Swimming, Splashing or Sinking: Are You Making Progress Towards Your Goals?

Maybe you’ve started a new health and fitness plan. Maybe you’re working on a grand project that will make you millions. Maybe you’re sorting out your financial situation once and for all.

Whatever your goal is, you’re know you are putting in a lot of effort. But, do you know that you are making progress?
It’s a bit like being in the pool: you might be churning through the water, leaving others gasping in your wake, or you may be treading water and keeping afloat, or you could be out of your depth and about to hit trouble.

You need to figure out whether you’re swimming, splashing or sinking. Once you understand that, you can either change course or proceed confidently. Not knowing your progress will eventually sink you so let’s prepare to be honest with ourselves and determine where we really are.

Swimming
We all know what swimming looks like:

  • Not just staying afloat, but making forward progress
  • Moving in the right direction
  • Keeping up a good pace

Think about one of the big goals you’re working towards – maybe one which you’re beginning to have serious doubts about. Have you made any real progress over the last month? For example:

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, has that number on the scale changed? What about your waist and hips measurements?

  • If you’re aiming to be the next JK Rowling or Dan Brown, how many words have you written recently? Has anyone praised your writing? Have you sent anything to short story magazines, agents or editors?

  • If you’re building up an emergency fund, how much money have you put into your savings account?

Hopefully you have made some progress. If so, you might want to think about how you can speed up. Alternatively, you may need to consider taking a breather; there’s no point swimming faster and faster until you’re exhausted.

Splashing
Sometimes, it’s tricky to tell the difference between splashing and swimming. Here are some warning signs that you might be splashing and expending a lot of energy without getting any closer to your goals:

  • You’re making a lot of noise, but you’re not moving much. (You talk about your project a lot, but never do any work on it.)
  • You keep “doing stuff” but you’re not sure if it’s taking you closer to your goal or further away.
  • You made progress to begin with, but you seem to have stalled.

Could you be splashing rather than swimming? The unfortunate thing about splashing is that you can be working really hard without making any real progress. For example, you’re splashing:

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be spending a lot of money on “diet foods”, magazines and club membership fees … yet you aren’t any thinner.
  • If you want to finish a novel, you might talk to other writers a lot, make loads of plans, have great ideas … yet you’re not doing any actual writing.
  • If you want to improve your financial situation, you might be keeping a spending log religiously … but you’re not making any changes in your shopping habits.

If you suspect you might be splashing, what tasks are you doing that are just “noise”? What do you need to do in order to move forwards again?

Sinking
Both swimming and splashing can turn into something dangerous: sinking. If your goal has become a burden, or if you’ve gone backwards instead of forwards, you might end up overwhelmed. If you’re sinking:

  • You need someone to throw you a lifebelt – or lend you a hand
  • You have to stop and recover your energy
  • You may need to get out of the water completely

So what does this mean in terms of your grand project? You’re sinking when:

  • Your goal was weight-loss butyou’ve gained 10lbs in the past couple of months.
  • The thought of writing your novel makes you want to scream,and spring cleaning the house is more appealing.
  • Instead of saving up money, you’re getting deeper and deeper into debt.

When you’re sinking, don’t hesitate to call for help. You might want to talk to a friend, seek professional advice (this could be from a doctor, a life coach or a financial advisor, depending on the area where you’re struggling). And in some cases, consider getting out of the water: you don’t have to write that novel, run that blog, volunteer for that group, or take that course. Yes, sometimes it is important to push through difficult patches in order to achieve what you want – but not at the cost of your physical or mental health.

Where are you?
So, how’re you getting on with that big project – whether it’s a personal, business or academic venture? Are you swimming, splashing or sinking – and what are you doing to make sure you stay in (or get back to) a good position?

Written on 10/24/2008 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: Whatsername?
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