The Exponential Curve

Thursday 9 January, 2014

It’s tough to begin with. It always is. But without a beginning there can be no progress, no achievement, no change. We procrastinate, hoping for motivation or inspiration to get us going, but are more often prompted by desperation, in the form of a deadline or a personal crisis. So what makes it so difficult to start something? And why is it that, well after we have begun, it still feels as though we’re getting nowhere? It’s partly a lack of awareness of the process itself. But mostly it has to do with one aspect in particular: the exponential curve.

The curve describes the nature of just about any undertaking, whether it be cleaning the bathroom, writing a report, or working on our own development. One of the reasons why we find it difficult to get started is because we are too focused on the end result. exponential curveLook at the graph: if you imagine standing in the bottom left corner, staring up at your goal, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Your goal is miles away and there is a lot of hard work to be done to get there. You could be forgiven for thinking, ‘I’ll start tomorrow.’ Or worse: ‘Maybe I won’t even bother.’

Then, when you do eventually make a start, it isn’t long before you begin to feel just how slow the early progress is. You experience pockets of success which motivate you to continue, but they are not enough to sustain you through that difficult initial period. In order to achieve your target you need discipline and persistence. But perhaps the easiest way to help yourself is to be aware of what lies ahead. Not the specifics of the journey, but the nature of it.

Look how much time and effort it takes to achieve just 20% of your goal. Or look at it another way: after putting in over half the effort you need to complete your task, you are still barely off the ground. Progress is not linear (the dotted line) and when you know this you are more prepared for what’s coming. Being aware of what is likely to happen, will help to reduce your frustration when the going gets tough, and it will increase your ability to persevere when you need to. All of which means you are more likely to succeed. It also helps to remember that whatever you do now, becomes the foundation for your next step.

Even the effort which seems to be wasted serves a purpose, because it brings you a fraction closer to your objective. And every fraction moves you nearer to that break in the curve where progress becomes a little easier. So when you stand before your next challenge, keep in mind that it may not be easy and that there will be times when you question your progress. Then say to yourself: ‘Make a start, keep going, and know that eventually you will succeed.’

Related posts: The Curve Of Progress | The Gentle Curve Of Progress | Punctuated Equilibrium | Close To A Breakthrough | See Your Progress

2 Responses to “The Exponential Curve”

  1. Lisa Brennan Says:

    That really resonates with me at the moment – thanks!

  2. Jonathan Lewis Says:

    That’s good to hear, Lisa. All the best with whatever it is you’re doing.

Leave a Reply