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Words to Measure Progress


The words you use to describe your progress are key, so you’ll want to know which ones will move you forward and which will keep you stuck. Here are ways to think and talk about how well you’re doing. I’m guessing they might be quite different than the thoughts and self-talk you’re using now.

Small steps. Describe progress as modest changes rather than looking for success in one fell swoop. The discussion of how to phrase progress came up with a client who said that she’s not doing any big things differently but is making small changes which are adding up. She’s going to the gym when she can, pacing her work to be less stressful, encouraging her children to be more active, not keeping juice easily accessible to them, and giving them more responsibility for thinking about consequences and taking care of themselves.

Recognize success. I’ve written how the word try doesn’t give us enough credit when we’re doing something well or right and that it’s best to avoid using it. So, rather than say, “I’m trying to allow myself to enjoy whatever I’m eating” when you mean that’s exactly what you have done, just remove the word “trying” from the sentence, even when you haven’t succeeded every time. You want to speak to yourself as if you’re making progress.

Think and speak positively. My client referenced above kept saying about her eating journey, “I’m not there yet.” Now what image does that conjure up for you—someone whose making progress or failing to do so. It sounds like the latter to me, so I suggested my client say, “I’m on my way.” When you get into the car for a long road trip what might you say to yourself, “Hurray, I’m on my way” or “I’m not there yet”? I hope you’d choose the former because it puts your situation in a positive light. It might even make you excited. Saying “I’m not there yet” just might bum you out or prevent forward movement.

We tend not to think about our self-talk because it’s habitual and like background noise We don’t even always hear what we say to ourselves, but it still has an impact on us because our brains are absorbing and taking instruction from it. Remember that you decide how you view your progress, not someone else. Choose words that contain positive emotion—feeling proud, moving forward, zipping along, going slowly but surely, getting there, off to a great start, turning a corner, moving at a comfortable clip, seeing progress, growing healthier or stronger, engaged in healing, recovering. What are the words that make you feel you’re going to make it? Find a bunch and say them often.