How are you mastering your tyrannies of progress? - Michelle Gibbings

Life is never a smooth straight line. There’s always ups and downs, which means days when you succeed and days when you don’t.

What sets a person up for continued success is what they do on the days when things don’t go according to plan.

Newly crowned World Number 1 tennis champion, Ash Barty, is a great example. Off the back of winning the French Open she was widely expected to do the same at Wimbledon. Instead, she lost in the fourth round.

In the post-match press conference, she said: “Today wasn’t my day. I didn’t win a tennis match. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a game. I love playing the game. I do everything in my power to try and win every single tennis match. But that’s not the case…Today, it’s disappointing right now. Give me an hour or so, we’ll be all good. The sun’s still going to come up tomorrow.

Her comments at the end of the match reveal that she’s mastered the tyrannies of progress.

When things go wrong it’s easy to wallow, to find others to blame and to not focus on what comes next. Making sustained progress – as a leader, team member and life in general – requires the ability to master the three tyrannies of progress:

  • dialogue – how to tame the little voice inside your head
  • time – how to make the most of your precious time
  • energy – how you conserve it and focus it wisely

If all three aren’t used deliberately and effectively it’s easy to go backwards when things don’t go according to plan.

Your inner dialogue has key character traits. It may be friendly and helpful, or at the opposite end, hostile and negative.

It may repeat the same comments again and again, or it may shift its commentary based on the circumstances. It may be a voice of reason that helps you think things through, or it may focus on fear and hold you back. When your inner dialogue is self-defeating you’ll start to doubt yourself, be overly cautious, shy away from things that are difficult and give up when things don’t go according to plan.

It’s your dialogue, so you get to set the tune and frequency. If you don’t like the dialogue that’s currently playing, turn down the volume or change channels. You’ll never just switch off your internal dialogue. There will always be a channel which is on – the issue will be whether it’s playing music you want to dance to or not.

Time is like money. Once it’s been spent you can’t get it back. You can’t spend ‘future’ time because you can’t spend what you don’t have. It’s only time you currently have that you can spend.

What you do or don’t do each day matters.

Getting back up and back on track is easier when you are clear on your ultimate goal and what you need to achieve each day to make that goal happen. This helps you avoid distractions and activities that divert your attention away from your purpose.

In his book, How to Lead a Quest, Jason Fox writes about the siren call of self-sabotage of which there are seven things to be aware of:

  • procrastination
  • perfectionism
  • being busy
  • disorganisation
  • over-commitment
  • physiological self-sabotage
  • choosing difficult circumstances

When things don’t go well it’s easy to let one, if not all, of those habits derail you further.

And lastly, energy. Are you spending it wisely, or are you ruminating about what could have been?

As I’ve written about before (Reflect don’t ruminate), when we ruminate we aren’t being productive with our thoughts because our thinking process doesn’t reach a conclusion. The research shows that rumination can lead to a range of negative outcomes: depression, anxiety, and over-eating and drinking, for example.

In contrast, when we use our energy wisely we reflect on what happened and why, and what can be done differently next time. The good news – there will always be a next time!

As the author, George Elliot, said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: or contact

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