Welcome to the Get It Done Tiny Course: Monitoring Progress
In this module you are going to learn how to monitor progress on your path to accomplishing your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there will be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Monitoring Progress – Video 1
Welcome to the Get It Done tiny course. In this module, you are going to learn how to monitor your progress on your path to accomplishing your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there’ll be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Setting a goal is a good start. Next, to sustain motivation, you need to know how far you have gotten and how close you are to the finish line. So what is the best way to monitor your progress and keep yourself motivated?
Completed versus missing actions
When should you monitor your progress in terms of completed actions and when is it better to monitor progress in terms of things you still need to do, or missing actions? Looking back at what you’ve achieved helps you feel more committed. Your past actions suggest to you that you care about your goal and that you can be successful. Looking ahead can also increase motivation, although in a different way. When you look ahead at what you have yet to achieve, you feel more eager to close the gap (that is, unless you get discouraged).
Which way of monitoring is best for your goal depends on your commitment. If you’re less committed, look back. For example, when students study for a pass/fail test that doesn’t count toward their GPA, they are less committed. We found that they’re more motivated to keep studying if they focus on how much material they already have covered. But if you’re already committed, look ahead. We found that most college students taking a final exam that will influence their GPA are already committed to study for the test. In this case, when they focus on what they haven’t yet covered, they study harder.
The way you monitor progress should also depend on your expertise. Novices are less committed than experts. So, when you’re starting to learn something, it’s more motivating to look back at how much you’ve achieved. But if you’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s more motivating to focus on what you haven’t done yet. Take going to the gym. If you’re new to the gym, thinking about the times you’ve worked out this month will help you sustain your motivation. But if the weight room feels like your second home, thinking about how many times you can still work out this month will help sustain your motivation.
For goals with a clear end point, how far along you are also matters. According to the “small-area principle,” to sustain motivation, you need to compare your next action to whichever is smaller: the progress you’ve already made, or the progress you still need to make to meet the goal. At the beginning of pursuing a goal, you should look back at your completed actions. Beyond the midpoint, you should look ahead at what’s still missing. For example, if you’re trying to read all seven Harry Potter books, you should monitor progress from the books you’ve already read up until you finish The Goblet of Fire (the fourth book). Afterward, monitor progress as how many books you have left, which will now be the small area. The reason is that at the beginning of a goal, the proportional impact of your next action will appear larger if you pay attention to what you’ve done so far (the small area) than if you focus on what you still have to do (the large area). Beyond the midpoint of goal pursuit, the proportional impact of your next action will appear larger when you look at remaining progress (the small area) than when you look at completed progress (the large area).
Now that you have completed the first video on measuring your progress, let’s see how much you’ve learned with a few questions. Good luck!
Take the Quiz
Monitoring Progress – Video 2
Welcome to the second video on measuring your progress. In the first video, you learned the best ways to monitor your progress for goals. In this video, we’ll talk about how to stick with a goal when your motivation wanes.
The middle problem
Most of us are highly motivated at the beginning. We are excited to reach our goal and we want to do it right. Over time, our motivation declines, and we lose steam. To the extent that our goal has a clear endpoint (such as graduating with a diploma), our motivation will pick up again toward the end. So how can we keep on track in the middle, when motivation is naturally low?
One solution is to keep middles short. A goal of saving $50 a month can be more motivating than a goal of saving $600 a year. Although you want to accomplish a long-term goal, setting boundaries that keep middles short can help you get there. Similarly, a weekly exercise goal has a short middle, unlike a monthly, yearly, or lifetime exercise goal.
Another strategy is to use landmark dates to celebrate a new beginning. We’re more likely to work harder immediately after New Year’s Day or our birthdays. Most people eat healthier food and exercise more in January than in any other month. Others remind themselves that today is the first day of the rest of their life. Psychologists call this the “fresh start effect,” and you can use it to keep yourself motivated.
Do it right
There’s another problem with middles: they undermine our motivation to do things right. You tend to be less methodical and careful in the middle of a task. Your attention can drift away. You might even compromise your ethical standards. Studies have found that people are more likely to cheat in the middle. Even adherence to tradition suffers in the middle. Those who observe the tradition of lighting the menorah candles over the eight nights of Hanukkah were more likely to do so on the first and last nights.
We tend to relax our standards in the middle, even if only we will know about it. The first and last actions in completing a goal are more memorable than actions in the middle. Knowing that we’ll forget what we’ve done in the middle, we subconsciously realize that relaxing our standards won’t undermine our self-esteem. It’s easier to hide from ourselves in the middle.
One study found that in the middle of pursuing a goal, people literally cut corners. We asked participants to use scissors to cut out five identical shapes. By the time they got to the third shape, they started cutting through more corners. As they got closer to completing the task, their shapes became neat again.
So keep your middles short. A weekly healthy-eating goal is better than a monthly healthy-eating goal, as it offers fewer days in the middle, when you might cheat on your diet. And if you’re handed a large project with a faraway deadline, start by breaking it into weekly assignments so that you don’t lose steam in the middle. Or, think of the present as a beginning or an end, not as the middle.
Now that you know how to keep yourself motivated in the middle of a goal, let’s test your expertise.
Take the Quiz
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