One of the things I love about the world of business is that it regularly serves up insights that are equally applicable to life in general. It provides a context where continuous improvement isn’t just desirable, it’s necessary. Because in business, if you aren’t innovating, you’re dying.
I think that’s true for us personally, too. Unless we are regularly fine-tuning our lives, we miss a great many growth opportunities, and eventually some part of us begins to atrophy.
One powerful means of personal innovation that I’ve borrowed from the business realm involves paying close, daily attention to incremental results.
At Life Time, for example, we track a few key business metrics every day. We pay close attention to how many people have joined and departed. We know which clubs are experiencing increases in traffic and which ones are down. We also pay close attention to how our customers are rating various aspects of our performance.
We watch these numbers closely, because we have learned that in those areas we measure regularly, we are most likely to achieve our big-picture goals — and to notice when we are getting even a little bit off course.
The same holds true in our personal lives. We have a higher chance of succeeding in the areas we assess every day. And we risk losing ground in any areas we tend to ignore or take for granted for weeks or months at a time.
In life, of course, it’s less about concrete numbers and more about our sense of relative satisfaction and achievement. But doing an end-of-day check-in on how things went, perhaps loosely rating how we felt about the quality of choices, our use of time, or other key metrics of success, can be an incredibly powerful practice. And if you don’t do these daily assessments, a number of things can go wrong.
First, you miss the opportunity to fix mistakes when they’re small. By measuring daily (both in business and in life) we can far more quickly spot negative and positive trends. We can put energy and resources into solving potential problems before they get out of hand. We also learn valuable lessons about what’s working well and can more quickly extend those successes to other areas.
Second, when we don’t do regular assessments, potential problems have a way of seeming more overwhelming than they are. By checking in daily, we’re making problem solving a part of our regular routine. Dealing with adversity becomes a less emotionally charged scenario and can be approached in a matter-of-fact way.
Third, if we don’t assess often and honestly enough, trouble spots have a way of becoming acceptable habits. We gradually adapt to negative trends we’d be better off nipping in the bud.
Let’s say that you place a high value on treating other people with care. But one day you’re in a bad mood. You’re short with a few people, maybe downright rude. If you were to reflect on your behavior that night, you might notice what triggered you and why. You’d have a chance to choose your responses more consciously the next day.
If you fail to reflect, however, you miss that opportunity. You risk allowing the negative behaviors and feelings to carry over, uninvestigated and unchallenged. If you continue on that path for a while, you may lose sight of your values-based intention and let your reactionary nature take over. Suddenly, you’re no longer a good, kind person who had one bad day. You’re an angry, lonely jerk who doesn’t understand why so many of his relationships have gone off the rails.
The way I see it, self-reflection is like anything else in life: Small and consistent beats grandiose and occasional. You don’t have to wait for the New Year or take a six-month road trip to undertake it. To start, try asking yourself a few basic questions:
- Where did I do some good or make some progress today?
- Where did I let myself or others down?
- What can I do to keep my good habits going?
- What can I do to address any negative triggers or trends before they get out of hand?
Answer these questions for even a few days running, and I’m guessing you’ll start to feel a greater sense of ownership and motivation around your chosen priorities. And pretty soon, you’ll start to see the kind of progress that only close, consistent daily attention can deliver.