How do you know you’re making progress? It’s a question implicit in self-development. Arguably, without a measure of how you are doing, how do you know you are doing anything at all?
I’d like to argue that there are several answers to this question, depending on how you like to see life, and how you like to assess things. I’ll focus below on just three.
1 – THE CALIBRATION METHOD
Calibration is the art of dividing life into scales. It is as though life were a jug, and you are painting levels onto the jug.
Calibrating your progress involves identifying a measurable output, and then periodically checking how you are doing. A lot of counselling services use such measures. There are official scales to measure, for instance, anxiety and depression. They get fancy names to make them sound professional.
An advantage of measuring your progress like this, is that you reduce subjectivity. Shared, objective measures are particularly good for biological improvements, such as weight change and shape change.
A disadvantage is that you are usually measuring an intermediate goal, not an ultimate goal. For instance, if you are losing weight to be happier, you might end up losing weight, but miserable. Your measuring hasn’t helped you, because you’re measuring the wrong thing.
2 – THE MYSTICAL METHOD
Mysticism is at the other end of the scale. No need to perform scientific measures – if you speculate that, somehow, you are making progress, then you are.
A mystical approach involves opening your senses, outer and inner, and respecting your subjective feelings.
An advantage of being mystical, and not measuring formally, is that you use all of your faculties, and make meaning out of your whole, individual experience. Your sense of your progress is more likely to be tailored to you personally.
A disadvantage is that you will find it extremely hard to share your progress with other people; also, your own sense of yourself may not always be reliable.
3 – CREATIVE CALIBRATION
What I’ll nickname ‘creative calibration’ is a mixture of the two. It’s an attempt to respect the fact that measures are helpful, but at the same time it respects that experience is personal.
It has three stages:
Draw a picture of your world, a ‘world map’, identifying where the good and bad bits are.
Choose key areas for improvement, and invent calibrations that make sense to you for these areas only.
Measure progress using these calibrations; but also refer back to your ‘world map’ and make narrative, subjective assessments.
An advantage of this method is that it locates self-development, including identifiable measures, in a dynamic world of personal meaning.
A disadvantage is that evaluating progress can still be somewhat personal and subjective, and lack shareability.
APPLICATION TO SELF-DEVELOPMENT
People approach life in different ways.
If you are a scientific soul, and prefer using universal measures, then perhaps depend on established scales.
If you are a mystical soul, and prefer to live in your own world, then perhaps use self-expression and journalling to explore your own story, to ‘make your own movie’, if you like.
If you want to try a middle way, then first write your own map of the world (on a notice board, for instance); then invent for yourself measures that make sense to you (it could be your very own questionnaire, for instance); and finally, refer back to your notice board, developing it dynamically.
If you want to try ‘creative calibration’, then here is one way to start:
Get hold of a notice board, and divide it into two sections, labelled ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. In ‘heaven’, place images and words which represent where you want to go. In ‘hell’, place images and words which represent blocks, things you want to move away from.
Looking at your notice board, develop 3 scales of improvement. For each scale, draw a line with 5 segments. In segment 1, describe your worst state. In segment 5, describe your ideal state. In between, describe your stages. (For example, if one of your scales is weight, segment 1 might say ‘I feel heavy and cumbersome’; segment 5 might say ‘I feel light and very mobile’. If you prefer objective scales, then add numbers related to your BMI, perhaps)
Diarise when you are going to score yourself against those scales, and do it.
After a while, you can revisit your notice board, and change anything that now seems irrelevant. The idea is to remain dynamic, and respect the fact that it is your personal world, and priorities change.
I use a modified version of this often in counselling – getting to know the client’s world, negotiating a sense of what improvement looks like, and then periodically reviewing progress. Often, it is not formal, but shared in conversation. Personally, I’m not a great believer in too much so-called objective measurement, and I like to help others create personalised languages of improvement. But I am extremely happy to use objective measures if they help.
Measuring progress can be a helpful part of self-development. We can use objective, scientific measures; we can use our own subjective intuition; or we can creatively combine the two.
Why not try picturing your world, and developing some improvement measures that suit your personal world-view? You may find this an effective way to encourage and direct growth.