A Simpler Time

I think we all have an innate desire to improve ourselves in some way or another. We want to run faster. We want to earn more money. We want to take better pictures and create better memories. And in our efforts to improve ourselves, we may set a number of goals and we hope to make progress on those goals. However, it is far too common for us to mistake motion with progress.

One analogy that comes to mind is running on a treadmill. If your ultimate goal is some distance ahead of you, but all you’re doing is running on that treadmill, you’re not actually getting any closer to achieving that goal. You’re just spinning your wheels in place. You might feel like you’re putting in all kinds of effort–and you are–but you’re not making any progress.

Beyond 360 Degrees

Last year, I wrote a Grammar 101 post on turning around 360 degrees. In that post, I noted that many people misuse that phrasing when they want to say that they have completely turned things around. They want to say that they’ve changed completely. In that context, it would more appropriate to say that you’ve turned 180 degrees, because it means that you are now heading in the opposite direction. If you turn 360 degrees, you’re right back where you started.

But that got me thinking about how many of us are actually turning 361 degrees.

Much like the treadmill analogy, you feel like you’re putting in a lot of hard work. You feel like you’re putting in the effort and you’re going through the motions, but the net progress that you make is actually quite minuscule. You’ve literally turned all the way around… and then moved just a little more. You’re not quite back where you started, because you’re one notch over. The painful irony is that you could have made the same kind of progress by simply moving one degree rather than 361 degrees.

Now, you’ve made the same progress, but you’re much dizzier for it.

Is One Degree Enough?

It really depends on what your goals are and what you want to achieve. Maybe you don’t want to “completely turn things around.” Maybe you don’t want to turn 180 degrees. Maybe you just want to be a little different, because moving one, two, or five degrees is all you need to head in the right direction. Maybe you don’t want to be perfect and you just want to enjoy playing the game. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We also have to remember that all this spinning around isn’t enough on its own. You still have to walk forward. It’s like having a compass point you in the right direction, but you don’t actually take steps in that direction. You might be facing the right way, but you’re not actually making any real progress. And how far you want to go is another issue altogether.

Some people might say that life is really about exploration and that there is value is all this unnecessary spinning around. They might tell you that there is an inherent value to turning 361 degrees rather than turning just one degree, because you have now gained an extra 360 degrees of character-building life experience. And that might be true. Maybe life really isn’t about efficiency. Maybe it’s just about enjoying the ride.