How to Evaluate and Make Progress Toward Your Goals

I feel like I'm working so hard, but I can't tell if I'm getting any better.

When I look in the mirror, it seems like maybe nothing has changed. Am I making progress?

The number on the scale isn't going in the direction I want - this obviously isn't working for me.

How many of you have said a sentence like one of these in the last year? I know I have. In our quest for improvement and progress, a couple of things seem to remain constant:

  1. We are all incredibly impatient
  2. Consistency is the number one factor
  3. We choose our favorite performance marker and only use that
  4. What gets measured gets improved

The issue is that these four constants are sabotaging your ability to see results and to reach your goals. This post is going to discuss ways to evaluate and make progress toward your goals.

We are all impatient - and may quit right before you finally reach your goal.

image courtesy of David McElroy

Everyone has seen an image similar to this one. The message is really simple: you may be quitting right before you reach the reward. Typically that means we're all told, "just keep going!" But really, no one wants to keep working without any sense of when the hard work will be over. That's like getting started on a workout with zero repetitions or time limit. You'd be lost, right?

The better way to combat this is to set expectations appropriately. The best example for this is with nutrition. You get started on a nutrition plan and are so excited to achieve the body you want. You should be excited! It's a huge step to get an outside expert to help you. One of the initial questions I ask people who start working with us for nutrition is, "Do you prefer rapid results that are harder to maintain, or slower results which are easier to maintain?" Slower results are the vast majority of the responses. This means you're going to make methodical changes to your nutrition which will pay long term dividends - but won't give you a transformation picture to share on social media in 4 weeks.

If you set your expectations appropriately from the start, you aren't disappointed by how long you have to work. You can see a finish line to your next achievement, and that is the encouragement you in order to keep working.

TL;DR: Set expectations for your goals so that you know a rough timeline to see your results.

Consistency is the key factor in hitting your timelines.

Here's the caveat to the expectation setting: if you don't actually follow the plan, you can throw those expectations out the window. In keeping with the nutrition example, here are ways you may not be sticking with the plan:

  • Missing your daily macros plan by more than 5 grams of each nutrient
  • Only tracking on the week days and going off the rails on the weekends
  • Hitting calories but not actually paying attention to what the macronutrient split is on those calories
  • Not tracking fruits or vegetables
  • Not tracking cooking oil

The list goes on and on and comes back to the same message: in order to evaluate if the plan is working, you have to actually do the plan. You have to be consistent.

I'm learning this lesson myself in real time. I have a nutrition coach (it is my belief that we should all have coaches) and I'm trying to gain muscle. Yet for the first three or four weeks, I would hit my numbers on one day, and then be too full to do it the next day. This lead to a roller coaster of hitting and missing macros. Zero consistency. In the last couple of weeks I've just followed the plan, and I'm putting on muscle and size now. Amazing how following the plan works, huh?

TL;DR: If you aren't consistent with your plan to achieve your goals, you won't be able to evaluate it well.

You're really focused on one aspect of progress - and missing all of the others.

The most common one for this challenge is the scale. Here's a quick list of things that may impact your body weight on a day to day basis:

  • How much water you've had to drink
  • How much salt you consumed
  • How many carbohydrates you consumed in days prior
  • How much you've been exercising (can actually make the scale go up)
  • Inflammation in your body
  • Sleep and recovery
  • Time of day
  • Time of year (you may be sweating more in workouts in the summer, for example)
  • Stress levels
  • For women, time of the month

A lot of these things, you simply cannot control, and you can make a list like this for nearly every single performance marker you can come up with. This is why using intangible markers such as energy, sleep quality, and workout performance in conjunction with more tangible markers such as weight, body composition, and measurements gives you a much more complete picture for how you're progressing.

TL;DR: Putting your entire faith in one performance marker sets you up for failure. Choose at least 3-5 to keep track of.

If you don't measure it, you don't know if it is improving or not.

There's the old adage of what gets measured gets improved. The addition to that is the fact that if you aren't keeping track - measuring - something, you simply don't know if it is improving or not.

In keeping with our nutrition example, if you aren't tracking your daily macros how do you know if you're doing a better job of hitting your numbers, or not? You wouldn't have any idea on if you're at 65 grams of protein, or 165 grams of protein - and that's a big difference in how you're going to be seeing results from your plan.

Working out is another area of measurement which needs addressing. If you don't keep track of how fast you completed a workout, how much weight you used, or any personal metrics, it is likely that you will continually use the same weights, move at the same speed, and have the same skills as you did the week, month, and year before. Humans are incredibly habitual and once you find a routine, you will stick to it.

TL;DR: You have to measure your effort in order to make improvements.

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