One of the areas of improvement that can easily derail my efforts is to spend too much time judging my progress. Because we tend to set goals based on the outcome we hope to achieve, we want to have metrics and analysis to show that we are heading towards success.
The focus shifts from making slow progress towards our goals, to judging if we are getting there fast enough. The times when I have been caught up in this were times I failed. I would abandon what was working because it wasn’t working fast enough, and switch to something that I thought would work quicker but didn’t actually work at all.
A good example is in investing. If we are making a small return on my money but hope to make a greater return we have to take on riskier investments. But riskier investments do not actually mean a greater return, necessarily. It just means they are more volatile and hold a greater likelihood of failure.
But I noticed the same thing when I exercise. If I make drastic increases in my exercise I tend to get overly sore or injured. The soreness prevents me from sticking to my routine and the injury might keep me away from exercise for weeks.
But we can’t get complacent. This is a great paradox. If we become complacent and don’t strive to get better we won’t improve. But if we challenge ourselves too much we add unnecessary risk.
Therefore the key is to challenge yourself and continue to add to our habits and routines but to do so systematically. We have to make sure we aren’t doing something that might result in increased rewards but also increases risk. We have to systematically challenge ourselves and account for added risk.
For me this has always been about slow growth. By slowly improving we can reduce the risk significantly and we also reduce the likelihood of failure.
But it can be very difficult to achieve a slow rate of improvement in today’s fast-paced world. We no longer seem to look to the business owner down the street as an example of success we look at Mark Zuckerberg. We get caught up in the one example of extreme success without realizing the risks they took to get where they are.
And we know that risks carry an element of luck with them. If we could control all factors it wouldn’t be risky. The fact that there are things outside of our control means that there are external factors that we don’t have control over. So don’t get too caught up in the extremes, instead just make sure you are progressing.
This is one phenomenon that has been fascinating to me. We tend to look at extreme success examples and then assume that everything they do is successful. We do this and then become shocked when we find that they aren’t perfect and have actually done some evil things.
We see Lance Armstrong as the ultimate example of hard work and perseverance one day, and then a cheater the next. We see Bill Cosby as an example of great success by someone doing the right thing, and then we see him as a disgraceful rapist.
To me this means that we should stop looking to extremes, making a comprehensive judgment of their character and then assuming everything in their life follows that judgment.
Instead we have to look at people as human and realize that both good and bad always exist together. We have to take the same approach with our goals. Then we can move beyond trying to judge and instead focus on improvement.
In the book, In The Secret Service - The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life, by Jerry Parr the author talks about this. Because of his profession, he had to remove his opinion of the individual and focus solely on protecting the person regardless of what he or she stood for.
In the book he explains, “I reflected that life is paradoxical. Good people sometimes do bad things. That doesn’t make it okay. But the Bible tells us that God loved David, an adulterer and a murderer. Jesus loved prostitutes, Roman soldiers, even tax collectors who cheated the people. I’m not sure what Jesus meant when he warned, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,’ but as I get older I realize that life is not lived out in black and white but in the complexity of the gray.”
Using systems and habits to slowly improve takes into account this gray area. It can be used in many ways, to do good or bad. It takes into account the middle gray area, rather than looking to extremes.
So don’t waste time judging and don’t focus on the extreme examples of failure and success. Instead look towards improving and make your sole focus on making progress towards your goal.