Small sprouting plant in pot of coins shows difference between linear growth vs. exponential growth.
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Evaluating linear growth vs. exponential growth sounds straightforward, right?

How could they possibly be similar? They look so different on a graph!

Let me show you how, because it seems like everyone wants exponential growth in pretty much every category.

Fitness. Finance. Productivity. You name it.

And if we just listened to all the advice on the internet, we’d all be billionaires with 6-pack abs, right?

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Here’s the tricky thing:

Exponential growth looks a lot like linear growth at first.

In fact, they look the same for a while–but they’re completely different.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, build your investment portfolio, or learn an instrument you may have experienced this long linear line as a plateau.

But do you remember when you started to finally see results in the mirror? Remember that feeling when you actually could play the first line of Beethoven’s 9th without messing up and it felt good?

That’s the moment you started seeing the separation from the linear growth path and the exponential growth path.

We experience these moments as “breakthroughs.”

Here’s a quick/dirty graph to explain what I mean:

Image result for exponential vs. linear

Just keep this in mind as you move toward your goals. Most effort compounds.

If you’re learning to “walk the dog” with a yo-yo, that early stage is probably about 45 minutes.

It’s not that long, but for 45 minutes you’re banging your elbow, whacking your head, and considering quitting because you’re not seeing the improvement you want.

You’re experiencing linear growth vs. exponential growth–or so your brain thinks!

If you’re learning to play the guitar, it’s more like 2 years, not 45 minutes.

Different skills and goals will have different curves with different timelines.

So, how do we find that breakthrough moment and get the huge dopamine rush that comes with it?

We need to . . .

  1. Measure our progress
  2. Set expectations
  3. Adapt when things aren’t working.

How will you measure your improvement? Are you logging pushups in a fitness journal?

How will you set expectations? What is a typical amount of time someone needs to lose 15 lbs. at your age with your health conditions?

How will you adapt what you’re doing when it’s not going to plan? Do you know someone who’s done it before with success? Can you call a friend to brainstorm some ways to shake things up and try something new?

If you’re serious, you’ll measure your progress.

If you’re serious, you’ll be patient with yourself.

2 Minute Action

When was the last time you quit?

How do you know if it was a good quit or a premature quit?

One way to tell is by when you quit. Was it before you started or when it got hard?

If you quit in the “Early Stage,” you might want to try again or look honestly at what happened.

I bet it will take you 2 minutes or less to assess this and try again.

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