One vitally important lesson I learned early on in my quest to transform is to track my results.
I aim to live my life by this:
It's a very simple principle.
I've on purpose "missed out" on something here: There's no "plan" step.
If you want to do "proper" project management of your objectives, you might want to draw up elaborate plans, but I've found that this is often a hindrance in itself. Leading to "analysis-paralysis" where you don't act until you've drawn up the perfect plan, and use this to avoid doing anything.
Instead, for whatever part of your life you want to change, start tracking how you're currently doing, and use that to create short term plans in the "adapt" step. Once you have some experience with how quickly you can improve, then draw up longer term plans (or just keep evaluating and adapting, if that works for you).
This forces you to:
- Acknowledge your current state. E.g. you didn't talk to more than 5 people the entire week. There's no escaping or pretending you're doing better than you are.
- Recognize and address your most immediate problems, rather than draw up highly academical plans for how you'll address sticking points that you might be a year of hard work away from even getting to (e.g. you might be terrified about physically escalating with a girl, but if you only talked to 5 people the entire week and felt anxious doing just that, you're likely going to spend a lot of time desensitizing yourself social anxieties and learning to approach and learning to create some initial attraction before physical escalation is an issue at all).
- Get hard data on your successes and failures, so you can keep on track and figure out when you're doing the right thing and when you're wasting time on something that doesn't work or trying to move ahead too quickly.
For whatever behaviour I want to investigate or modify, or whatever result I want to achieve, I aim to identify a number of indicators to track.
If I'm considering fitness, I'll track how much I lift or how long I run.
If it's addressing my social anxieties, I will track how many people I talk to each day, and how significant the conversation is.
If it's about getting better at seducing women, I'll take notes about the reactions I get.
If it's about reaching my target weight, I weight myself or measure my bodyfat.
The goal is to collect data. Without data, you have nothing - it's like steering a ship blind.
But don't collect too much. "Too much" == whatever amount gets you to a point where it becomes easy to skip. Your tracking is worthless if you keep forgetting to do it. For more complicated or extensive tracking, do it for shorter periods - e.g. a week every too months to see how you're currently doing - and collect simpler data in between.
The goal is not to spend your life filling in notebooks. The goal is to establish a baseline, change your behaviour to where you want it, and then scale back and only verify that you're still on track every now and again.
Once I have some data - anything from a week to a months worth - I sit down regularly and evaluate the data. This is vital. Without evaluating the data, you might as well not collect it.
The goal of evaluating the data is to:
- Identify what you do well.
- Identify what you do poorly.
- Track improvement.
- Adapt your approach
If you keep improving at a high rate, then there might not be much to change. But say I'm working on getting completely fearless about approaching women. If one of my tasks is to go up to strangers and talk to them, perhaps after a while I'm doing ok, and just not pushing myself further (say to get phone numbers, or get them attracted to me as opposed to just talking to me). Evaluation of the data is about catching these, and coming up with a list of issues to address.
These can also be issues with the data. If I care about getting a six pack while maintaining my strength, weight alone isn't going to do much - I might notice that while my weight is going down, so is my strength, and decide to add bodyfat measurements to my tracking, as well as tracking my diet, to ensure I get enough protein, isn't starving myself and actually do see my bodyfat percentage drop.
Doing all the above is quickly going to go to waste if I don't regularly adapt my approach. At some point I'll get lazy, or my exercise program is going to need to adapt to changing circumstances
(I long ago had to ditch my beginners strength program for one that uses fewer sets, for example, because lifting the weights I do simply is too stressful on the body for as many sets as I started with, and this is a normal progression to make).
The whole point of the evaluation step is to create a laundry list of issues to address, and the adapt step is about translating those issues into changes to what you do and what you track in a careful and managed way to ensure that you continue to progress as fast as practical.
When I first started addressing my approach anxiety, I couldn't even get myself to take a single step towards someone when I decided to approach them, for example.
I had to gradually desensitize myself through a number of progressions. Each time my evaluation of the data I had collected about my current progression indicated that I was getting "too comfortable", I would ramp things up. E.g. when I could walk up to strangers and ask the time (yes, I'm serious - even that made me anxious when I started out) quickly and without too much anxiety, I added other goals that would require a longer interaction, such as asking for directions, and slowly phased out the easier ones.
Gradually I built up towards doing actual, direct approaches where I'd tell a woman I found her attractive, hopefully without falling completely apart. (Not because going so direct is necessarily what works best for me, but because it was what I found most terrifying)
You can apply this principle to pretty much anything in life:
Track - Evaluate - Adapt
Whenever you can find a way to measure progress, you can evaluate progress and identify sticking points, and adapt your approach to move closer to your goal.