Advancing the process

The following analogy looks at the relationship between effort and progress, and how sometimes we chastise ourselves for the wrong thing. We link progress to the result of our effort, rather than to advancement of the process.

Take for example a thirty-speed bicycle. If we get on when the bicycle is in 30th gear, then no matter how much we struggle we will never get anywhere. We simply don’t have the capacity to overcome the static friction involved with gear ratios of that kind. So instead, we start out small. It’s best to start with the smallest gear first, because that is how a bicycle is meant to be ridden.

Effort on a bicycle should be gauged in revolutions of the crankshaft per minute – not the distance traveled. This is because fifty revolutions per minute in first gear results in a much smaller distance traveled than fifty revolutions in 30th gear. However, it takes the same amount of effort in both cases to turn the crankshaft.

I think we are too hard on ourselves if we equate progress to distance traveled. This frustration leads to us pedaling furiously in the lower gears, while constantly berating ourselves because we aren’t traveling fast enough. Then we try to pedal even harder, or stop in desperation. But even if we reach 1000 revolutions per minute, there’s simply a fixed limit on how fast we can go in first gear, and therefore how far we can travel.

The answer is to shift gears, but only when our pedaling has exceeded the capacity of the lower gear. Shifting before that time actually degrades the quality of our effort, because we waste energy competing against inertia. It’s better to stay in the lower gear until the advantage of that gear is used up, and then shift. Just because we’re in a higher gear, doesn’t mean we’re doing better. Unless we’re ready for that gear, we only waste precious energy. The proper course is to start out in first gear, pedal until the potential of that gear is fully met, then shift and continue.

After a while, we will finally reach 30th gear, and our pedaling will achieve the maximum efficiency possible. But this only happens after having advanced the process of riding a bicycle for a very long time. Pedal, shift, pedal, shift: that is the process. The only thing we as riders can do is to advance that process. We have no control over the speed of our bicycle other than pedal and shift.

The key is to reward ourselves for consistency of effort. Keep pedaling. When we reach the limit of one gear, shift, and then keep pedaling at the same rate. If twenty revolutions per minute is too easy, and we know that we have a greater capacity than that, increase the rate. Keep pedaling at your highest possible rate, but gauge your progress on the consistency of your pedaling, rather than how far you have gone, or how fast you are going. Consistency of pedaling is the thing we control. Speed cannot be changed directly, but only indirectly, as a result of an ongoing process. Bemoaning our slowness has no effect on the speed of the bicycle. There is no other way to ride quickly except to ride slowly at first, and then to advance the process over time.

The purpose of bicycling is to travel. But the process of bicycling is to turn the pedals, and change gears when the time is appropriate (and not before). We should keep our sights on the destination, and constantly pedal to attain it, but all the while gauge ourselves on our pedaling, because it is by pedaling that we reach the goal. God might remove obstacles, or present shortcuts, or maybe even lift our bicycles off the ground for a little while; but unless we pedal, we will reach nowhere. Pedaling and direction should occupy our full attention, but certainly not how far we have gone, how far we have to go, or how fast we might have been going in another gear.