Progress is a pixel: advice for hard times

I’ve been chatting to a new friend who’s having a pretty hard time at the moment, and it reminded me of something I learnt when I was at the bottom of the Sad Crater. I want to share it in case it can help someone else.

Going up

The first thing it’s important to know is that it’s called the Sad Crater because that’s how it’s shaped. When you’re at the bottom of it, the only place you can go in any direction is upwards. There is no more down. And although everyone’s individual Sad Crater is slightly different, with its own bumps and dips, they’re all basically shaped the same: down, down, down, but then always back up again, and out the other side onto level ground.

You often can’t tell you were even in a crater until you’ve got some distance away. And that’s how it is with periods of depression and sadness, too: you won’t know they’re over until you’re a good way past. That’s because change happens incredibly slowly, a bit at a time.

Getting out of my own Sad Crater taught me to think of progress as a pixel. It’s one tiny change in a big picture. At first, you can’t see it at all, and you don’t know anything’s different. But then another pixel flips, and another one, and another one, and when you stand back a bit, you can see the picture starting to transform into something else. Something brighter.

Zoom out

When you’re making small improvements in a hard life, they might seem so tiny as to be pointless. You got out of bed and had a shower today, for instance — not the biggest thing you’ve ever accomplished. But it’s one more pixel than you flipped yesterday, and perhaps tomorrow you’ll flip another one. Nothing happens all at once, so focus on changing one pixel that you can manage, and you’ll find the big picture changes all by itself.

At my lowest moments, I can’t pretend I thought each little win meant much at all. But like one dead pixel in a pristine white screen, the difference is there when you look for it. And eventually, you won’t have to try: the pixels accelerate and multiply, until you’re looking at a whole new image.

Main image: Paulo Valvidieso via Flickr Creative Commons

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