Plateau or Phase Change

Can any of us really tell when we’re truly changing?  I think that even when we recognize that we’ve had a change of heart, it’s nearly impossible to recognize that change of heart in the very moment that it’s happening.

In chemistry, one calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.  When my chemistry teacher taught this, he then quizzed the class by asking, “So at 100 degrees Celsius, if we add ten calories, what is the new temperature?”

What do you think?  If one calorie can raise the temperature by one degree, then ten calories would raise the temperature by ten degrees, right?  So is the answer 110 degrees?  Wrong!  It’s a trick question.  And once my teacher explained why it was a trick question, suddenly my whole life started making so much more sense.  

I will attempt to explain this diagram that I drew.  The horizontal line is time and the vertical line is temperature.  Imagine you have an ice-cube, the solid form of water.  Let’s say the inner temperature of the ice is -20 degrees Celsius.  As you apply heat-energy (calories) to that ice cube, the temperature of the water increases (see the first diagonal red line).  But when you reach 0 degrees Celsius . . . suddenly the temperature stops increasing, even though you’re still applying heat-energy.  It’s a flat line!  Why?  Is your energy not doing anything?

Yes, your energy is doing something.  But instead of increasing the temperature, that energy is now going into changing the water into a different state, changing the molecules from solid to liquid.  Only when the ice is completely melted and changed into a liquid does the temperature start rising again.  The temperature climbs until it reaches 100 degrees, and then it flattens again as the energy works to change the water from liquid to gas.

That day in chemistry, I stared at a similar diagram up on the projector.  I stared at the flat lines that represented the phase changes.  Then I began having flashbacks to moments of my life that have transpired in the past five years or so.  Moments of longing and anguish when I had wanted to scream, “I don’t understand!  I’m putting so much energy into trying to improve, but I don’t see anything in my life changing!”  

In those moments, I had expected to see an upward slope, but instead saw only a flat line.  I thought I had plateaued.  But now at last I’m beginning to understand.  Back in those moments of frustration, I could see no upward progression.  But under the surface, the very molecules of my soul were transforming.  I wasn’t just changing, I was becoming.  Only when the transformation was complete could I then take off like a rocket.

In the last year, for example, no visible major changes were happening in my life.  Yet all the while, I was continually striving to learn and improve and understand.  Then, in just the past two months, I’ve moved twice, I got a new job, I bought my first car, I made spontaneous adjustments to my education plan, I made breakthroughs in certain relationships, I made several diet and health changes, I modified my perspective and mindset, I started a blog, I created new habits and routines, and I’ve applied many other lifestyle-changes that I can’t begin to explain.  A part of me wants to exclaim, “I’m changing!  FINALLY!  It’s about time!”  But the wiser side of me knows that all my quiet diligence in the past year is when the real changes were taking place, and those simple everyday choices are what made possible all the mind-blowing events that eventually followed.

In science, the law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form into another or be transferred from one object to another.  So if we’re putting energy into trying to change our lives for the better . . . there is no way that that energy can come to nothing.  The energy might be setting the stage, or adding to your potential in unseen ways, but it’s not just vanishing into thin air.  So if you feel like you’re doing your best and you’re trying to change, but it’s “not working,” just remember the flat line on that diagram.  Your diligence in what seems to be unexciting moments is where the real change is actually taking place.

In 1879, F. G. Burroughs penned the words to a beautiful song called “Unanswered Yet.”  I love the entire song, especially the version composed by Michael McLean.  The beginning of the song says,

Unanswered yet? The prayer your lips have pleaded
In agony of heart these many years?
Does faith begin to fail, is hope departing,
And think you all in vain those falling tears?

There are several verses which I’ll let you discover for yourself.  My favorite part of the song is the beginning of the last verse, which says,

Unanswered yet? No, faith cannot BE unanswered!

Faith is a type of energy.  If you’re exercising faith, that faith is effecting a change, whether you can see it or not.  Faith cannot be unanswered, and pure energy will do its work.  So keep holding on!  Don’t give up on it, because as long as you’re putting energy into your dreams then you can have absolute assurance that change will come.  But if you remove the energy, then the heating curve works in reverse, and liquid water phase-changes back to ice.

At least one question remains:  How can you tell whether someone is going through a phase change or if a person really has “plateaued”?  

In a book called Mastery by George Leonard, the author talks in depth about plateaus.  He says that real joy in life comes from the long periods of practice when we’re on the plateau.  We have to learn patience and joy in the daily focus of living.

When I first started writing this post, I tried to figure out the difference between a plateau and a phase change.  Finally I realized there is no difference (other than the negative and positive connotation).  Any time you feel like you’ve plateaued, you’re actually undergoing a phase change.  You are always changing and becoming something.  The only real question is whether or not you’re changing into something that you want to be.  

One Comment Add yours

  1. Quillen Inkwell says:

    A masterful post! Thank you for the thoughtful exposition of life based on principles of chemistry and physics! Your writing leaves me with much to ponder and apply in my own life as I assess how and when I am flat-lining and what it’s leading to. Thank you!

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