Do you ever feel like you’re trying and trying and trying…and nothing’s happening? You feel like you’re working so hard, putting in the time, making a heroic effort, and yet, you’re not seeing results.
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear describes the process of water shifting from solid form to liquid as a metaphor for how change happens slowly over time. (Often, much more slowly than we’d like.)
To paraphrase Clear’s ice cube analogy: Imagine you step into a room. It’s extremely cold inside. Say, 10 degrees Fahrenheit. (That’s about -12 Celsius.) There’s ice everywhere. Frozen solid as a brick. You adjust the thermostat a tiny bit, bringing the temperature from 10 degrees (well below freezing-point) up to 11.
You return the following day. From what you can tell, nothing has changed. The ice is still frozen. You adjust the thermostat again, this time bringing the temperature from 11 to 12 degrees. You come back the next day. Nothing changes. You repeat the same process. 13 degrees. Nothing changes. 14 degrees. Nothing changes. 15 degrees. Nothing changes. Frozen. Frozen. Frozen. And so it goes. Day after day.
At this point, you might feel discouraged. All this effort. And it seems like absolutely nothing is happening!
Most people give up at this point. (Or much sooner.)
But what if you keep coming back to that ice room? What if you continue just a few more weeks or days? What if you didn’t give up?
Eventually, with persistent effort, one day you would reach 30 degrees, 31, 32, and then…Boom. Whoa. Whoosh. Once you rise above 32 Fahrenheit, that’s the magical temperature where ice melts into water. Suddenly, you see motion all around. Thawing. Pouring. Flowing. Things are happening. Finally—a big change that you can see and feel. You worked steadily. Patiently. Now the moment is here.
This is the funny (and frustrating) thing about change. Often, it feels like nothing is happening, nothing is happening, nothing is happening, until one day…something is happening. And that’s when you realize all those tiny steps weren’t pointless. All those tiny victories were quietly accumulating in the background. Building, rising, leading towards an exhilarating breakthrough.
I couldn’t run a mile without wheezing and gasping like I was about to expire. Until one day, after lots of training, I could.
I couldn’t sit patiently and write an entire novel. Until one day, after lots of practice, I could.
I didn’t have a publisher. Until one day, after 30+ rejection emails and lots of trying and trying again, I did.
Recently, I’ve begun a daily meditation practice. A few minutes every day. My intention: To release the painful emotional residue of my last relationship, thaw the ice around my heart, and feel better—you know, more “glorious angelic light” and less “garbage truck.” And so I began. “Is this working?” 28 degrees. “All this meditating, day after day—why don’t I feel unconditional love emanating from every pore??!” 29 degrees. “When will I feel different?” 30 degrees. “How long will it take?”
I had doubts that “anything was happening.” 31 degrees. But I kept meditating. 32 degrees. And then today…a miracle. I felt something soften in my chest. Nothing huge. But the beginning of something. Like ice melting. A door opening. A change.
This is why we must keep turning that thermostat knob. 1 degree today, or 2, or whatever you can manage. Tiny goals. Tiny victories. It all helps. Tiny efforts add up to big things.
Keep writing. Practicing. Emailing. Pitching. Lifting. Running. Training. Forgiving. Trying again.
Trust that the ice is getting closer to that beautiful melting-point, even if you can’t see it yet.
Trust that you will be rewarded for your courage, your consistency, your devotion.
Don’t give up before the ice has a chance to melt.
Nothing happens until one day, it does.