In this issue ~~
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:
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.
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.
"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."
"To make progress in any difficult situation, you have to start with what's right about it and build on that."
"Never discourage anyone . . . who continually makes progress, no matter how slow."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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