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Maintenance vs growth

Stephen King said that he doesn't need to write down the good ideas because they just won’t go away. And similarly, good questions just won't go away. I have one such question for you. It pops into my mind with surprising regularity, and it helps see my situation more clearly.

Am I putting in maintenance effort or growth effort?

I see this as a calibrating question. It's not about being perfect, it's about truthfully assessing whether I'm making progress on the things that matter.

Before I go into more detail, here's what I mean by maintenance and growth.

Maintenance effort

  • Only familiar routines
  • Defense (inbound, reactive), no offense (outbound, active)
  • Running away from uncertainty (new opportunities)
  • Letting existing environment become a prison
  • Waiting for things to happen

Growth effort

  • Trying out new routines, changing existing ones
  • Being an agent, playing offense
  • Experimenting with new hobbies or interests
  • Dealing with uncertainty head on
  • Putting in deliberate effort or practice
  • Shaping your environment actively

With any endeavor that you're involved in, you can ask whether you're actually putting in the conscious effort to change for the better, or not.

This sort of reflection is often missing in today's world. People wait for others to give them the perfect piece of powerful advice, instead of formulating their own convictions via reflection and synthesis. But back to this question of maintenance vs growth.

Here's the thing: it's completely fine to put in maintenance effort in most areas of life, once you've reached a good standard. However, what is absolutely not fine is putting in maintenance effort in an area that should be growing in. In an area that you promised to yourself you'd grow in. That's where we get into trouble, and that's why I like this question. It forces me to acknowledge when I'm letting my standards slide, when I'm coasting by default, when my actions diverge from my stated intentions.

So if you're looking for a good question to ponder on a long walk or during your journalling, feel free to use this one.

Am I putting in maintenance effort or growth effort?