Getting the Results You Want
“Current research underscores the wisdom of [Benjamin Franklin’s] chart-keeping approach. People are more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete, measurable actions, with some kind of structured accountability and positive reinforcement.”
—Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I couldn’t agree more, which is why one of the main things we can do is create “measurable results,” even when it comes to abstract ideas like worthiness, confidence, sleeplessness, depression, or communication. I love seeing things become focused and manageable as we get clear about the small strides we can take toward a larger goal.
So, what exactly is a measurable result? It is the objective means by which we can measure our progress. To develop a measurable result, there are a few steps we can follow. The first step is to identify the overall goal. For example: to spend more time with friends. This statement is clear, but it is still way too general to inspire action or be measured. Yet being able to state our goal in a broad stroke is useful as a way to get the ball rolling. We will worry about making the goal more concise later.
The next important step is to identify why we want to pursue this goal in the first place. This step often gets skipped or people are unaware of it altogether, but it is actually the most important step in the whole process. It provides the underlying motivation that creates momentum, commitment, and endurance. In addition, reflecting on the “why” is important in order to check in and assure that our reasons are not in some way harmful to the endeavor. So, a healthy motivation might be: to create meaning and deeper connections and to share myself with others. A not so great motivation might be: to prove that people like me.
Once we have identified the goal (what) and the motivation (why), next comes the specific actions we will take (how) and how often (when). Without this step, our goal is likely to remain a nice idea that is never put into action. Initially brainstorm a few ways that you could reach your goal. In this example of wanting to spend more time with friends, you could plan dinners, make a phone call, meet for coffee, or take up an activity together. Settle on one method, action. This is the how. Then decide how much time will be spent each week on this action step. It should be very specific. For example, have friends over for dinner twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Next, decide on a method for tracking your progress other than in your head. We are funny creatures in that the times we don’t meet our goals stick out to us so much more easily than when we do follow through. So, we need a tangible way to see what is actually going on. You could make a tally chart, mark it in your calendar, have a “friend book” that people sign when they come for dinner. Choose any method that you will enjoy using to track your progress, so that it doesn’t feel like more work.
Finally, you need to pick a reward! Oddly enough, this is often the most difficult step for people. For a variety of reasons, we resist acknowledging the good we are doing, the small strides we are taking toward completing a goal. Often-times we buy into the idea that rewards should only come once the entire goal is achieved, but this just isn’t so. Positive reinforcement along the road to our goal actually increases the likelihood that we will achieve our aims. So, do not skip over this step. The reward can be anything that you want—buy a new pair of shoes, go for a walk, watch a favorite TV show, eat a favorite dessert. No matter what you choose, give yourself credit for the steps you are taking.
Try it out!
Choose one area of life or symptom you are experiencing and create a measurable result. The example below is a real measurable result created by one of my clients. She successfully reduced her nightmares after only two weeks.
Example: I am having nightmares about the rape every night.
Step 1: Identify the overall goal.
Example: To reduce the number of nightmares I have. (Notice we didn’t say “Stop nightmares all together.” All of us have nightmares from time to time, so be sure your goal is reasonable!)
Step 2: Identify why you want to pursue this goal.
Example: To experience peacefulness and rest.
Step 3: Identify how and how often.
Example: I will have nightmares no more than two times a week, and I will remind myself that I am pursuing this goal in order to gain peacefulness and rest. I will drink a cup of tea to calm myself before bed.
Step 4: Determine how you will track your progress.
Example: I will keep a notebook by my bed and write down first thing in the morning whether I had a nightmare or not.
Step 5: Pick a reward.
Example: I will listen to my favorite music each time I do not have a nightmare.
Now, I want to be clear that the mindset we have after setting a goal and putting it into action is critical. We will not be perfect, and if we allow the times when we do not meet our goal to mean that we will never do it or we will never change, then it does not matter how measurable the goal is, we will lose heart and abandon the goal.
To keep this in check, we can enroll others who will support us and remind us to take one day at a time, practice being forgiving and kind to ourselves, and be flexible. If we are really struggling to meet a goal, then reevaluate, adapt, or break the goal down into smaller parts. Bottom line, measurable results are meant to help us objectively measure our progress, not our value or capability.
In addition, a measurable result is not the end-all, be-all of recovery or eradicating a symptom. However, paired with the other skills we are learning—using right speech and right mindfulness to challenge false beliefs, keeping our meaning making machine in low gear—measurable results are extremely powerful, because we let go of thinking that these symptoms or behaviors are just how we are. Instead, we begin to make powerful choices about what we can do differently (either by shifting our focus, adopting new habits, or taking responsibility) to address these areas of our lives that are not working. That is a huge thing!