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Progress: where is the real focus?

May. 23, 2017
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We usually track progress by accomplishments or reaching a new plateau. When we don’t see the results, we feel we’re not progressing. This leads to feeling that you’re not doing enough or that your efforts are in vain. People mislead themselves on how much time progress takes to become noticeable. Progress can be spoiled with the mindset of wanting fast results; unrealistic expectations are a distraction.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take an easy example: the ever-popular New Year’s resolution of getting in shape. If you were trying to tone up and increase your stamina, you might decide to start jogging. You start to jog every morning, but after three weeks you still find yourself gasping for air at the first checkpoint on your morning route. You start thinking you don’t like running anymore because you are upset about how little “progress” you have made. Sound familiar?

Scenarios similar to the previous situation happen whenever people concern themselves solely with results and pace. But when you only focus on when you will see change--or, even worse, when other people will notice your change--you may lose motivation along the way. Pinning your measure of progress to other people’s reactions means relying on external energy, and outward sources of energy can come in waves. Therefore, these sources tend to be unreliable and betray you easily. Most people won’t notice what has changed about you until much later than progress originally begins.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Next time you undertake a big project or goal, shift your focus to what you are specifically doing. The efforts you perform day to day will determine your progress. If you focus on your current effort, you will be able to view your progress more objectively. This isn’t to say there is no personal connection to your progress--your growth is a personal aspect of life, after all--but an objective approach helps to buffer some of the exaggerated negative feelings that could deter progress. Focusing on your current effort can help you maintain your focus and manage your impulse to make negative comparisons.

Progress is not confined to continuous, repetitive actions. Progress is also continuous, repetitive investment. In other words, you need to maintain your focus on the meaning and desire behind fulfilling the action. Some people like to meet fitness goals by following a regimen until the goal is reached, and then stop--but if they do not maintain the lifestyle that got them to that point, they will reverse their progress. The desire to be healthy would make someone maintain the lifestyle of a healthy person. Not maintaining the standards that helped you reach a goal reverses progress in all areas of life, whether your goal pertains to fitness, school, your career, a hobby, self-care or relationships. Progress is made with persistence, which means that you continue to try despite difficulties.

That said, you should understand that “persistence” is slightly different from “consistency”. When difficulties come, it may be hard to keep up with the level of effort towards a goal. You may need to cut back on the amount of hours you practice or give yourself a cheat day. Sometimes people get off track, but they can always get back on the horse. Say you start to meal-prep your weekly lunches and dinners. Maybe one week you have tons of work on your meal prep day and can’t prep as much as you intended--that’s fine! Missing a day is fine as long as you pick it back up and continue to move forward.

So, with all this in mind, let’s revisit our running scenario from earlier. In the same scenario, after you find yourself tired from running, you think of what is wrong and what could be better. You know you want to keep trying, but you see your current running plan is over-working your current stamina. You decide you will jump rope instead; you’re still going to run, too, just not every day. Three weeks later, you feel content that you have not given up--and you’re thinking about adding on another running day!

New plateaus and accomplishments can be great ways to track your progress, but your focus should not be only on what you want. You must think of what you are doing to help yourself get to that point. Think of how you have prepared yourself to become a better candidate for achieving what you would like. Revamp your methods, and you just might find it easier to keep pushing towards your goal.