by ERIK ORTON on FEBRUARY 15, 2017
If you’re like me, you’re a little bit lazy. I want someone to make life easy for me. And I'm also easily discouraged. When something isn’t working out, I'm prone to give up. But I’ve learned something the hard way that’s made my life easier.
I learned that keeping track of what I’m actually doing helps me do the things I want with my life. An example: One day I ate an ice cream cone. I liked it. I thought to myself, “Ice cream cones makes me happy. I should eat more ice cream cones.” So I started to track how often I ate an ice cream cone. Once I gave it some attention, more ice cream cones came into my life. It was like magic! After a while, I realized I’d had enough ice cream cones and it didn’t’ make me as happy any more. I decided I wanted to go camping more. So I started to keep track of that. And I went camping more often.
So often we think tracking things has to be a grind. I’ve come to think of it as an efficient form of laziness. All I have to do is keep track of it and I have more of it in my life (or less, depending on which direction I’m trying to go.) This is not a new concept. It is as old as the thermometer chart for the school fundraiser. But I’ve learned a few things that have helped me even more:
- Pictures are powerful – whatever I’m tracking, if I turn it into a picture, it’s power to motivate me grows exponentially. This can be a thermometer chart on poster board, a line chart in Excel, or a jar of beans that I’m filling. A visual reminder keeps me focused.
- Most Progress is Tiny – Most progress is so tiny and incremental that it often goes unnoticed. We’ve all measured ourselves or our kids against the wall and seen how much taller we/they are without even realizing. If we don’t pay attention to this kind of almost imperceptible progress, we’ll get discouraged.
- Feedback is key – psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of my favorites. He talks about flow as the optimal experience in life. One of the key elements of flow is knowing how we’re doing in real time (immediate feedback) in relationship to the task or challenge at hand. Sports is great for this. Art is lousy. Life in general is a mixed bag. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve found these three approaches to be helpful in terms of fitness, personal finance and creativity. When Emily and I had just started working on our book, I read a quote by Ernest Hemingway, “I count how many words I write each day as to not deceive myself.” That hit me hard.
So often we deceive ourselves by not being accurate. “I don’t really eat that much.” “I work out plenty.” “I’m easily writing 2,000 words a day.” “I don’t spend that much money on ____________.” I decided to take Ernest Hemingway at his word. I tracked my daily word count. And then I turned it into a picture, a line graph. Now in an instant, I knew how I was doing. . . honestly. No bias. And my writing output improved, easily, almost effortlessly. Then I did the same for my weight and my fitness habits. Emily and I also do this for our finances. I may have gotten a little carried away, but more than ever, I’m focusing on things that I think are important to my well being. And I find that keeping track of them helps them come more easily into my life.
For me a picture is worth a lot because it’s changing my life for the better. Thanks, Ernest.
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