The Next Level

I was speaking with a client of mine the other day who was struggling a bit with some stagnation in his life.  He explained how he feels great about the progress he’s made over the last year but that sometimes he still has some difficulty in a few areas.  He was concerned that he had not moved “past” these things well enough because they were still “coming up” for him.

In a previous post about The Purpose of Relationships we discussed how lessons in our lives can be repeated in different forms until we “get it” and “move on” to the next lesson.  If we remain aware as each new experience comes, even though we make mistakes we also learn, ultimately improve, and move closer to where we want to be.

The best athletic competitors in the world routinely practice to refine their technique and achieve greater performance.  So it’s important to understand that sometimes, as my client was discovering, what appears to be a repeating lesson is merely the universe helping us further refine our skills so we are better equipped to move forward on our journey.

Now, bear with me a minute while I tell you something about my past.

I remember a time many years ago when I was very into video games.  I’m not talking about the ones played at home today on a PlayStation or a cell phone; I mean going to the arcade and putting $0.25 in the slot to play the game.  Many young folks today have never seen an arcade but I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid. One game in particular that I really enjoyed was called Turbo (shown in the picture).

From the time I was 10 years old, all I wanted was to be able to drive.  I jumped at every opportunity I had to drive whether it was a tractor on my cousin’s farm, a car on rails at the local amusement park or a friend’s go cart.

The simple fact was that I loved to drive!  The game Turbo was really appealing to me because it had a gas pedal, steering wheel and gearshift and made me feel like I was really driving a car.

Again, back then, video games were mainly played in arcades.  There were decent games that you could buy for your home Atari system (for you younger folks that is the Great Grandfather of the X-Box and PlayStation) but the really good games were at the arcade.  $5.00 would get you 20 plays and so the better your skills, the longer you could play without spending more money.  If you “failed”, many of the games would not make you “start over” if you put more money in within a certain amount of time.

Almost every weekend, I was at the arcade trying to master Turbo.  Sometimes I had several hours to hone my skills and other times I would only be able to practice for a short while.  Nevertheless, I made the most of the time that I had and really enjoyed it.  I can remember the day that I got the 2nd highest score on the machine; seeing my initials on the screen made me very proud.

I was surprised when all these memories came back to me the other day when I was talking to my client.  As he described some of his concerns I said to him “You know, life can be a lot like playing video games.”  He was a bit confused by my statement but I continued and said to him:

“When you were a kid and you played video games, did you ever beat yourself up for not making it to the next level?  I’m not saying were you never disappointed; what I’m asking is were you so disappointed in yourself that you felt like giving up or never playing that game again?  Of course not; you shrugged it off and tried again most often with more determination than you had had previously.  In your current situation, that is exactly what you need to do.”

The more we talked about this video game analogy, the more sense it made.

When we play a video game, we’re not worried about how well we’re going to do; we’re in the moment doing the best we can, right then, in that circumstance.  Sometimes we make it to the next level quickly and sometimes we don’t and usually, at some point, it becomes much more difficult to reach the next level.

We may try several things but just don’t seem to be making progress.  What we may not realize is that our subconscious is taking very good notes about everything and soon, without doing anything we feel is extraordinary, we’ve learned a few “secrets” and have moved on to the next level.

Video games also allow us to save our place in the game so when we fail to make it from level 4 to 5 we’re not sent back to level one to start all over again.  It is no different in our our life experience; sometimes we have learned a particular lesson or level very well only to find ourselves in a place that seems that we are all the way back where we started.

The key thing to remember is it only appears that way. 

What appears to be the same place may in fact be a different layer within this level that needs to be brought into the light.  Many of us have heard the analogy about “peeling the onion” to describe how we do our inner work.

Mastering all aspects of a particular level of a video game is very similar; if we move forward too quickly, we may not achieve everything required to complete the current level.  Another way to see this is to realize we may need to take something with us we will need for the next level.

So why so often do we feel discouraged and dejected when our forward progress seems to be slowing?  Well the phenomenon has been identified very well by entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan.  He describes the difference between where we are and where we want to be as our “future gap.”

Often, we place all our happiness into that space – the future.  We believe that only when we get “there” that we will be able to be happy because that is when we will get what we desire.  However, when our focus (read our energy) is in the future, we miss out on the present moment, what we need to bring to it, what we need to learn from it and the happiness we have right now.

To make this more clear, Dan suggests that we think back 2, 5 or even 10 years in our past and recognize what he calls the “reverse gap.”  How far have we come in that time?  What obstacles or issues have we overcome?  What positive changes have taken place in our lives?  We can all identify many things to put onto this “list of accomplishments” that allowed us to arrive where we are today.

Maybe our career is moving in a better direction.

Maybe we’ve gotten out of a relationship that no longer served us or we moved into a relationship that is really allowing us to thrive.

Maybe we’ve faced some of our “dragons” and have moved from “level 3 to level 4” in our journey.

Maybe we’re just more aware of our day-to-day feelings when we used to be confused about what made us feel poorly.

Regardless of the particular circumstances, we can all find at least one area in our life where we have made progress; where we have moved forward.  When we realize this, we can’t help but feel “better” knowing how far we’ve come.

The other part of this paradox is remembering how happy we thought we would be when we arrived “here.”

Now that we are “here”, we are usually setting our sites on the next “goal” and, again, we are postponing our happiness.  Awareness of this cycle in our mindset helps us redirect our energy into “now” and allow us to gain the most possible in this moment including the depths of the current lesson we are experiencing.

We should be careful not to allow ourselves to become downtrodden when we experience “set backs” on our journey.  If we remain relaxed and enjoy “playing” in the moment, those small steps backwards to the previous “level” will not seem like such a big deal.  In fact, we may just find that one elusive thing we need to move forward and get back in the flow.


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