Is It Time to Increase the Difficulty?

Maybe you feel like you’re coasting, and you wonder if it’s time to challenge yourself in a new way.

I was reflecting this morning, and it occurred to me that an intuition of that sort marks an important moment for taking stock. I think there are a few questions to consider in that moment.

1. For one thing, it is worthwhile to ask whether the coasting is the bad or the good kind of coasting.

Coasting that leads to decay is bad coasting; if I was doing one push-up per week and getting progressively weaker over time, it’s time for a change.

Coasting that needlessly costs us our goals is bad coasting. If I’m running three times a week but not nearly covering enough distance to survive a marathon I’ve signed up for in a couple months (and if I don’t have a good reason for that neglect), then that’s not great.

But there’s good coasting too. An author who writes three pages per day could certainly be doing better, but at the end of the week she’s still twenty pages closer to having a finished book. A person who does ten minutes of language study per day, awaiting the moment when energy and capacity and inspiration come together to enable a commitment of fifteen or twenty minutes per day, is coasting well.

2. Another important consideration is why the coasting began to happen in the first place. Presumably before the coasting, at some point (even if it was long ago) we were pushing ourselves and getting out of the comfort zone. What led us to slow down, and are any of those factors still at play? Were there other commitments that we needed to give time and attention to? If we haven’t thought this through and dealt with any looming challenges, we have a much lower chance of succeeding this time as well.

3. And finally, there is the question of how to make things more difficult, if we choose to do so (as we may well). Spending more time on it? Choosing a variation that is more draining? Adding a second layer on top of what we’re already doing? Intuition and experimentation will probably be our best guides at this point in the process.

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