Progress is not always about moving ahead. Sometimes it also requires going back.

In one of his BBC broadcasts from the early ’40s (later compiled into Mere Christianity), C. S. Lewis comments on what real progress entails.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man… Going back is the quickest way on.1

True progress requires both 1) having a destination, and 2) moving closer to it. This is different than simply moving ahead. And, as Lewis points out, if you’re on the wrong path, continuing to walk forward isn’t progress at all. In that case, to make real progress means determining the correct direction and then heading that way, even if that entails moving backward for a time.

So before pushing ahead, it’s worthwhile to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Otherwise, all those steps forward may take you further from—not closer to—your desired destination.

  1. C. S. Lewis, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy,” in Mere Christianity. [return]