The Steam Effect


If you’re like me, you hate motivational pieces. I hate reading them, so naturally I hate writing them. I feel it’s a feel good scam that pales in significance to informative material when it comes to self improvement. However, there are some situations when a little motivation is the difference between quitting, and making that last mile in the marathon.

At any point in time, the smart young person is doing multiple things simultaneously to make themselves better. It could be learning a language, a skill, an instrument, knowledge, or putting in hours into work and career. It’s a solid investment, and years down the line when you’re the life of the party, or the one person in Abakiliki whose fluent Mandarin helps a Chinese person in need, you will look back and appreciate the work you put into your self. However, in the present moment, learning new things is hard. There’s only so much hours in a day, and most of it is crammed in with work, school or having a social life. What’s worse, when you manage to extricate yourself and tackle said learning, the material refuses to cooperate. It’s as if all your effort is adding up to, not much. What’s a young fella to do? Hopefully, not drop your material and pick the TV remote like most people would. Hopefully, we’d all be different.

I was myself in this very situation recently, and I stumbled upon something that made me think twice about the effort I’m expending in learning. It was a motivational concept simply described as “the steam effect.” Think of steam. It is extremely hot and volatile, and when pressured, it can power engines. It will peel the skin off you if you get too close. It’s a total fireball of energy in liquid form. It’s you on your best day. Fire hot, full of energy, able to drive anything. But think about the process that generates steam. When you start to boil a container of water, it’s as inert as they come. It just sits there. You start to heat it. For a long time, there is barely a reaction from the water. It’s still just as cold and staid as ever. You continue to heat it and it continues to not do anything. After a looooong while, it gets tepid. A while longer and it’s fairly warm. By the time you’ve applied so much heat you’re starting to run out of patience, it gets warm. Afterwards, it gets to hot. But then even when it’s hot, it’s still sitting there. From 0-200 degrees fahrenheit, all the water does is get hot. If you stop heating it at this point, it will slowly cool back down, all without barely moving even a little bit. All that heat would have counted for nothing.

A funny thing happens however, if you just keep the heat going another 12 degrees fahrenheit from 200-212. That is when it suddenly boils and springs into life. That’s when it begins to give off steam. That’s the point where your steam engine begins to drive. Those last 12 degrees is where the magic happens.

Now think about whatever you are learning or attempting to learn. Chances are, you’re not at 200 yet. Or you’re just at that point. You’ve absorbed a lot of material, put in a lot of work, and feel no more on top of things as you were when you began. You’re 12 degrees away from your aha! moment.

Don’t quit.



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