What Are You Measuring in Your Life?
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 their workout, and leaves the gym.
This isn’t a critique of their workout. In fact, it’s quite possible that they got a nice workout in. So, what is notable about this situation?
They didn’t measure anything. They didn’t track their workout. They didn’t count reps or weight or time or speed or any other metric. And so, they have no basis for knowing if they are 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 that we say are important to us, but 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 that 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 that 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, 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 actually 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 that 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 that 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 them 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?
Related: 5 Steps to Building a New Habit
James Clear is a writer and speaker focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. He is the author of the no. 1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. The book has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Clear is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work has been featured in places like Time magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and on CBS This Morning. His popular "3-2-1" email newsletter is sent out each week to more than 1 million subscribers. You can learn more and sign up at jamesclear.com.