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Measurement Trap: Tracking Progress is Great Until It Isn’t

While celebrating a different kind of measurement streak, I started reflecting on “the measurement trap.” If you want to achieve success with a goal, measuring your daily progress is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. Just make sure to keep these numbers and measurements in their right place. Not everything that is important can be translated into a number. You and your happiness are certainly bigger than any set of measurements.

Learn more about avoiding the Measurement Trap in this week’s Goal Success By Choice.

Amuse Bouche

Before we get to today’s post, I offer you this light “amuse-bouche” to entertain your mind before we get down to business. Like any other amuse-bouche, you may hate my “dad joke,” but it is worth every penny that you paid for it, right?

OMG I just found out that Albert Einstein was a real person!! All this time I thought he was a theoretical physicist.

Hello, I am Coach Tony… Welcome to Operation Melt!

My name is Coach Tony, and I am a coach, author and project manager on a mission. I am working to build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.

I almost allowed one of my biggest life goals to die without ever being attempted for forty years. My goal almost died, not of failure but of loneliness. But, I took a risk and leveraged a simple, logical process that helped me wildly exceed my goal. 

I transformed my life, and you can do the same with the help of Operation Melt. 

Operation Melt provides engaging, practical content and hands-on coaching to inspire, motivate and equip project managers and other left-brained high-achievers to pursue and accomplish their biggest goals. 

Got Goals?

Do you have dreams that you are trying to make come true? Do you have a goal that you are trying to crush? Success doesn’t happen by chance.  Success is a series of choices that can make you unstoppable. Goal Success by Choice helps you make these choices to move you closer to your goals.

This blog is my gift to you. I hope that it helps you choose to be successful and bring your goal to life. Are you ready to help build a world where no goal dies of loneliness?

Measurement Trap: Tracking Progress is Great Until It Isn’t

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Albert Einstein

Through nearly five years of sharing my journey and thoughts through this blog, I have talked a lot about numbers. More specifically, I have written about my numbers. As I explained in one of my first updates (see Let’s do this my way (with some help from Lord Kelvin)), the basis for my weight loss strategy was to measure everything.

I am going to build my strategy around a quote from Lord Kelvin…. “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Or, stated differently, if I can measure it, I can manage it. That is what I am going to do. I will measure everything!

Starting the day I built this strategy, I measured it all… and shared most of it with you. My daily calories, macronutrient targets, exercise amounts and performance, calorie burn, water consumption, heart rate… the list goes on. Oh yeah, I left my weight changes off that list.

Excerpt from Operation Melt: How I Used Life-Changing Project Management to Lose Over 100 Pounds in Under a Year:

"In full transparency, I over-measured both in terms of the data and the frequency. This worked out well for me because I was able to look back and learn what was, and was not, important data for my journey, and I was able to refine my plan to focus on the most important things."

Click here to read more.

For over five years, I tracked every calorie I consumed and my estimated calories burnt. Then, I analyzed this data compared to other biometric and performance data to look for trends. I used the data to search for answers about why my weight changed (especially increases) or my performance decreased and why I didn’t achieve a personal record. I had it all down to a science and can tell you approximate calorie and nutrient amounts in nearly every food off the top of my head. Well, maybe not completely a science, because the numbers sometimes didn’t give exact answers because Humans Are Not Computers.

As I explained in Two Types of People, my top StrengthsFinder strength is competition (meaning I like to measure and compare my performance). I am also an Enneagram type 3, which means I sometimes define myself by my achievements.

My strengths and natural wiring found a home in my fitness journey, and I was a measuring fool.

A New Number

After five years, I have a new fitness number to share with you: 28.

It has been twenty-eight days since I last tracked my calorie/nutrient consumption and calorie burn.

After 1885 days, I stopped.

I am now living in a post-diet, post-weight loss world and trusting myself and my new habits to keep me healthy. The logging and tracking did their job, and I no longer need to depend on the numbers. My measurement was no longer serving me. I was too focused on it and risked allowing it to undermine my confidence in my abilities.

So, I am done with most of the measurements for now. I may use it again in the future if I decide that I want to change my body composition, but that can’t be a priority right now. My current priority needs to be living in a post-diet world and correcting my energy imbalance by living in a more maintenance-like status.

Most importantly, it is time to celebrate my new body that reflects lots of hard work and success and does so much to serve me every day!

