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Issue 61


In this issue ~~

* Gauging Your Progress

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Gauging Your Progress

It feels good to know you're making progress in whatever you're doing. It's a great motivator to keep you going. The catch is that progress is a subjective thing. It depends not on any objective measurement, but on how you perceive it. I can't tell you how many times I've had a client show up for a coaching session and blurt out, "I did nothing this week," only to rattle off a list of accomplishments.

There are a number of reasons for this gap in perception. Many of us have to-do lists that would cower Superman or Superwoman. We overestimate how much we can do and underestimate how much time we'll need, and then beat ourselves up when we don't complete our list in the allotted time. If we accomplish less than we set out to do, we don't feel we're moving forward.

We also have a preconceived idea of what progress should look like. Very often that means that we accomplish our goals easily and efficiently, with no glitches or unexpected interruptions. How often does that happen?! More often, life is what empowerment teacher Gail Straub calls a "beautiful mess." We get where we're going, but feel a little worse for wear when we arrive, so it doesn't feel like progress to us.

Similarly, we may have a certain expectation of what constitutes a result. When I was a desktop publisher, at the end of the day, I would have a stack of paper to hand someone, demonstrating my progress. As a coach, my progress, and that of my clients, is often intangible and unmeasurable, so I've had to learn to measure progress in a different way.

We may have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We may be trying to keep up with a sibling's success or a parent's expectation or the guy in the next cubicle, rather than focusing on our own talents and achievements. We push ourselves to improve our weak areas, so we can be the perfect employee. Or, like so many of us, you may carry the old belief that nothing you do is good enough, so no matter what you accomplish, you keep raising the bar for what you expect from yourself so that it's always just beyond your reach.

Many of us judge our progress by our feelings. If we feel good, we've progressed; if we feel bad, we haven't. But feelings are not always a good measure of progress. For example, you may have a fight with someone you care about that ends on a sour note because you spoke up for yourself. Having the confrontation and its painful result may feel bad, but speaking up may mark progress in your personal growth. In another instance, you may push through your fear to do something that's a stretch for you. Because you didn't do it with the finesse you hoped for, you don't see it as an accomplishment.

Similarly, many of us buy into the "no pain, no gain" philosophy. We may have a work ethic that says that if something is fun and easy, it's not an accomplishment. But there's a difference between "struggle" and "hard work." If you love what you're doing, you may be working very hard, but it won't be painful. Conversely, you may be making great strides, getting accolades and promotions, in a career you hate. Is your progress in continuing the climb or in listening to the inner voice that's telling you to get the hell out of there?

Another pitfall is judging progress on the short-term, without looking at the bigger picture. Progress is rarely a straight upward line, and when we focus too closely on the details, life becomes a roller coaster ride, up one day and down the next. Or we focus on how far we have yet to go and forget how far we've come. We only see a piece of the view, rather than looking at the greater arc of progress over time.

By reframing our view of progress, we can take encouragement from the day-to-day successes that lead us to the longer-term ones. Here are some ways to do that:

~ Make your expectations realistic. What can you *really* accomplish in a given amount of time? Leave extra time for unexpected detours.

~ Rework the gauges by which you measure success. Set standards that are authentic for you now, rather than adopting someone else's measure for success or comparing yourself with others or what you did in the past.

~ Develop your own vision, and hold it out there as a beacon to guide you. Periodically review it, so that it continues to be big enough to excite and motivate you, but not so big it feels unattainable.

~ If you're pursuing a long-term project, break it down into steps or milestones, and use those to gauge your progress. Having small successes along the way will encourage and motivate you to go the distance.

~ Look at the big picture. Like following the stock market, if you watch the daily ups and downs, you can make yourself crazed and fearful. Instead, measure the arc of your progress over time. Look at how far you've come, how far you need to go and whether the speed of progress is to your liking. By keeping your eye on the big picture as well as the details, you can evaluate whether your long-term goals are still serving you and make adjustments as needed.

~ Be aware that progress is not a straight run. Like a sailing technique called tacking, you may zigzag to the left and right, never actually headed straight toward your goal. By keeping your eye on your desired outcome and making constant course corrections, you eventually get there.

~ Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. The concept of being "well-rounded" is a fallacy in a way. Those who are truly successful are those who focus on and develop their greatest strengths. You'll enjoy yourself more and make greater strides naturally.

~ Take time on a regular basis, perhaps weekly or monthly (annually at the most), to document your accomplishments and progress on your big goals. Keep a success journal, and periodically share successes with those who support you. (Keeping track of accomplishments can also be a great tool when you're pitching for a raise or promotion at work.)

~ Find some way to quantify your progress. For example, one of my clients decided she wanted to write an 80,000-word novel. Each day she wrote, she did a word count and figured out the percentage of her goal she had reached. Seeing the number consistently growing encouraged and motivated her to complete the first draft.

~ When you have accomplished something, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate it. In our "you're only as good as your next success" world, it's easy to slide over our successes and look to the next hurdle. Acknowledge yourself (and anyone else involved), and feel appreciation and gratitude for where it's taken you, how you've learned and grown and the enjoyment you've had in doing it.

~ If you don't feel like you're making progress, ask yourself these questions:
- What results am I expecting or hoping for?
- What actions am I taking?
- What results am I getting?
- Are my expectations realistic?
- Am I giving it enough time?

~ Dream big, and ground it in reality. It's about balance. You want dreams that excite and motivate you, but you don't want them to be just pipe dreams or fantasies. Dream, and then figure out how to make it happen in the world, perhaps with some adjustment.

~ As you work on your personal development, you may find that you've grown by leaps and bounds in your inner work, but your outer life looks exactly the same. Don't fret. It often takes longer for external change to catch up. As you continue doing your inner work and taking the appropriate actions, you'll begin seeing a difference in your life. Remember, too, that as we change, we tend to assimilate the change and forget where we were even 6 months ago and the growth that has occurred.

~ Let it be easy. As you craft your life to be you want it to be, aligned with your passions and values, your accomplishments will be fun and easy. That's still progress.

Progress is in the eye of the beholder. Set challenging, but realistic goals, and be kind and encouraging to yourself as you pursue them. Find positive ways to motivate yourself. Acknowledge the small successes, and before you know it, you will have progressed more than you had imagined you would.



Creative Tip

In your day planner, keep a record of your accomplishments each day or each week. When you're feeling discouraged, go back and review your accomplishments to reinforce your sense of progress.


Wise Words

"Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb."

~ Sir Winston Churchill

"To make progress in any difficult situation, you have to start with what's right about it and build on that."

~ Norman Vincent Peale

"Never discourage anyone . . . who continually makes progress, no matter how slow."

~ Plato




(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse . . . Gregg Easterbrook

Now, Discover Your Strengths . . . Marcus Buckingham, Donald O. Clifton

Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life as You Want It . . . David Gershon, Gail Straub

Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self . . . Rosalene Glickman

Goals: How to Get Everything You Want-Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible . . . Brian Tracy

Discipline: Training the Mind to Manage Your Life . . . Harris Kern, Karen Willi

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done . . . Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan

Soar With Your Strengths . . . Donald O. Clifton



© 2003 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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