Look Back to Move Forward

We measure everything about our workouts; why not measure our mental fitness progress too?

We've talked a lot about goals recently, and how to build habits that help you achieve them. But what happens when you don't keep track of how you're developing your mental fitness and what you're paying attention to?

Consider two friends of mine: Kelly and Michael (not their real names). They talk to me a lot about their artistic projects, because I like to hear about it. But there is a subtle difference in their way of talking.

Kelly will constantly talk to me about the stuff she's doing to become more productive and finish her first novel. But sometimes she gets really demoralised and goes for weeks without writing.

Michael also talks to me about the album he just finished recording. It's a totally solo project, so it's like Kelly's novel, and it took him about a year to write and record. He worked on it really consistently, and now it's nearly done.

The only real difference between Kelly, who often goes weeks without writing, and Michael, who works consistently, is how they talk about their work.

Kelly is always talking about what she has left to do. It's usually, "now I'm about to introduce a new character," or, "I have to plan out the next few chapters this weekend". She often feels overwhelmed by the sheer scope of all the things that need to get done, and nothing gets done.

If this sounds familiar to you, consider what Michael talk about. He talks about his progress. It's a lot of, "I laid down the drums last night," or, "I've got nine songs completely finished!" It's more rewarding to talk about accomplishments than to-do lists.

More importantly, both Kelly and Michael receive praise for their artistic expression, which is a big dose of positive reinforcement. However, because Kelly talks about the future, she receives the praise before she does the work, while Michael only receives praise for the work he has done. What is being reinforced here: thinking about the future or getting things done?

Take a leaf out of your workout routine, and measuring your mental fitness progress. It helps you see how far you've come so you can be motivated to continue forward.

You can measure anything: 

  • Words written
  • Minutes meditated
  • Thank-you notes sent
  • Friends hugged
  • Time spent laughing
  • Good deeds done
  • Tasks complete
  • Connections made
  • Dates with your partner
  • Hours of Netflix watched

Keep a record of how you're improving, and you will continue to do so. And tell me about what you've done, not what you are going to do! I would rather praise you for your actions, not your intentions.