The Tragedy of the Forward-Progress Bias

What we miss when we think we know what progress looks like

Mike Sturm
4 min readJun 5, 2022


image credit: Nathan Cowley

Especially when we’re wrapped up in the pursuit of a goal, we tend to see anything that’s not clearly forward progress as a setback. In other words: We think If we’re not gaining ground, we’re losing it.

As a result, we can end up making risky moves in an attempt to try to move things forward. But we may end up only wasting our energy, and not even gaining ground — or even worse — losing it.

That’s where a shift in mindset can help. If we scale back our obsession with constant forward movement, we can do much better over the long run. We just have to realize that sometimes the best available moves are not forward — but sideways — or maybe even backwards. Yes, sometimes we may even have to move slightly backward now in order to be able to move a longer distance forward later.

Pass It To the Side

It can help to take a cue from American football, and consider the merits of what they call lateral moves.

The rules of football dictate that the ball cannot be thrown forward from one player to another beyond the line of scrimmage — which is the line from which the play began. So once a player begins running the ball past that line, it may seem like their only option is to keep running. And when they encounter opponents, they may try to simply plow through them.

But the rules of football allow for the ball to be thrown sideways or backwards. And while that in and of itself doesn’t provide forward progress, it does open up opportunities that weren’t available before. It just takes some patience and vision to see how it can work.

Don’t Trap Yourself in the Short Game

When we encounter opposition on our march of forward progress, we should be willing to consider lateral moves. They’re the moves that don’t immediately look like progress. In fact, sometimes, they can seem like concessions or giving in to setbacks. But these moves can help put us in a better position to move forward later.

And that’s the real kicker — the thing that keeps many of us from considering lateral moves. We lack the patience to…



Mike Sturm

Creator: — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.