they key to making progress

Neural-Pathways: The key to making progress [PMP #166]

When you’re met with a big goal, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the gap between where you are now and where you’re trying to get. Whether your goal is to lose weight or grow your business, overcoming this mental barrier is crucial to making progress and achieving your goals.

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Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of back squats at the gym while recovering from a wrist injury. My coach, Richie, gave me a program where I’m going to work up to do 6 sets of 6 reps at 86% of my personal best. Normally, your 3 rep max would be about 85-90% of your best, so to do 6 reps, 6 times, seems ridiculous.

But we started small. During week one, we did 6 sets of 2. Then over the coming weeks, I’ve completed 6 sets of 3, then 4, and so on..

I was talking to Richie about how before each workout, my mindset going in was: “The last workout was really hard, I don’t know if I can do this”. Then I’d do the workout with the additional reps as planned (which would be really hard) but I’d surprise myself every time. Richie told me, “Each time you’re only increasing the volume by 1 rep per set, which isn’t a big jump from what you’ve already done and you're strengthening the neural pathways in your brain”.

So much of lifting is a mental game. It’s not just a case of being physically strong, often what limits your performance is this mental barrier. And this is true for most things we do.

When you repeat certain behaviours or in this case, when you do just a little bit more each time, the connections in your brain get stronger. This means the next time you repeat that behaviour or habit, it’s a little bit more automatic and seems easier. You’ve done it before, so doing it again should be fine.

Last week I had to do 6 sets of 5 reps and as you’d expect, this was the hardest workout yet. This week, I’m due to do the final workout consisting of 6 sets of 6 and I’m dreading it. But the one comforting thought is that before each previous workout I’ve felt the same way and yet I’ve gone on to surprise myself by doing all the reps.



Richie was explaining to me that this is why it’s okay to take a few weeks or months off from back squats and you won’t lose all your progress; because you’ve formed new neural pathways in your brain. This means when you do start squatting again, that mental barrier isn’t there. You’ve already done the weight before, you just need to repeat it.

I can think of similar stories in my business. When I first started consulting, I was charging a lot less than I do now. Being newer, I wasn’t as confident asking for higher prices. This is how most new freelancers or consultants feel when starting out. Now, having repeated my consulting process and sales pitch with hundreds of clients, the neural pathways in my brain have grown stronger, making it easier to charge higher prices with confidence.

The key takeaway here is this – Regardless of your goal or the new habit, you’re trying to form, start small and focus on making small, repeatable progress. Each time you repeat a behaviour, the neural pathways in your brain get stronger, making it easier to repeat or build on the behaviour later.

This is a similar idea to what I was talking about a few weeks ago about the importance of consistency.

If your goal is to run a marathon, you don’t start your training by running 42 kilometres (26 miles) on day one and then trying to improve your time. You start by running 3 or 5 kms and build on this.

If your goal is to create a $1,000,000 a year business, you start by working out how to earn $10,000, then $100,000 first.

If you’re trying to read one book a week, it’s smarter to start by reading one book a month, then every two weeks and work up.

Or if you meditate, you probably started by meditating for 5 minutes before working up to 10, 15, 20 and so on…

Whatever your goal, focus on making small, consistent progress and very quickly you’ll be amazed when you look back at how far you’ve come.Click To Tweet