Metrics and Motivation – Track Your Progress

Achieving personal goals involves the process of setting a clear and specific goal, making a plan of action to reach that goal, following the plan and recording our progress. This page is related to a story I read recently explaining how recording metrics on the things we want to improve can make a difference in our performance and in achieving our goals.

In June 2008, Veronica Noone attached a small sensor to her running shoes and left her house to go for a run. This sensor measured the distance she traveled, and the time she spent on the run. This information was then transferred to and stored in her iPod. The technology that enabled this process was the focus of a recent story in Wired magazine, but it carries a deeper, more important message about performance, motivation and goals that’s relative to the goal setting suggestions offered here.

RUNNERSThere is motivation for most people in the experience of reviewing the data produced by your performance. According to Veronica, “It just made running so much more entertaining for me. There’s something about seeing what you’ve done, how your pace changes as you go up and down hills, that made me more motivated”. She’s now running several times a week regularly and even has begun entering races. She attributes much of her present fitness to the power of having that data from each run she performs.

The benefits of measuring our progress at whatever we are doing, and specifically when we have set a goal, is that it gives us clear feedback which motivates us, and it shows trends that we might not otherwise detect. We inherently seem to want to have those trends moving in the direction of improvement, in the direction of our goal. Without the feedback, we are able to proceed with blissful ignorance about our performance and miss the opportunity to feel good about any improvements. To spin a familiar phrase, “what you don’t know won’t kill you, but it will diminish the motivational opportunity that knowing our results provides”.

Another interesting piece of information coming from the Wired article is this: The magic number of times someone must use this particular system is 5. Once users hit five ‘uses’, i.e. 5 times recording their data, they’re far more likely to keep running and uploading their data. At the five run mark, users have gotten hooked on what the data (feedback) tells them about themselves. It’s likely the same pattern would apply to weight loss, or financial goals or anything else that we might track if we are interested in our performance.

This feedback also serves to invoke what is known in sociology as the Hawthorne effect. The principle in the Hawthorne effect says that we will change our behavior for the better if we know we are being watch. If you’re thinking this sounds like Accountability (Action Plan Checklist item #8), you’re right. You don’t have to literally be watched, but by tracking and viewing the data from your performance you effectively become your own observer, and the principles end up working the same way. Record your results, review them, and the sense of accountability kicks in and you generally get the benefit of improved performance.

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