Knowing is not doing: 4 keys to making sure you are actually making progress.

When you want to make a change in your habits, it is common for people to start researching all the different options to make that change. They will find products that say they can help, they will find experts whose methods are the best and all the activity starts to feel pretty good. The research is movement. The studying is progress. Or, that is how it feels. The reality is that many people never make it past the research phase.

Knowing is not doing.

The question you could be asking is..

How do I actually make the significant change in my life? That is the right question to ask. The answer that I share with people is that they need to:

  • start today
  • start with something uncomplicated
  • set their first milestones close enough that they can evaluate their progress today make the change so easy that they are guaranteed to succeed

Start today. Planning is not doing.

If you do not start today, when will you start? On Monday, so that you can kick off a fresh week. Next month, when things have settled down and you have more time. After the kids go back to school, when you have the ability to take a little more time for yourself? Those are all good times to start your journey, but they are not today. And today is the best opportunity you have.

There should be no reason that you can not start today. I will remove some of the things you believe are obstacles in the way.

Avoid complexity.

The reason that complex planning should be avoided when you start is because you end up a with plan that a normal person, with a normal lifestyle can not implement. It is much better to start very simple and get positive momentum. As you start to implement the change, you can learn and adjust in real time. Testing small changes and iterating is a management process taken from the software development world and works well when trying to make a personal change.

After you have been working at implementing the change for a short period of time, learn from the experience, adjust the plan and then carry on. The real value is that you will be making decisions based on real data and experience and not on theories and random testimonials of strangers.

It doesn’t take too many cycles before you have a new way of living that seems like it took a lot of hard work and planning. The reality is that it likely did take some hard work, but you spent your effort on creating change and momentum, while many others with the same goal are still planning on the best way to do it.

Create short feedback loops.

When you get started, don’t set your first evaluation period a month away. You need to have tighter feedback loops that enable you to better understand how your behavior is impacting your progress towards success. When you set milestones to far away, it becomes too easy to explain away the lack of progress to all the other things that happened during that period.

I recommend you have daily milestones. Weekly milestones would be the largest acceptable duration, however in those instances it would have to be done with behavioral metrics that do not lend themselves to a shorter duration.

Guarantee your success.

In order to be successful over a long period of time, set yourself up for guaranteed success in the short term. When you find success with your outcome metrics early, you will start to build:

  • Self confidence
  • A new sense of identity
  • Self efficacy
  • Motivation

Changes in all four of those are critical to becoming a healthier and happier person. The truth is that we all have a certain amount of resilience and capacity to self motivate. This capacity is often not sufficient to overcome consistent failure when you begin and finding consistent and recurring sources of external motivation can be difficult.

The better alternative is to create a goal for change that is nearly impossible to fail at. When I share this concept with individuals, I can often be faced with skepticism, because the goal might seem trivial. However, once they’ve steadily and progressively found success at these small changes, they begin to realize that they’ve started to develop a new lifestyle.

If you need one take away message from this article, it would be - start today. Go find the most simple and easy to execute activity you can, and go do it today. Then repeat.