Why should it always have to be better?

An assumption in progress-focused work is that people are motivated to make progress. Making progress means improving something. As coaches or trainers we work with this assumptions, for example by asking questions like: "What would you be better?" Most people who learn about the progress-focused approach are enthusiastic about this idea of focusing on desired progress. But every now and then we also get reactions which are a bit more reluctant or skeptical, such as: "Why progress? Why should we all make progress?", or: "Why should the situation become better? Why can't just of making it different instead of better?"

Such questions can be helpful because they can challenge and stimulate our thinking. It is useful to ask yourself: do people indeed want to make things better? Is that a motivating factor? Should there always be progress? Can't it be so that we are so satisfied with everything in our life that we don't have any motivation for improvement or progress? Thinking about these questions I come to a number of thoughts which I'd like to share here.

A first thought is that we'd better be careful when we use the word should (in the sense of 'why should it always have to be better?).  Every individual has a need for autonomy. We can't determine for them that they should make progress or make things better.

A second thought is that some people, perhaps due to the circumstances in which they landed up, have become apathetic or depressed. They have little motivation for anything. I am thinking about people who we grew up in circumstances which were very undermining for their development, such as getting very little stimulation, being criticized all the time, getting no affection and care, and being physically abused. When these people don't feel they can make their own choices, that they are competent, and that they are connected to other people, they may largely lack the motivation to initiate or improve things.

But my third thought is that striving toward progress is normally permanently present in people. My argument is the following. We have a consciousness which enables us to evaluate events and situations in term of how positive or negative they were to us. When we somehow suffer we think negatively about the event or situation. When we flourish we view it as positive. Thus, we can make the distinction between more and less desirable circumstances. We prefer some more than others. Because we can set ourselves in motion and do things which have a certain influence on the situations we are in it is normal to direct our intentions toward progress. In other words: we try to do things which bring us closer to what we desire. When we get a bit closer, things are a bit better. We have made some progress in the direction of our preference.

Of course it is not true that we want to improve everything. There are always many things which we experience as relatively pleasant and good and other things we experience as less pleasant and good. It makes sense that we would like to see the former category of things get better. That is why it is important to think carefully about what we would like make better and choose deliberately.

I am reminded of the person who objected to the idea that we are motivated to make this better and who suggested that we should not speak of making things better but just of making them different. It is kind of ironic that he argued for a better fitting word (the word 'different' instead of 'better') and thus also demonstrated a motivation for making things better.