If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress – Barack Obama

Some friends and I have been trying to ring a peal of the standard 41 surprise minor methods spliced together, all the work. It’s taking us quite a long time, and we’ve lost lots of attempts. Although it’s a reasonably difficult challenge, this post isn’t about fancy ringing or peals, but it’s made me think a lot about progress in ringing, and how we feel when things aren’t going right.

It feels like one step forward, two steps back at times, and losing peal after peal because we’re just not quite good enough yet is dispiriting for all of us.

When I lose peal attempt after peal attempt, it can feel like I’m making no progress at all, when in fact every time we ring, we’re getting little bit better, ironing out creases and becoming more familiar with the methods and composition. If I take a step back, I can see that month on month we’re gradually getting through more of the task, and doing it better each time, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve been at this point many times in my ringing life. I don’t remember much about learning to handle a bell (because I was a child and wasn’t thinking about what I was doing). However, I clearly remember feeling just like this when I was learning plain hunt, and just.couldn’t.work.it.out! Eventually I looked back and realised that I had worked it out, but for many months I felt trapped in a pit of plain hunt that I couldn’t climb out of.

I remember it when I was learning to make bobs in plain bob doubles and bobs and singles in grandsire doubles, when I would go wrong again and again and again, having to be put right constantly by my helpful tower captain.

I think lots of ringers feel like this about their progress; namely, that they aren’t making any, or that they should somehow be progressing faster. I’m sure it can’t be unique to me. With my learners, I encourage them to look back over a suitable interval to what they were ringing before (e.g. last year), and really unpick the improvement they’ve made. Using checklists (like the ones from Learning the Ropes) can help draw these improvements into focus.

Having a distorted view of progress is not unique to learners either, as I hope I’ve demonstrated with my account here – it’s always a challenge to be aware of.

What we all need to remember (my peal band included) is DO NOT GIVE UP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Progress isn’t something you can see easily from close up – you need to step back and gain perspective. We always get there in the end – sometimes it takes a bit longer than we’d initially expected, but we always get there.