Progress, according to Merriam-Webster, is “forward and onward movement.” Isn’t that what every business owner desires?
We want to know that we are moving forward in the right direction. We want to know that we are making progress toward what matters most to us.
And yet, we all get sidetracked from time to time — looking back on the seasons of our lives and recognizing we didn’t make the progress we intended to make.
How does that happen, and what can we do to ensure we’re not accidentally sabotaging our progress? Let’s dive into five ways you may be sabotaging your progress and not even realize it.
1. Expecting everything to change overnight
I’ve heard it said that we overestimate how much our lives can change in a day, while underestimating how much our lives can change in a year. The same is surely true about our income, our businesses, and our careers.
When we put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve an outcome immediately, it has the opposite effect of what we intended. Instead of motivating ourselves, we end up discouraged and defeated.
Your life and business are probably not going to completely change overnight — at least, not on a regular basis. However, if you commit to consistently making progress and moving in the right direction, you might be shocked at what you can accomplish.
Simple math tells us that if you increase anything by 1% every single day, you will have multiplied it by 37 by the end of the year. James Clear teaches this principle as the “art of continuous improvement.”
Stop expecting everything to change overnight, and embrace the process that is personal growth.
2. Measuring the wrong indicators
You can’t make progress toward your goals if you don’t even know what progress looks like. While that may sound like an obvious truth, you’d be surprised by how many people I talk to who don’t know what kind of progress matters to them most.
Here are some questions to help you discover the metrics you should be paying attention to:
What do I want?
After six years of coaching hundreds of people, you’d be surprised by how many individuals I have worked with who are not in touch with their desires at all. Sure, they might know where they prefer to get sushi after work, but they don’t know or acknowledge what they want most deeply out of their lives. Many of us have accepted blindly what society tells us to want, as if there was one American dream that will magically fulfill us all. Others have succumbed to the agenda of various people in their lives, whether it be parents or relatives or friends. None of these answers can actually lead you down the path of true meaning and satisfaction. You must answer for yourself — what do I want?
How will I know I got what I wanted?
Give yourself a clear description and paint a vivid picture. If you claim that you want to “get fit,” for example, the next question is going to be difficult to answer, because you have a vague definition of success that provides no direction on how to get there. If you instead choose a goal like “losing 20 pounds,” “working out five days a week,” or “a visible six pack,” you know exactly what you are moving toward, and now you have an end goal to reverse engineer.
What steps must happen in that process?
Although the famous song describes going from zero to 100 “real quick,” it hardly ever happens quickly in real life. There’s a process involved with many steps in between for everything we desire to accomplish. Hopefully it won’t take 100 steps, but you do need to determine what steps will be required in your journey. The good news is, no matter what outcome you are pursuing, there are surely others who have already gotten there and can share their experience with you. Reverse engineer the path to figure out what step one looks like for you today.
How do I want to feel along the way?
This question may be the most important one of all. I’ve often said to clients: The end does not justify the means, but rather, the means create the end. Whatever energy you put into the process will end up leaking into your final product. Make sure you know how you want to feel when all is said and done, and then make it a priority to begin generating that feeling right now. If you postpone the feeling now, you’ll probably still withhold it from yourself after you cross the finish line.
These four questions will help you determine what progress you most want to see.
If you’re an entrepreneur, for example, you may determine that progress looks like building your client base, increasing client retention, and boosting your sales numbers. If that’s what matters to you most, it’s important to keep that at the forefront of your focus. If you instead end up measuring things like Instagram followers and how many people like your posts, you might end up trying to win a game that doesn’t even matter to you in the long run.
Don’t make the mistake of measuring progress that doesn’t matter, only to realize the goals and dreams that matter most have gotten left behind.
3. Comparing yourself to others
Over my six-year journey of building a business, nothing has slowed down my own progress more than getting lost in the comparison game.
On his podcast interview with me, John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire shared one of his favorite sayings: “Compare and despair.” I couldn’t agree more. Comparison will never lead us to the progress we desire.
The classic example of the comparison trap is athletes running a race. It literally slows a runner down to take a split second to look to their right or left; they cannot pay attention to what others are doing without having their own pace be affected. I believe the exact same dynamic is true for each of us as we strive toward our own goals and dreams.
If we’re caught up in what other people around us are thinking, saying, or building, we lose energy and momentum around what’s in front of us to create.
4. Filling your time with activities that don’t produce income or fulfillment
I talk to entrepreneurs constantly who tell me how busy they are, and I understand they are telling me the truth. The vast majority of business owners feel incredibly busy in their everyday lives.
Now, there’s nothing wrong necessarily with having a full schedule or working long hours, but it’s important that we are aware of what our busyness entails. If all it amounts to is a whole bunch of busy work, we may in fact be wasting our time.
I challenge my clients to look at the activities that are filling up their calendars and ask the following two questions:
Is this making me money?
Be honest with yourself here. Don’t settle for a vague answer like, “Well, it’s related to my business, so I suppose it does.” Most business owners are spending tons of time on activities that don’t actually increase their profit at all. So look for a direct connection. Is what you’re about to spend time on actually going to (at least potentially) result in income?
Does this bring me fulfillment?
Only you can determine what brings fulfillment to you, but it’s important to know what that feels like within yourself and to note the activities that create the feeling. This question should be easy to answer, because we know it when we feel it.
Everything that you do should answer at least one of those questions with a resounding “yes.” Obviously, everything does not have to be income generating to be worthwhile. You should spend time with your kids, for example, even if you could be working more instead. So it’s not that we are trying to cut every possible thing that isn’t profitable.
But if you’re going to do something that isn’t making you money, it better serve another purpose in your life — bringing you happiness, meaning, and fulfillment.
What we want to avoid is the category of busy-work activities that lead us nowhere.
Especially early on in someone’s business journey, it’s easy to get caught up in chores like updating your website, making business cards, or reformatting your social media that allow you to feel productive, but don’t necessarily affect your bottom line. If you stay in this pattern for too long, you’ll end up frustrated and defeated, wondering why you’re putting in so much work and can’t make progress.
Remember: It should move you forward or give you fulfillment if you’re going to spend substantial time on it.
5. Trying to create success from the outside in
When it comes to progress, the ultimate trap is believing that you can force external change without changing who you are internally.
While that methodology may create temporary results, it doesn’t produce progress that lasts and feels good.
One of my favorite spiritual texts, “A Course in Miracles,” teaches that you can’t have something you are not willing to be. While this might sound like hippie metaphysical jargon to you, there’s a deep truth here that’s extremely relevant to every business owner.
You must become the CEO, entrepreneur, or leader who consistently makes progress as a part of who you are.
We always reset our lives back to the truth of who we believe that we are. If you limit your progress to the surface level, you will end up undoing the progress you’ve made and reset back to what has become your normal.
Everything that lasts is built from the inside out. Progress happens that way, too.
So yes, there are plenty of distractions and pitfalls that can slow down our progress temporarily, but if we know what to watch out for and what to prioritize, it is completely possible to stay on track and move forward in the right direction consistently.
Here’s the message I’d like to leave you with today:
You are right where you are intended to be. Don’t get distracted. Don’t get discouraged.
Know what matters to you and keep it in front of you. You may not get there overnight, but if you stay in the flow and stay true to your path, you will indeed get there.
I believe in you, and I always will.
This article was originally published on Business Insider.
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