Friday, May 28, 2010

Measuring Progress

Spring cleaning can be really frustrating. You pull everything out of closets, cabinets, attics, and even from underneath the bed so you can dust, throw things out, and get organized. After a long, difficult, tiring day of trying to make your home a spotless retreat from the cares of the world, you end up with clothes all over the bedroom floor, pots, pans and melon ballers all over the kitchen, and general disorder everywhere you look. The counterintuitive nature of the activity makes it difficult to stay motivated. You want things clean, but every step you take moves you away from that final goal. Lack of visible progress kills too many goals before their prime. Two different situations may be the culprit. It could be that you are making a lot of progress, but don’t realize it because it’s gradual and you’re just not keeping track, or it could be that you genuinely aren’t making progress and are no closer to your goal than when you started.

With goals like losing weight, saving money, and getting the high score on an online game, it’s easy to measure progress. You can even graph it and do statistical analysis to look for trends in the data. But for goals like finding love, reaching self-actualization, and being a better person, you have to be creative. Try breaking down those goals into smaller and more specific goals. Measuring your progress then becomes less, “today I’m 12.6% in love whereas yesterday I was only 12.4% in love” and more, “I went on dates with five new people, I met a girl I really like, we went on a couple more dates, and now I’d like to have more meaningful activities and conversations to get to know her better.” So instead of a numerical value, you have a list of sequential smaller goals that you can check off along the way. As long as you’re still checking off goals, you’re making progress.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to lose weight and the scale says the diet isn’t working, you’ll rightly ask yourself the question, “Why am I starving myself and not losing weight when I COULD be eating whatever I want… and not losing weight?” Giving up is the easiest response to this question, but a better response is to ask, “What can I do differently to start making real progress toward my goal?” Wile E. Coyote understands this concept well. When he straps an ACME rocket to his back and slips on his roller skates, he’s determined to catch the Roadrunner. When that action results with him smashing into a wall painted to look like the horizon, he doesn’t give up. He grabs an anvil and gets back to work.

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