Yes, it feels odd to wean myself from the measurement that helped me succeed. But, it is also a little freeing to trust myself and spend less time looking at my data.

The Measurement Trap

Throughout my journey, I have written extensively about my numbers and my good and bad weeks. Both types of weeks were defined by whether the numbers were going my way.

This all got me thinking…. Why do I seem to live and die by my numbers? Why is it so hard to just be happy and not let the numbers have power over me? Why do the numbers mean so much? Is there something bigger at play here?

These very personalized questions quickly expaded to something bigger. The answers apply to many people, especially us high-achievers.

The answer: The Measurement Trap.

The Measurement Trap is our tendency to over-measure and over-value the measurement of our performance. We lose perspective that the numbers are simply an indicator of whether or not we are on track. Instead, we begin to allow the numbers to define us as success or failure.

In a diet/weight loss context, this is how this looks. Imagine asking yourself the following questions:

  • Did I eat within my calorie budget for the day?
  • Did I have a significant calorie deficit (difference in calories I consumed versus what my fitness tracker said I burnt)? 
  • Did my weight go down or at least hold steady?

For each one of these questions, the measurement trap means that we define a “yes” as us being a success, and a “no” means we are a failure. The numbers become more important than how we actually feel about ourselves.

But this doesn’t work!

Happiness is not a number, it is not a tangible achievement, and it is certainly not a goal weight.

It’s Everywhere!

The measurement trap isn’t limited to being a byproduct of diet culture; it is all around us! We are constantly being measured and evaluated as successes or failures based on the next achievement.

In school, grades are a measurement of performance. You have to work hard to get good grades.

Then you go into the world of work and try to get the increasing job titles from specialist to lead to a manager to a senior manager to director to senior director and on and on. If there is a next, you aren’t happy until you reach it.

With the job titles come the money. You continue measuring your income as a sign of achievement that makes you happy.

As your income increases, so does your net worth, unless you are taking on massive debt. As this number goes up, you can afford things like the ever bigger and nicer houses and cars.

Plus, I could go on and on about sports, video games, politics, social standing, well-kept lawns and many other examples of places where we measure success and progress.

We are taught from a very young age to measure our success through tangible achievements. And we have constructed many yardsticks to use to do this. Health and fitness numbers are just another one of these yardsticks. When the numbers are progressing, we are winning; when they slip backward or stagnate, we lose.

So what do we do?

I have discussed many times that weight loss isn’t tied to any single secret. It is about a series of habits that help you maintain a balance of diet, exercise, sleep, hydration and many other factors. We can apply this same metaphor to our happiness.

Setting goals, tracking progress, measuring and collecting achievements are important. I live my life this way every day and never see that stopping. These steps on the road are intended to help improve my happiness at certain stations and roles in life. But that alone is not happiness and must always be balanced with other things.

Measuring performance is essential when auditing current behaviors, changing habits or pursuing a specific goal. But, once that habit changes or goal is achieved, the tracking can, and should, stop.

You are NOT your numbers!

The more valuable ongoing daily measurements are ones without numbers associated with them.

  • How do you feel?
  • How is your life going?
  • For what are you grateful? 
  • What do you love about yourself? 
  • What is one thing you love about your body?
  • Are you happy? 

There are countless daily measurements that have no numbers tied to them and can help avoid and escape the measurement trap. By focusing on the wide-reaching aspects of our happiness, we can consider the numbers in the broader context. This will stop any one or two numbers from having too much power over our happiness.

Excerpt from Reflections on Leadership:

"Sometimes the best way to track performance is not a number at all. Many leaders journal every morning which often includes an aspect of tracking performance. I use my journal to track my performance in my life compared to various goals where I don't have numerical measurements."

Click here to read more.

And I am sure it will be just that easy… right?

So What

While celebrating a different kind of measurement streak, I started reflecting on “the measurement trap.” If you want to achieve success with a goal, measuring your daily progress is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. Just make sure to keep these numbers and measurements in their right place. Not everything that is important can be translated into a number. You and your happiness are certainly bigger than any set of measurements.

Need help building a measurement plan that will avoid this trap? Maybe it’s time to add a coach to your team.

Click Here to learn more about my Operation Melt coaching services.

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Disclaimer: The Operation Melt website and blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided on this website is intended for general consumer understanding and entertainment only. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. As health and nutrition research continuously evolves, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of any information presented on this website.

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