You’re Improving: Prove it to Yourself!

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“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” – C.S. Lewis

Do you ever feel that you’ve just been spinning your wheels? You’re putting in a lot of effort everyday but getting nowhere? How do we know if we’re getting better? I ask myself this question all the time. Fortunately there are ways to gain peace of mind knowing that you’re progressing towards your goals.

I’ve noticed in my personal life, certain objectives are very easy to quantify, so measuring them is very easy. Others are not quantifiable at all.  Here are a few things I recommend tracking to make sure you understand what improvements you have made or if you need to mix things up to achieve the results you desire:

  1. Track your Net Worth – Too many people are worried about budgeting more than they should be.  You need to track your net worth and understand if that number is growing or shrinking.  Just like a business, net worth should be your number one indicator of whether or not you’re making smart financial moves.  Sometimes I get hung up with the fact that I don’t have a lot of money sitting in my bank account, but that mentality is an immature view of money. You don’t need tons of money sitting in a bank account earning no returns. In fact, if you have that, you may want to consider where else that money could be of better use to help you progress towards a goal of improving your net worth. I’m not saying to have no cash reserve, I’m simply saying we should be focusing on growing net worth more than stashing cash in a checking/savings account.  Tracking your net worth is as simple as linking your accounts on Mint.com.  There’s really no excuse to NOT do this as it is very simple to do. Every time you make a payment towards debt or money goes into your 401k, this will be tracked in your net worth, but your bank account may not see this benefit. In fact, making debt payments can feel terrible when it feels like the money has just disappeared. This is why I believe tracking Net Worth will ultimately make you feel more positive about the effort you put in and ultimately help keep you on the right path.
  2. Track your health metrics – I never understood how people can go to the gym regularly with no way of knowing how much progress they are making.  Personally, I use the BodySpace App to track all of my lifts to ensure they are going up. I can look back years to ensure that I actually am progressing to more strength.  If I’m feeling a little down, all I have to do is look back and realize that I’m almost twice as strong on some lifts as when I started my fitness journey.  If you’re a runner, track distances and times somewhere that you can reference it for a long period of time. You could track blood pressure, body fat %, strength, endurance, etc. Just make sure you have a goal that actually achieves what you desire. For example, weight is not always the best metric for defining if you’re in good health. If you’re lifting, you could be losing fat and gaining muscle, and not losing weight. Does this mean you’re not making progress? Of course not! Set goals that make sense and track them religiously.  If you do this, you will be more likely to achieve better results and stay consistent in your fitness journey.
  3. Track your career progression – Careers can be hard to measure. Each person defines success is differently. That being said, most people have a goal to make more money, and some of us would like to progress a spot or two up the corporate chain, or perhaps start a company of our own.  Tracking your career progression is simple when it comes to pay. You probably remember a starting point that you made significantly less than you do now.  Take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come.  If you’ve been in the same job for 5 years and there’s no sign that you can take another step towards a job that you desire, it’s probably time to start to consider if you should be in that organization, or at the very least analyze why you haven’t been promoted. One trick that has helped me gain peace of mind in my career is defining a number of years that I think I should be in a position before I expect a promotion or at least a significant title change. By defining the number of years I’d like to be in the job, it eases my impatient mind. Millennials especially can expect things to move very quickly in our careers, so having a realistic idea of how long things will take can ease this impatience. Things often get worse before they get better, so plan to stick out the tough times in a new job for awhile before deciding to give up.  Recognize that it takes a few years to build up credibility in an organization, so don’t assume that you should immediately pounce on any job offer that is a slight pay increase. While you may get a quick bump, you may have to restart the clock for another promotion.
  4. Ask others to give you feedback – Relationships are the hardest things to track performance on. There’s no simple metric that is a great indicator of how you’re doing on this topic.  This is why I recommend asking those closest to you for feedback without being defensive in the responses they give you. Being married, it’s a bit easier for me to receive constant feedback, whether I want it or not, lol.  By asking questions of those closest to you, it will force you to spend time contemplating how to continue to improve.  Spending time considering how to improve relationships is one of the things that is most critical. Look inward at improving yourself regularly instead of blaming others, and you likely will remain on the right track.  I had to swallow massive pride in order to really start dedicating myself to improving relationships, because I always thought focusing on improving a marriage doesn’t require intentionality. I thought I shouldn’t have to change. Newsflash, you may need to change in order to improve your relationships! There’s no sugarcoating it.  This is the pride that I had to get over, but like ripping off a band-aid, it only hurts for a few seconds.

The point of this post is to make sure that you’re staying positive. It will be easy to stay positive when you record all the progress you’ve made in the last few years, however it can be easy to be negative when you’re not tracking improvements. Knowing that you’re making progress is the best way to gain peace of mind.

In my own personal life, I had the thought that I have not been progressing in my life a few weeks ago, when I realized in the last 5 years, I have had 2 children and one more is on the way. We’ve eliminated near $100k in debt, and our net worth went from a negative number to a number that I couldn’t have imagined we would have had 5 years ago (no, we’re not millionaires…. yet).  I started and finished my MBA. My wife and I are almost double in our income. My wife and I are close to the best shape of our lives, and I think my both my wife and I would say she’s happier with our relationship than we ever expected to be.

I say all this, not to brag, but to show that you’ve probably come much further than you realize if you just think back to where you were five years ago. You’ve made great progress. Be satisfied with that! When I say be satisfied, I mean, recognize that hard work has paid off for you.  This will give you the energy that you need to set objectives for the next 5 years, and if you continue to analyze the past, and set goals for the future, there’s no telling just how great your life will be!

Robert Krickeberg

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