Invisible progress


My friend Julia Roberts, an awesome creativity coach, posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that she “made lots of invisible progress today.”

I loved her term “invisible progress,” and told her so. Julia elaborated: “I think of pregnancy. It buoys us to know that even on the most uneventful day, we baked the baby a bit that day. We’ve already had a hand in altering the universe. Most days have more progress than we know.”

To that I say, YES! And I wanted to muse a little on the concept of invisible progress today.

Years ago, when I was a chronic overachiever, perfectionist, and dieter, I read these words by Geneen Roth: “Sometimes doing it looks like not doing it.”

What? I thought. How can that be? We’re either doing something, making tangible progress on it that we can see, or we’re not doing it, not making progress, and, therefore, falling behind.

And yet, even as my logical, rational mind rejected this idea, when I read the words, something resonated for me, deep in my abdomen. It felt true.

I realized (I was about twenty-two at the time) that I could live the rest of my life only believing in what I saw, or I could live my life trusting that sometimes things were happening beneath the surface, even if I couldn’t see them in the physical world (yet).

Trusting in invisible progress means recognizing that we need to balance our doing with being. While “perfect balance” between doing and being is not possible, we can acknowledge that we do need both in our lives. Most of us are better at one than the other. And some of us have trouble transitioning between the two (me!).

For me, invisible progress often happens when I am in a “being” state. For example, when I’m out walking, I sometimes get ideas for my next blog post or the next scene in my novel, or a completely unexpected solution to some problem I’ve been struggling with pops into my head. I’m not consciously “trying” to come up with ideas; in fact, they come because I’m letting my subconscious chew on things while I’m focused on my walk.

Invisible progress can also happen when we’re being distracted from what we intend to do. This week, I had to take my cat to the vet, something that seriously freaks me out. Both the stress and the actual act of going to the vet took a big chunk out of the day and I had to let some things go.

While I was at the vet, though, the vulnerable feeling that came over me actually ended up being precisely the feeling I’d been trying to get in touch with as I wrote the short story I’m working on. Even though I wasn’t able to put in much actual work in on the short story that day, the vet visit — the act of living life! — gave me exactly what I needed. I was able to return to my story and give that vulnerability to my character, which was exactly what the story needed in order to move forward.

And sometimes, as Julia pointed out so eloquently above, invisible progress is like gestation. Something is growing in us, but it’s not yet ready to burst forth into the world.

We may not even have words to describe it yet (fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have told you I was going to become a life coach one day — I didn’t even know then what a life coach was). We can try to push it and hurry it up, but ultimately, whether we’re growing a baby or a book, it will be born when it’s ready to be born and not one second before.

There are also days where we don’t notice our progress because it has become second-nature to us. Maybe we did something and did it well but since we’re so used to doing it, we don’t “count” it as progress or even think of it that way. It’s worth taking time to notice our accomplishments, maybe particularly the ones we tend to discount.

And, Melody Beattie has written that on some days, we need to congratulate ourselves for what we didn’t do. This, too, is “invisible progress.” I remember when I was having a particularly crappy day a few years ago and at the end of it I realized that, well, despite everything, I didn’t call my ex-boyfriend back even though he was trying to get in touch with me again, and I didn’t eat a box of Twinkies even though hearing from him really made me want to. And that a few years earlier I totally would have called him back and I totally would have eaten the Twinkies afterwards. Invisible progress for the win!

What does the idea of “invisible progress” mean to you? I’d love it if you’d share.

Also: I’ll be raising my coaching rates slightly in one week. If you’ve been thinking of working with me but haven’t gotten around to it, now’s a good time to get in on my current rates!

Image is “Spiral Diagonal” © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

4 thoughts on “Invisible progress

  1. Jill,
    As always, you’ve hit on a deep subject; invisible progress. It reminds me of why I recommend refreshment every day. You may not realize how much of a difference it makes from one day to the next, but, after a while, you see the results and know it’s because you’re taking good care of yourself. And the other thing, about giving yourself credit for something you wouldn’t deem a big deal; I always encourage folks to give yourself a pat on the back, no matter what you’ve accomplished. Everything counts.

    Thanks for a great post; worth chewing on!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring


    • Dawn, thanks so much for reading! You are so right about the daily refreshment — it accumulates over time, for sure, even if we don’t necessarily see the benefits immediately. I love your focus on it! I appreciate you stopping by, as always! 🙂


  2. You are so wise, wise beyond your years. I really needed to read this today. A day when I am not yet out of bed, watching the fog roll in beyond my window, and thinking it has got to be a “not doing” day.


    • Mary, I need a “not doing” day, too. And I’m realizing once again how difficult it is for me to actually “not do.” 🙂 Thank you for your kind words and for reading!


Comments are closed.