TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS
Dee Chadwick
16 May 2021
We, or should I say the government, are currently tracking our progress out of lockdown, hopefully, towards our new normality. They are using a metaphorical road map for this. I guess that in theory this allows for diversions and deviations if the road ahead seems not to be as clear as anticipated. So, how do you measure any progress that you make in the different aspects of your life?

HOW WE PROGRESS WITH NEW SKILLS

This is one of those things that I find interesting, especially as it can be applied to learning anything new. There are four stages through which we move:-

  1. Unconscious Incompetence - The ‘you don’t know what you don’t know stage’. You have no idea of what techniques, skills you will have to take on board.
  2. Conscious Incompetence - You know what has to be done but you can’t yet do it.
  3. Conscious Competence – you know the techniques, the skills and are using them but you have to make a conscious effort to put them into use.
  4. Unconscious Competence – You know the techniques, skills, when they need to be used and use them without actively thinking about them. They have become automatic.

As in the example of driving a car. Beginning with having no idea what is involved through to getting into the car, confident of what is involved - the mechanics of driving, navigating, following the rules of the road, being aware of traffic around you .... and probably thinking of work or domestic things too!

TO TRACK OR NOT TO TRACK

So, as you work through those stages of skill development or simply tackle tasks, personal development, business issues etc, if you don’t track your progress, it can be far too easy to do what so many do and focus on setbacks, failures. It is all too easy to lose sight of your initial goal if you aren’t tracking your route to it and including those SMART (Specific, Measured, Achievable, Realistic, Timed) targets. This can easily lead to you giving up.

With tracking, you become more focused on the task in hand and are more able to plan the steps ahead of you, preparing for them by considering time and resources available. It can lead to breaking down that far off goal into smaller, more manageable steps and acknowledging progress made. Measuring your progress motivates – or gives you the impetus to re-think those next steps.

QUANTITIVE TRACKING

So, how can we track, chart our progress in any given situation, setting?

Quantitative tracking is the relatively easy bit, so long as you have a system set up and actually feed it with the necessary facts and figures on a regular basis. Fine, so long as you don’t forget that old chestnut about there being three types of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics! It can also be difficult for some of us to simply work with statistics and keep emotions well out of the way; except maybe the pride felt when you see a bar chart or a good old graph that you know hasn’t had scale, time periods etc ‘adjusted’ to prove a point. It’s the true representation of your success (or lack thereof).  

I recall squinting at the graphs provided by the government and scientists with reference to COVID statistics. I longed to be able to see true scales given, rather than details being obscured by television graphics etc. It is  hard to keep emotions out of these facts and figures, though a saying (questionably associated with Stalin) states “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” This is even more applicable if that single death was of someone loved by you. Has this been compounded by a lack of trust of some figures produced, combined with a helping of compassion fatigue about which I previously wrote. 

What of quantitative tracking, on a more personal basis rather than business or government statistics oriented? How about weight loss? Some people respond well to regularly hopping on the scales and simply making a mental note of their weight. Others will record or even make a graph showing the results of the weigh-ins. This can be a mixed blessing. Some see a trend as affirmation of their eating and exercise regime working for them – or not. I guess that for many there are apps that record such details and can link them in, though I admit to being out of touch with such gizmos. Studying the figures can help indicate how your body has responded to whatever you are putting it through enabling tweaking to take place. For others, if, despite them eating and exercising they are not losing weight, they could well let ‘sod it’ rule and give up on their attempts to rid themselves of excess flesh.

Many moons ago, I went to one of the well known weight loss clubs. I found the weekly weigh-in soul destroying as those around me were mumbling about how many bags of crisps or blocks of chocolate they had eaten – yet they still lost weight. As for me – I would have behaved on the eating front, swum and thrown myself around in exercise classes yet hadn’t lost any weight. I gave up, having given it a few months to begin to help.

