Being a proactive person brings advantages in many aspects of life. The process of learning almost anything benefits from repetition, practice and being able to learn from mistakes. Whether we are working on speaking French or playing tennis, the most reliable way to develop our skills is to practice them over and over again.
This type of learning has always suited me. It has allowed me to perform well at school and become a capable guitar player and writer, amongst other things. As children we have time to spend and if we are diligent enough, we have the opportunity to develop abilities that will enrich our entire lives. I remember spending school holidays playing guitar for hours at a time, pouring over transcripts of 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Enter Sandman' as the skin of my index fingers flaked and peeled. I committed this time because I cared so much about improving and growing as a guitar player and knew it was the way I achieved that.
What recently occurred to me, perhaps not a moment too soon, is that these principles cannot be applied in every situation. Not all learning is about simply repeating actions and expecting that progress will occur. The idea that not all learning comes about as a result of commitment and sheer will is still pretty fresh to me. Some scenarios benefit from less action and more precision, from being accurate rather than consistent. In these moments I feel powerless and incapable because my usual paths to self-improvement are counter-productive, perhaps even harmful. When I can't drag myself closer to the finish line, I flail.
When you're in quicksand, the way to get yourself in deeper is to resist, fight and claw; getting out requires that you remain calm and still while you call for assistance. This is our mental test: can we come to terms with these situations and let go of the fear of not being in control?
A sniper sits on a hill waiting days at a time and he gets a single shot, a single opportunity. Once he pulls the trigger, he broadcast his presence and location to all concerned. He doesn't get to come back tomorrow and try again. An athlete with a muscle tear sits on the sidelines for weeks, desperate to get back into training so they can return to doing what they love. If they try to come back too soon or train too hard when they begin again, they risk injuring themselves more severely. Somewhere between the second and third phone call to that girl, you go from being enthusiastic to creepy. And worse than a muscle injury, undoing that damage can be impossible. Sometimes you just have to wait and see.
When you've been conditioned to believe that being proactive is the path to progress, this is a bitter pill. The idea that not-doing could increase your chance of success in anything is counter-intuitive but true. Wanting something so badly can push it further away. The challenge for those who see this in ourselves is clear: can we be insightful enough to know when we're in quicksand and strong enough to let go of the fear of not being in control?
If you identify as a person who struggles with quicksand or has a story to share where this applied to them, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Sharing gives us the opportunity to help ourselves process these things and may assist others in understanding themselves as well. Thanks for reading.