Have you stopped lately to notice what you’re achieving, or what’s working well for you? Or was the last check-in you did with yourself more of a “What have I not done yet?” kind of a look, or a frustration-filled “Am I ever gonna …!?” One of my pet projects at the moment is distilling down the pillars of personal success and happiness; what makes the difference between doing okay in life, to doing really well? Even amazingly well?! I believe that fairly near the top of the list is our ability to track ourselves and recognise the progress we’re making. After all, what’s it all for if we can’t feel good about what we do?
The science of tracking your progress
If you’ve ever watched a toddler learning to walk, I imagine you’ve responded like most adults do – by paying a lot of attention to the tiniest of achievements. When she stands up, even if it’s for a fleeting second before she thumps back onto her bottom, we smile. The slightest hint of taking a first step gets even more ooh’s and aah’s. We say ‘Good girl, well done!’ and beam brightly. She knows that what she did was really good, and that more of the same would go down very well indeed. She receives our positive signals and (unconsciously) responds accordingly – by doing more of the same. This is how she learns and becomes a great little walker. It’s simple enough.
Most of us consider ourselves to have developed and evolved past needing basic recognition to help us learn and succeed. Alas not. Your unconscious responses are just as primed as your toddler-self was to do more of what is recognised and appreciated – and that includes acknowledgement from yourself.
As adults however, most of us have learned to think more about what we haven’t achieved or what’s not good enough yet. And many of us will see that yawning gap with far more precision than the astonishing progress we’ve made.
When we do take time to see what we are doing well, we feel less frustrated and dissatisfied, and better about ourselves. We actually feel good as we move forward because we are also taking the opportunity to build on our progress and strengths. After all, if we’re not focusing on what we’ve achieved, how do we know if we’re any good? Numerous research studies also show that providing significantly more praise than criticism is how people learn and perform best (a ratio of 5:1 to be precise). Knowing what you’re good at is at the heart of personal excellence, and enjoyment of life.
Harness the power of your brain
Let’s face it, taking time to notice what’s working well for you, or feeling better than before, is one of the simplest things in the world. It is the simplest task I give my clients, and the one I emphasise the most, because I think it is also the most powerful way to integrate change. Here’s why. You probably already know that your mind and body operates both consciously and unconsciously. To be more precise, in any given moment about 2% of what you are doing inside is conscious. Therefore, 98% of what goes on in your mind and body is unconscious/subconscious.
When your brain is processing information at a conscious level, it’s doing so at a speed of 2,000 bits/second, which equates to about 7-9 chunks of information at once. So there’s enough capacity there to remember a short shopping list or convey your key messages articulately to an audience, and that’s about it. On the other hand, your brain processes unconsciously much faster – try 400 billion bits/second fast (at least this is one of the more recent figures recorded). This is how your amazing body manages to breathe, circulate blood and oxygen, grow hair, keep your eyes moist and run your immune system, while you’re in the middle of a rugby game or an important meeting at work.
What does this mean for tracking progress and noticing what’s working well? It’s as simple as this: wherever you focus, your 2,000 bits/second influences your unconscious response. Put another way, your conscious attention directs your unconscious (internal) resources. Those resources include your knowledge, experience, expertise, memories, skills, ideas, opinions and values to name just a few. What would you like those resources directed towards? Paying attention to what you’re pleased with is like patting your unconscious mind on the head and saying “Yes! Thank you! More of that please. Keep going, that’s great. Thank you!” You get the idea.
Perhaps this is the most powerful feedback loop we can possibly create for ourselves. It is the simplest thing in the world: focus on what you want more of.
How can you track your progress?
Tracking your progress
- Simply notice what is working well. What is new and useful? What are you pleased with?
- You might do this in the moment (e.g. noticing your calm focused approach in a meeting) or retrospectively as you reflect on your day.
- Write down what you notice – doing this each evening in the same notebook can help you collate a powerful log of progress. Your brain also computes at a different level when you record it.
- Share it with someone every few days, if not every day. It feels even more empowering and satisfying to verbalise it and celebrate your progress with someone else. Don’t be surprised if you inspire them too!
Tracking progress with and for others
- This is a brilliant too to use with staff members, students and children.
- Remind them to track their progress. Offer a simple structure to do so, such as the one above.
- Encourage them to write down what they notice.
- If you are in a coaching or managing role, praise and acknowledge them whenever you notice some improvement.
- If they are new to a task or venture, praise approximately right behaviour. It will encourage more progress and help sustain their motivation.
Fresh Ways Forward – Transformational Coaching
helping you get the life you want