KNOWING YOUR GOALS

In order to track progress, you need to know your goals. For me, instead of focusing on my weight, I chose to use a pair of old trousers and a dress that used to fit me. OK, I probably should have taken them to the charity shop, but I hadn’t. So – they were my measure, my goal. Instead of numbers I had, my stepping stones along my way. I could pull the trousers up; could do up the zip; could sit down and still be able to breathe. I applied similar steps for the dress, thereby including all body areas. This was more real for me, my target being my ability to wear those clothes comfortably .... and it worked. I did take a selfie of my first attempt to get into said clothes, and if I needed a kick to get me back on my eating, exercise, and positive self-message track these proved very effective. By trying on the clothes each week, I was able to check on progress as I worked towards my end date. This way of tracking progress was far more effective for me as I could see the difference much more clearly this way rather than by trying to imagine a kilogram of weight lost! Throw into the pot that I included a trusted friend aware of my starting point and my finishing post. A good supporter ready with praise, but also willing to supply encouragement if that zip kept being reluctant to move along more than a couple of centimetres.

An article in Stunningmotivaton.com serves as a reminder about measuring progress- 

Never underestimate the power in measuring your progress. Try to imagine watching a football game without the score. The players don’t know the time left and they have no idea who is winning. So what will happen? Well, the game will become boring and the players will never play it full out.... However, the moment scorekeeping begins, the players know that it’s game on....Hence, if you find it hard to stick to your goals and you often procrastinate on your plans, perhaps, you’re not measuring your progress’.  

Some suggestions in this article include -

The Seinfeld (as in Jerry Seinfeld) method –. This can help establish and maintain daily habits; so is useful in aspects of personal development such as including relaxation or meditation in your life. It provides a visual support until the relaxation, meditation become an established daily habit. You simply mark on a calendar when you complete your daily goal, building up a chain of days. It simply gives you the impetus NOT to break that chain, as if you do, you have to begin a new chain.

A Checklist – include any lists of activities to be done in your weekly planner rather than having as a separate entity. You know that they are designated to be done that week and can tick to show progress and provide your motivation – though it is always good to add in a reward too I find!

A monthly or weekly personal review – many of us have regular review meetings as a part of our employment. By measuring – quantitatively or qualitatively we are in a better position to make improvements. A plan or review either with a supportive friend or colleague, as a sort of grown up ‘show and tell’ or you can simply go solo; but still set it in your diary or planner and keep to it. The focus – what has gone well, what not so well, what remains a work in progress. Target a specific task to be given priority the following month or week – then follow through on this as if set by your boss at work!

When working as a special needs teacher, we used to set up IEP’s for pupils – Individual Educational Programmes either for educational, behavioural or emotional learning targets. It was easy to go in with woolly targets, so that would become step one. We would then break these down into tighter, specific targets with the staff who would be working with said pupil – those SMART targets again. Next step was to consider how we measure progress – would it be the result of a test, how a pupil interacted with others, their contribution to question and answer sessions etc. Then came how we would implement the programme.  In counselling, a similar approach could often be applied by breaking down those big goals, losing the woolliness and gaining on measurability. This was simply a check-in at the beginning of a session on, say, how the client had been able to recognise a building up of anger, and the feelings involved before they had reached explosion point! The same applies when looking at aspects of self-development. Work backwards from that large goal – maybe such as improving your organisational skills - to smaller ones on your way to that larger, longer term goal. If this is something that you find difficult, it is positive step to seek professional help to start you off in the right direction.

Interestingly, an article in Buffer.com on measuring progress in personal goals states that ‘Studies have found that setting growth goals (those that look forward to achieving something) is more common in children and younger adults, and has a positive effect on well-being in these age groups, whereas avoidance goals (those that are based on maintaining a current state or avoiding a negative change) have been found to have a negative emotional impact. Older adults, however, are more prone to setting maintenance and avoidance goals, and interestingly they don’t suffer emotionally—these types of goals seem well suited to the changes we go through as we age.’ I certainly hope that this doesn’t mean that we older adults have little inclination to continue with our growth and development!

TO ROUND UP

Measuring progress to effectively achieve your goals is an important step that most people don’t do. If you are serious about your goals and you really want to progress then set up tracking to measure your progress. A method that suits you, the way you work and the goals that you seek to achieve be they in your working life, or aspects of your personal life and development. The goals that you set benefit from intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation and rewarding, with these being shown to have the greatest chance of success. You can do it – you can make changes and help the process through tracking your progress to where or what you choose to be.

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