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What We Measure, We Improve

What We Measure, We Improve

Imagine this…

Someone walks into the gym, warms up, does a little bit of this exercise, does a little bit of that exercise, bounces around to a few machines, maybe hops on the treadmill, finishes their workout, and leaves the gym.

This isn’t a critique of their workout. In fact, it’s quite possible that they actually got in a nice workout. So, what is notable about this situation?

They didn’t measure anything. They didn’t track their workout. They didn’t count reps or weight or time or speed or any other metric. And so, they have no basis for knowing if they are making progress or not. Not tracking your progress is one of the six major mistakes I see people make in the gym.

But here’s the thing: We all have areas of life that we say are important to us, but that we aren’t measuring.

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What We Measure, We Improve

“Count something. Regardless of what one ultimately does in medicine – or outside of medicine, for that matter – one should be a scientist in this world. In the simplest terms, this means one should count something … It doesn’t really matter what you count. You don’t need a research grant. The only requirement is that what you count should be interesting to you.”

– Atul Gawande, “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance”

The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse.

– When I measured how many pushups I did, I got stronger.
– When I tracked my reading habit of 20 pages per day, I read more books.
– When I recorded my values, I began living with more integrity.

Our lives are shaped by how we choose to spend our time and energy each day. Measuring can help us spend that time in better ways, more consistently.

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It’s Not About the Result, It’s About Awareness

The trick is to realize that counting, measuring and tracking is not about the result. It’s about the system, not the goal.

Measure from a place of curiosity. Measure to discover, to find out, to understand.

Measure from a place of self-awareness. Measure to get to know yourself better.

Measure to see if you are showing up. Measure to see if you’re actually spending time on the things that are important to you.

You Can’t Measure Everything

Critics will be quick to point out that you can’t measure everything. This is true.

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– Love is important, but how do you measure it?
– Morality is important, but can it be quantified accurately?
– Finding meaning in our lives is essential, but how do you calculate it?

There are some things in life that don’t need to be measured. Some people just love working out for the sake of working out. Measuring every repetition might reduce the satisfaction and make it seem more like a job. There is nothing wrong with that. (As always, take the main idea and use it in a way that is best for you.)

Measurement won’t solve everything. It is not an ultimate answer to life. However, it is a way to track something critical: are you showing up in the areas that you say are important to you?

The Idea in Practice

But even for things that can’t be quantified, measuring can be helpful. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.

You can’t measure love, but you can track different ways that you are showing up with love in your life:

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– Send a digital love note to your partner each day (text, email, voice mail, tweet, etc.) and use the Seinfeld Strategy to keep track of your streak.
– Schedule one “Surprise Appreciation” each week where you write to a friend and thank them for something unexpected.

You can’t measure morality, but you can track it if you’re thinking about it:

– Write down three values that are dear to you each morning.
– Keep a decision journal to track which decisions you make and whether or not they align with your ethics.

The things we measure are the things we improve. What are you measuring in your life?

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Barbara Krawcowicz via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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