We’re nearly at the end of the rather mammoth Goals You Achieve series. I must have written thousands of words on goal-setting, and yet here I am, dreading writing this post about three tiny little words beginning with ‘R.’
The reason I don’t want to write about Step 7 is because I feel like the anti-expert on it. I like to write about things I’m musing on, processing, have lived or am living. I like to write about things I have opinions on and things I want to hear others’ opinions on. I like to debate and disagree and I like to work out what I think by processing.
I don’t really like writing about something that my head is in disagreement with my heart about. That, unfortunately, is pretty much where I’m at with “record,” and yet I think it’s an important part of the conversation about goal-setting, and so I want to include it.
As I understand it, the basic premise here is that having written a goal that is measureable, it would be wise to measure your progress towards it. This makes a lot of sense. There are a number of good and compelling reasons for recording your progress towards your goal:
- you feel like a superhero as you tick off your progress towards your goal
- you can identify obstacles and their impact
- you are producing data on yourself – this will help you immensely when you come to review
- you can see how realistic your goal really was – this will help you when you come to revise
- you can keep yourself accountable
- someone else can keep you accountable
- you can see what you’re really doing, not what you think you’re doing, and how that relates to what you’re achieving
- you can see how close you are to achieving your goal
- if you’re struggling to achieve your goal you can take your record to an expert in the field and ask for their expert opinion (instead of saying something like “Well, I think I did this, and then that, and then tried this, and then had an off day, I think, if I can remember rightly…” which, you know, probably wouldn’t play too well)
I’m sure there are other reasons too. When I hear someone talk about how important it is to record your progress towards your goals my head is very convinced. How logical! How orderly! How data-driven! Yet, despite these compelling reasons and persuasive arguments, my heart and my instincts get all up in arms. Here’s what I hear from them:
- “It feels wrong.”
- “It’s not fun.”
- “MORE DETAILS IN MY LIFE? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME? HAVE YOU MET ME?”
- “It doesn’t make me feel like a superhero, it makes me feel like a failure – both when I don’t make progress towards the goal and when I forget to record my progress.”
Yeah. They’re not exactly compelling or persuasive arguments, but I’ve just got be honest. Often, unconvinced by these protests, I decide to record my progress anyway. I spend a decent amount of time creating some system by which to record my progress (“it’s not procrastination, it’s preparation”) and then I use it with flair and form for all of…well, at least four days. Minimum. Sometimes more! Eventually, though, it goes the way of my other half-finished flashy recording systems (the bin).
Now you can see why I didn’t want to write this post.
In the interests of writing a helpful post, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, but what is a valid response?
Sometimes, we’ve got to record. If you’re tracking complicated medications and symptoms, or caring for vulnerable children, or running youth work sessions commissioned by the council, or doing an elimination diet, you don’t really have a choice about keeping records. I’m a researcher by profession, and recording goes with the territory there. What helps me most in these kind of scenarios, is to figure out why exactly I’m keeping a record, and then making sure that my strategy for recording progress is 100% aligned with that purpose, and is otherwise as simple as possible. I also create triggers for remembering to write the record and if necessary set aside time to do so (though the quicker the process, the more likely I’ll actually do it).
Since creating a recording system is a great procrastination activity, I generally find it’s better to use one that already exists. One that’s been around for generations is the calendar! If, for example, you want to keep track of how often you workout, don’t make some system whereby you record the number of minutes of cardio, strength and conditioning and flexibility work you do each day. Just get a calendar (or print one, or use Google Calendar) and put a big X on each day that you did your workout. It will take you 2 seconds a day and you can quickly and easily see if you’re making progress or not. Other 2-second-records include to-do lists (Wunderlist and TeamViz are both apps I like) and apps like MyTomatoes.com that prompt you to record what you did in the last 25 minutes, before you take a 5 minute break. If it’s money you need to start keeping a record of, find a budget app that syncs across all your devices and is easy to use and set a reminder to fill it in every night before you to go to sleep (I’ve heard great things about You Need A Budget. We use the freebie “Best Budget” which does the job). If you need to keep track of something numerical, like how many words you’ve written a day, get an app which shows a rising bar of how far you’ve come and fill it in at the end of each working day.
I am learning not to be overly ambitious with records, because I think that’s where I’ve shot myself in the foot before. A simple record is better than no record, and perfectionism and ambition are the twin traps that lead to me not keeping records at all. I think simplicity is the key here. I’m way more likely to use a recording system if it’s attractive, intuitive, uncluttered, and rewarding to use. If you know that there’s a good reason for keeping a record, find a recording system that’s aligned with that reason. Make sure it’s one that is as simple as possible and demands very few details of you. Make it extremely accessible daily. Set a trigger for filling it in. Then reward yourself for filling it in with some kind of growing picture of your progress.
There are times when I decide not to record systematically. Maybe this isn’t the best, but I know that sometimes trying to keep a record will simply drain energy away from whatever it is that I’m trying to achieve. When I don’t record systematically, I compensate by reflecting loads. If I’m honest in my reflections, I don’t always need a record to tell me if I’m making progress or not. A record helps, for sure, but I can still tell how I’m doing by taking the time to think, to reflect and to intuit.
Finally, if you’re the type that can record your progress towards your goals without making yourself feel like all the fun and motivation you have for your goal has just been zapped out of you in one fell swoop then, what can I say? Flaunt it! Make us jealous! There are compelling reasons and persuasive arguments for you to put your skills with details and your amazing ability to maintain systems to good use here. My only tip would be this: don’t get so obsessed with recording – and then analysing the data that your record produces – that it distracts you from doing the actual work that will move you towards your goal.
Periodically, it’s a good idea to look back at what progress you’ve made and consider whether the actions you’re taking towards your goal are still serving you. Here are some helpful questions to ask:
- This goal was designed to help me be or feel a certain way. Is that still how I want to be and feel or have I learned more about myself through this process?
- Is the goal I’m pursuing actually helping that happen?
- Is what I’m doing helping me reach my goal?
- Am I encountering obstacles that I need to deal with?
- Was my plan realistic? Do I need to adjust it?
- Is achieving this goal having a negative effect on other areas of my life that I need to consider?
- Am I still going in the direction I want to be going in?
This is simply a chance to take a step back and have a look at the bigger picture. It’s a chance to reflect. It’s also a chance to look back at some of the work you did earlier in this process and remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s a chance to review timelines and actions, and learn what is working and isn’t. It’s a chance to make sure that what you’re doing still makes sense.
Reviewing is an important process, but be careful if you are someone who is prone to reflect and review frequently. Reviewing too often can actually be destructive because it can make you think that something isn’t working before it’s really had a chance to work. We don’t change overnight; building new habits and gaining momentum takes time and we can only really learn from a review when we’ve got a big enough chunk of action behind us.
Goals are not sacred. We pin them up in our skies to navigate by but we must always remember that they were created by us and they can be changed by us. Each journey towards a goal is a learning experience, and as we learn, we may realise that a slightly different goal would guide us better to where we want to be. We may realise that the goal we wrote is helpful, but the time frames we put around it aren’t. We may discover that what has worked for others doesn’t work for us. Revising our goals isn’t “cheating” because the destination isn’t achieving the goal. The destination is getting to the place that achieving the goal can take us to. If you find that your goal is not taking you where you want to go, please do not fall in to the trap of stubbornly committing to achieving it as you originally conceived it, just to say you did. The goal was only ever a tool. It was a tool employed by past-you and it was helpful for getting you to the point where present-you can write a slightly revised goal that will get future-you even closer to where you want to be. There ain’t no shame in that.
Revise the goal and move on.
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Featured Image by Pixabay user FirmBee