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Cycling my way to incremental progress

Cycling my way to incremental progress

September 12, 2023

Back when I was in the Army, based in Oklahoma from 2006 - 2010 I enjoyed cycling.  There was great cycling on base around the artillery ranges and the nature preserve behind the base.  Within 150 miles of Fort Sill, OK I found several organized / supported bike rides. 

In 2006, I signed up and completed my first organized bike rides.  These rides ranged from 30 miles to 100 miles.  These rides included the: Hotter Than Hell 100 in Wichita Falls Texas (https://www.hh100.org/) to the Tour de Meers near Fort Sill.  I also completed a century (100 mile bike ride) in Oklahoma City.  I vividly recall my early days in these rides, where my objective was to finish.  Then my objective was to complete the ride without stopping.  Then challenging myself to keep up with one of the faster pace groups as long as I could.  Which was typically around 20 -30 minutes. Gradually, that endurance extended and improved. 

When I started in May 2006 I remember getting passed by coming into the home stretch of the Tour de Meers. It was deflating.  I felt like I was failing on top of dragging down a friend who had joined me.  Later that year I completed my first Hotter Than Hell 100, (100 mile bike ride hosted the third week in August in north Texas) my time was 6 hours flat. At mile 90, I didn't know if I could finish the last 10 miles. I spent at least 30 minutes recovering and getting help from a volunteer stretching out people like me pushing their limit that day.  

In July of 2010 I completed a century ride in Oklahoma City day.  Less than 45 days after returning from my second deployment.  The first 35 miles I was able to keep up with a very fast pace group.  I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to keep up with them all day.  Then at mile 35, they broke off.  Not ahead off. They were doing the shorter duration ride and not the full 100 miles.  Almost imperceptibly, I found myself seamlessly keeping pace with 5 other fast riders who where doing the full 100 miles.  Despite a lots of rolling hills and a few cramps around mile 85, I completed the 100 mile bike ride in 4 hours and 50 minutes. It was an amazing ride and I felt extremely accomplished.  

The following month, August 2010, I completed the Hotter Than Hell 100 in 4 hours and 30 minutes, not stop once. It was amazing. The paceline of bikes I road with was on fire.  We just kept passing people for about an hour until there was open road.   

At the time, it felt like a sudden transformation, but deep down, I knew it wasn't.  When you are on a journey of self improvement you cannot focus on the goal 1000 miles ahead. Just the next step to get you there.  

This, my friends, is the remarkable power of incremental change. Let me illuminate its workings:

1- Find the first step and take it.  Then find the next one.  

2- Understand where you are want to go.  

3- Don't let failure or setbacks get in your way.  Progress isn't a straight line.  Failure is part of the process.  

4- Focus on becoming, and developing the habits required to keep moving toward your next goal.

5- Rinse and repeat.

The beauty of incremental change lies in its subtle nature. We scarcely perceive ourselves inching closer to our ultimate goal until, almost magically, we arrive there.

Now, I must admit, I didn't feel significantly faster because I wasn't dramatically faster—certainly not compared to yesterday or even last week. In fact, my progress amounted to a mere fraction of an increase from the previous month. However, month after month, ride after ride, those incremental gains began to accumulate. Those small fragments of "faster" started to compound upon one another.

Naturally, this principle extends beyond cycling.  When you start building and executing your financial plan it can feel daunting.  The time, attention, focus and detail required can sometimes feel overwhelming.  There are few if any people to celebrate gains or progress with as the nature of our plans are so personal and private.  Setbacks, challenges or changes to the plan can make you feel like you will never reach your goal.  The magical transformation you desire, distant, surreal or impossible.  

Take time to pay attention to your progress. 

If you establish a habit of reflecting on your progress every month, quarter, and year, you'll never again feel as if you're stagnating. While this may somewhat diminish the surprise of abruptly reaching your goals, I assure you that the journey itself will become far more rewarding.

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Now, for those of you seasoned individuals, a sense of déjà vu may be creeping in, whispering, "Haven't I read this somewhere before?"