“What gets measured gets managed.”
Is it true?
In their meta-study (2016), Harkin and his colleagues analyzed 138 scientific studies to find out whether people who monitored their goal progress were in fact more likely to attain their goal than those who didn’t. The results were positive:
- Monitoring goal progress promoted goal attainment.
- The more often the progress was monitored, the more likely the goal was attained.
Because monitoring your progress helps you identify where you’re at with respect to your goal, and it frequently reminds you of your goal, of when to take corrective action, and of your desire to keep at it, thus reinforcing it.
How to do it?
The study detected three factors that increased the effect and can help you succeed:
- Goal-relevant monitoring. If you want to lose weight, keep track of your weight, not of how much you eat; but if you want to eat less sugar, then track your sugar consumption. If you want to grow stronger, keep track of your strength performance, not of how often you go to the gym; but if you want to go to the gym more often, then track your gym check-ins.
- Public commitment. Report your progress to people with similar goals, keep a log of your progress in an online forum, post it on Facebook (if you’re sufficiently self-absorbed to post stuff on there in the first place), or record your progress on a piece of paper that you put on a wall for others (like roommates or visitors) to see.
- Physical record. As in the previous example, write your measurements (e.g., weight, strength, or time spent studying) on a piece of paper, a whiteboard, or a physical notebook. This minimizes self-deception and maximizes self-confrontation. Alternatively, you may use a smartphone app (like Rewire) but in my experience I’ve had way more success with actual pen & paper that don’t enable you to erase all traces of your failure with just one click.
In general, keep your monitoring simple and your recording easy to access.
Personally, every long-term self-control challenge I have ever mastered in life (getting laid more frequently, reaching diet & athletic goals, succeeding at university, etc.) was crucially dependent on having a clear, realistic goal, making a plan to build a supportive habit, and measuring my progress (while always checking off all items on my to-do list).
Want to create the perfect monitoring plan for your #1 goal? I will support you, just leave a comment below!
Harkin, B., Webb, T. L., Chang, B. P., Prestwich, A., Conner, M., Kellar, I., Benn, Y., Sheeran, P. (2016). Does monitoring goal progress promote goal attainment? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin 142(2), pp. 198-229.