Track Your Progress: How Quantifying Priorities Leads To Improvement

by James Clear

Imagine this: Someone walks into the gym, warms up, does a little bit of this exercise, does a little bit of that exercise, bounces around to a few machines, maybe hops on the treadmill, finishes the workout and leaves the gym.

This isn’t a critique of this person's workout. In fact, it’s quite possible he or she got in a nice one. So, what is notable about this situation?

This person didn’t measure anything. He or she didn’t count reps, weight, time, speed or any other metric. And so, this person has no basis for knowing if he or she is making progress or not.

Not tracking your progress is one of the six major mistakes I see people make in the gym.

But, here’s the thing: We all have areas of life we say are important to us that we aren’t measuring.

What We Measure, We Improve

Count something. Regardless of what one ultimately does in medicine — or outside of medicine, for that matter — one should be a scientist in this world. In the simplest terms, this means one should count something. It doesn’t really matter what you count. You don’t need a research grant. The only requirement is that what you count should be interesting to you. — Atul Gawande, "Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance"

The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking we have any idea if we are getting better or worse.

When I measured how many pushups I did, I got stronger. When I tracked my reading habit of 20 pages per day, I read more books. When I recorded my values, I began living with more integrity.

Our lives are shaped by how we choose to spend our time and energy each day. Measuring can help us spend that time in better ways, more consistently.

It’s Not About the Result, It’s About Awareness

The trick is to realize counting, measuring and tracking is not about the result. It’s about the system, not the goal.

Measure from a place of curiosity. Measure to discover, to find out, and to understand. Measure from a place of self-awareness.

Measure to get to know yourself better. Measure to see if you are showing up.

Measure to see if you’re spending time on the things that are important to you.

You Can’t Measure Everything

Critics will be quick to point out that you can’t measure everything. This is true.

Love is important, but how do you measure it? Morality is important, but can it be quantified accurately? Finding meaning in our lives is essential, but how do you calculate it?

Furthermore, there are some things in life that don’t need to be measured. Some people just love working out for the sake of working out.

Measuring every repetition might reduce the satisfaction and make it seem more like a job. There is nothing wrong with that.

As always, take the main idea and use it in a way that is best for you.

Measurement won’t solve everything. It is not an ultimate answer to life. However, it is a way to track something critical.

Are you showing up in the areas you say are important to you?

The Idea in Practice

But, even for things that can’t be quantified, measuring can be helpful. And, it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.

You can’t measure love, but you can track different ways you are showing up with love in your life: send a digital love note to your partner each day (text, email, voicemail, tweet, etc.) and use the Seinfeld Strategy to keep track of your streak; schedule one “Surprise Appreciation” each week where you write to a friend and thank him or her for something unexpected.

You can’t measure morality, but you can track if you’re thinking about it: write down three values that are dear to you each morning; keep a decision journal to track which decisions you make, and whether or not they align with your ethics.

The things we measure are the things we improve. What are you measuring in your life?

James Clear writes at, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

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