When I began my personal development journey seven or so years ago, one of the first difficulties I encountered was not seeing results. I have read dozens (likely hundreds) of books, taken online courses, and challenged myself in innumerable ways. On the surface, I am much the same person I was seven years ago. But I can now sense certain parts of my life taking off. I always hated that iceberg photo that success teachers would show, but I am learning through experience that this is indeed exactly how it goes. In any of my “accomplishments” there were countless hours of seemingly unrewarded work. It really clicked for me this past winter when I read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. He talks about how any work we do toward a goal is not lost, it is stored. So while on the surface, changes are not yet visible, they are indeed taking place.
An Everyday Example
Imagine you are boiling a pot of water for some pasta. You turn on the burner and place the pot with water on it. You wait a couple of minutes, get frustrated, and then turn the burner off and throw out the water. Obviously, if you had any experience boiling water, you would know that you weren’t wasting your time, it’s just that the water doesn’t begin to boil until it reaches a certain temperature (212 degrees fahrenheit to be exact). You would know that the water was getting hot, whether or not you had “proof” of it. The same can be said of our efforts toward a goal. Maybe those $300 saved each month don’t instantly make you financially free, but over time, those actions are stored and compounded and will eventually get you there. Remember that just because you can’t see results, doesn’t mean the changes aren’t happening. They may just be below the surface.
In my article about choosing a mentor, I talk about the benefits of having a mentor who can relate to the process as much or more than the result. For example, if you ask a trust fund baby how to make money, they can give good advice but they don’t know the inevitable difficulties that come along the way. Similarly, many things in life have a certain amount of time or prerequisite work before you see results. When you start lifting weights, bodily changes don’t start happening for weeks or likely months, but then the changes compound and can create definite visible results.
The Law of Gestation
The Law of Gestation states that every outcome has a timescale for its completion. A tree has a certain amount of time that it must grow in the soil before it breaks ground. College is a good example. If you go to the local University and say you want a degree in Mechanical Engineering in two weeks, they’ll laugh. They know that, for the vast majority of people, it will take four years with the right qualifications. Now yes, there is the odd genius or huckster who can be an exception to the rule, but four years is just what it takes for the vast majority of people.
As a personal trainer, if a skinny guy tells me he wants to gain muscle, I know (because I was once a skinny guy), that if he does linear progressive overload for three months, he will look bigger. If he keeps it up for two years (with some changes in programming and nutrition), he will have an impressive physique. Once again, there are exceptions to the rule (some may gain muscle faster or slower than the median), but in general, three months to notice a difference, two years for a good physique.
So the next time you are trying to achieve a goal, I encourage you to keep in mind that results don’t show up immediately. But take heart because those actions aren’t lost, they are just being stored and compounded.