. Once a month. Slowly.

You can observe this with young guys learning to pick up women. They become extreme about it and start to go out every single night. They hit up every female they can find to a point where they feel guilty when a woman passes and they don’t approach her. Then college, the first job or a girlfriend come along and they drop that habit of going out all the time as if they were promoters in Vegas. No more. After a while things change (again) and they reignite their love for the game. This time it’s only 2-3 nights a week. It’s sustainable and over the course of a few years they become really good.

You can observe this as well with how people approach diets. I eat paleo and see this all the time with new people starting out. They are blown away by the levels of energy they all of a sudden have, when cutting out refined carbs and sugars for the first time, that they never want to eat carbs again at all. Which is an intolerant extreme. There’s nothing against blueberries. Then you have a balanced idea like that of a “cheat day” and some people slip into the other (tolerant) extreme by extending the cheat day into a daily cheat meal, until they completely fall off.

You can observe this phenomenon of going from one extreme to the other extreme and then finding some middleground on a macro scale as well. Take women’s rights for example. A few centuries ago women weren’t allowed to vote, nor work outside their own home. It’s an intolerant extreme and not sustainable. That’s why things changed and some 50 years ago feminism came along introducing society to the other side of extreme, the tolerant one, where women make up the majority of the work force, the majority of voters and divorce laws are ridiculously in their favor.
Or you might want to have a look at racial issues. Society started out with inquisition, crusades, slavery and concentration camps, which are tremendously horrible things and the furthest you get with “intolerant extreme”. It took a civil war, many lives and the human rights movement until we arrive at today, where you have some sort of the polar opposite. Forced tolerance. Everything less than full tolerance towards everything is intolerant and by command of that other extreme not acceptable. So mosques pop up all over Europe and children learn to use the word “colored”, because the former word is disrespectful.
The same thing happens with how society treats homosexuality. It went from illegal and under penalty (intolerant extreme) to gay pride and push for same sex marriage (tolerant extreme).

I believe that in order for something to be sustainable, it has to find a balance in the middle of 2 extreme takes on it.
The most common way to get to balanced grounds is by starting at one extreme side, evolving into the other and eventually by maturing one’s understanding ending up in the middle.

Extremes can’t be maintained over the long term. That’s why communism failed.

Society is always the synergy of different opposing opinions and dealing with something in an extreme way means to neglect the contrary extreme opinions and everything in between.

The weird thing in my experience is this: the “intolerant extreme” take on something comes with a time fuze. It’s destined to self-destruct from within. It’s extremely fragile. That’s why there’s a different color area in the graphic. All other three convergence zones, the intolerant moderate, the tolerant moderate and the tolerant extreme need conscious effort (by internal or external force) to evolve into balance.
North Korea is an example of “intolerant moderate”. That’s why their suppressors are still in power. They keep riding the edge between “intolerant moderate” by barely making the people survive and “intolerant extreme” by having famine spread here and there.

You can take this concept a lot further and I’m sure many people already have in more eloquent ways.
A virus, for example, is usually in the “tolerant extreme” zone. If it was in the “intolerant extreme” zone, it would pretty quickly kill all hosts and thereby become extinct itself. That’s what eventually happened to pestilence.
Religion is another great example, where you have things starting out in the tolerant extreme to moderate zones. The ten commandments were quite a disruption towards tolerance intially. Then religion cycles on multi-layered macro and micro levels from one extreme to the other and back throughout the centuries. If you look at how things are today, Buddhism and Hinduism make attempts to go into “tolerant extreme”, Christianity is somewhere in “tolerant moderate” AND in “intolerant moderate” depending at which part of the world you look at, and fundamentalistic parts of Islam are in “intolerant extreme” zones, because they perceive there can only be one truth by definition, and thereby radicalize more and more.

– extremes are not sustainable
– the more extreme, the more fragile
– intolerant extreme is the most fragile, inherently built with a time fuze
– all other areas need internal/external force to change
– many things sit in convergence zones dieing slowly
– there is no stagnation. it’s always evolving, but slowly. one isolated moment usually appears stagnant.
– long term sustainability is only found in middleground
– the road to “sustainable balance” is cyclical and most of the time leads from one initial extreme into the opposing extreme and then into balance

I’m pretty sure the next decades will show more movings into extremes, but more importantly, a lot more coming into “sustainable balance”.

How do you approach new skills? Have you observed this phenomenon?

In terms of climate change, has human life on this planet taken place in “sustainable balance” or is the climate so far an extreme tolerating human life? Which would mean that we will face an evolution into the opposing extreme in the next centuries.

Interesting questions ahead.

Cyclical Progress

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