The Myth of Progress
It finally happened. After months of drilling this stupid move over and over, after swearing that you weren’t getting any better, you finally landed it. It just kind of… clicked! And as awesome as it is, you can’t help but feel confused. How did it happen? After so many sessions of little or no improvement, how did you suddenly stomp this thing? Why here, why now? I’ll tell you why. Because progress, as you know it, is a lie.
You heard me right. The way we typically think about progress is a total lie. An illusion. A myth. Normally, when we watch an amazing tricker online, we freak out over an awesome trick they’ve recently acquired, like a snapuswipe for example. And the trick is so clean that we assume that their uninterrupted path to success looked like this:
terrible attempts –> okay attempts –> good attempts –> SO CLOSE –> nailed it every time.
We assume that they progressed slowly but surely, always getting a little better each session. But that assumption is far too simplistic; in fact, it’s often downright wrong. Here’s what progress actually looks like for just about every tricker out there:
terrible attempts –> bad attempts –> terrible again –> okay –> complete trash –> okay –> good –> SO CLOSE –> nailed it –> back to okay attempts –> SO CLOSE…
…and on and on and on until FINALLY the trick becomes consistent. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that top trickers just throw themselves around haphazardly, hoping for a landing. To train effectively, we all must do research on the trick we want and perfect the prerequisites. But even when we train smart, success is no easy path.
The bottom line is this: Progress is not linear, steady, or predictable. It is messy and weird. But after all the plateaus and steps backward, you will inevitably reach your goal.
That’s right; periods of no noticeable improvement, and even times when you lose a trick or feel like you’re getting further from your goal, are necessary steps in the pursuit of perfection.
But how could times of perceived failure or stagnation still be helpful? One of the more obvious answers is that as you drill a move, the muscles you need to perform it become stronger and stronger. So sooner or later, you start to execute it more easily simply because your body is more prepared. But I think there’s more to the story.
Here’s what I think: every attempt to land a new trick, regardless of how well you land, is a learning experience for your body. If you land badly, your muscle memory will retain that information, and whether you realize it or not, your body will strive to avoid that result in the future. If you land well, your muscle memory will retain that information, and whether you realize it or not, your body will strive to attain that result in the future. Your muscle memory is smart, so trust it!
Not to mention the fact that your air awareness gets infinitely better the more you practice. By “air awareness” I mean your ability to detect where you are in the air and how your body is positioned, and this is a crucial part of tricking. After all, how can you hope to land a trick if you have no idea where you are in the air? But the good news is this: whether you actually land the move or not, you are still improving your air awareness just by exposing yourself to the experience of the trick. For example, when I first started drilling double corks, I had NO IDEA what was going on in the air. All that spinning and flipping had me totally lost. But now I know exactly how fast I’m twisting, how much height I have, and how inverted I am. And I attained that awareness not because of successfully landing the trick over and over, but by repeatedly trying (and often failing) to land the trick.
Plus, if you keep studying a given skill, looking at tutorials and comparing yourself on video, you will begin to consciously understand the mechanics of the move, the minute details that define perfect technique. And soon enough, you will be able to visualize the trick properly, imagining the feeling of doing it correctly. This technical understanding combined with an educated muscle memory and improved air awareness is what, sooner or later, causes the sudden breakthrough.
So if you’ve researched the desired trick thoroughly and perfected your basics, then it’s perfectly fine if you land on your knees instead of your feet 100 times in a row. This repetition is a valuable learning experience for your muscle memory to feel the trick, your spatial awareness to adjust to the trick, and your conscious mind to understand the trick.
So what does all this mean? I think it means that all time spent tricking is valuable; even if you can’t detect any progress, even if your attempts feel worse lately, all of your training is still useful for showing your body and mind what works and what doesn’t. While trying to design a working light bulb, Thomas Edison famously failed 10,000 times. But when asked about it, he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But to know they didn’t work, he needed to try them first. Only then could he find the way that did work. Similarly, your body and mind are trying to figure out the trick you want. But sometimes you just need to learn what doesn’t work before you figure out what does. So believe it or not, what we usually call “failure” is still a form of progress. What we call “steps backward” aren’t backward at all; you’re still moving forward on the path to success, even if you did just step in another muddy pothole.
So stop being so hard on yourself all the time! So what if you didn’t achieve your goal this session? You still educated your mind and body about the mechanics of the trick, even if the learning happened unconsciously. And if that’s not progress, I don’t know what is! If you look at tricking this way, you can stop putting an unhealthy degree of pressure on yourself and start enjoying the path to success.
So really, there is no such thing as a “bad session.” It’s all one giant, productive learning experience. You know those Torque Tricking T-Shirts that say “No Bad Sessions”? I think we need to start looking at that slogan differently. It’s time we stop treating “No Bad Sessions” like a lofty ideal and start treating it like a mindset. A session isn’t “bad” until YOU decide it is. As Bruce Lee once said, “Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.” Similarly, if you believe that all sessions are good ones, regardless of how many tricks you land or don’t land, then you will genuinely have No Bad Sessions. And only then will you truly know the nature of Progress.