A key self-coaching skill is self-assessment: How am I doing? Am I making progress toward my goals or not? Why or why not? And the more data we have about what's actually happening in our lives, the more accurately we can answer these questions.
I've written many times about Don't Break the Chain, a tool that I've recommended to numerous clients and students and that I've used myself since March 2008--an experience that began because of a personal crisis. I'd returned to Stanford as a Leadership Coach at the Graduate School of Business in January 2007, and over the subsequent 14 months I exercised exactly...never. It was the usual thing: throw myself into a demanding job, defer my personal needs, tell myself "I'll exercise tomorrow," all while assuming that I could get active again any time I wanted to.
And then in the Spring of 2008 I finally did get active again--and in less than a month I hurt myself, wrenching my knee so badly that it took seven weeks of rest to recover. I dimly recalled turning 40 the previous year and wondered if that might have something to do with it. Ultimately I realized that I needed to get active and stay active--I was too old to do "the usual thing" and needed to make a sustainable change in my approach to exercise.
So for over four years I've relied on Don't Break the Chain to track whether or not I exercised on a given day--here's the data:
Year % Days Exercised
2008 66.2% (10.5 months)
2012 83.0% (through June 13)
I find these figures really useful while reflecting on the questions above:
How am I doing? Pretty damn good!
Am I making progress toward my goal? Given that my goal was simply to get active and stay active, the answer is clearly yes.
Why? This is where it gets interesting. Obviously, a number of factors are involved--first, we know that we value what gets measured, so the mere act of tracking this data influenced the behaviors that generated it in the first place. Also, exercising creates a virtuous cycle (for me, at least)--if I was active yesterday, I'm more likely to be active today, etc. (This is certainly affected by the visceral feeling I get when I check off a daily box on my exercise calendar and "keep the chain alive"--it's an opportunity for a small victory every day.)
At a more granular level, I can look at the data month-by-month or even week-by-week to understand what was going on in my life at the time and assess the impact on this particular goal. For example, last Fall I let work knock me out of my routine, stopped exercising and promptly got sick. All of this suggests to me that it's important for me to be active every single day, if at all possible. So even though exercise has been a priority for the past few years, ever since last Fall I've regarded it as a daily requirement, and I've been motivated to rearrange my life accordingly. I'm currently on a 58-day streak, the longest I've ever experienced, and I'm pretty sure I'll increase my 2012 percentage over the second half of the year.
Am I suggesting that everyone rush out and start using Don't Break the Chain? No, of course not. I think it's a highly flexible tool that can be applied to a wide range of goals because it's so simple (more on that topic soon), but I'm certainly not recommending a cookie-cutter solution.
But I am suggesting that a modest effort to generate and track data related to our goals can go a long way in supporting our ability to assess our progress and understand the factors that are pushing us forward and the factors that are getting in our way.
For an overview of my self-coaching framework, see A Self-Coaching Guide for Leaders at All Levels.
For all my posts on this topic, see my Self-Coaching category.
Photo by Stephen Heron. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.