We’ve all done it. It’s happened to almost all of us. We see a thing. We want to try it. It’s hard. And…we give up. Whether it’s karate, business, piano, reading, learning another language…every new skill has a “pain period” and, most of the time, we never get over it.
Because we lack encouragement or any visible progress, we quit. In a way, this is a kind of costly cognitive error. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about something he calls “The Plateau of Latent Potential.” This plateau can be likened to bamboo, which spends its first five years building extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks. Or to an ice cube, which will only begin to melt once the surrounding temperature hits thirty-two degrees (or the resulting water that only boils at two hundred and twelve degrees).
Just because it sometimes takes longer than we’d like to see the results of our efforts doesn’t mean that our efforts are going to waste. In fact, most of the important work—the build up—won’t seem like it’s amounting to anything, but of course it is. We struggle with realizing this as adults…so imagine being a kid. They’ve never experienced the elation of suddenly breaking through that plateau. They don’t even have enough experience to understand the bamboo analogy!
Which makes this a key area for a dad to exert important influence. You have to keep encouraging them. You have to help them see even the microscopic progress they’re making. You have to help manage their expectations. It might not seem like doing this piece of homework or trying hard in practice matters. It might not seem like any of it is making a difference, but you can show them how it is. You can show them why it matters.
It’s not that they should never quit things (especially things you forced them to do against their will). It’s that if you want them to get across the threshold, they’ll need your help. They’ll need you to encourage them. They’ll need your help developing grit. They’ll need you to convince them that a payoff is coming.
Because it is. Especially if they can learn this as a general life lesson.