12. Do you measure up?

For the past couple of weeks we have been talking about acquiring the habit of measurement. We discussed the importance of measuring progress and eliciting feedback as essential habits to follow in our daily pursuit of perfection.

When I began this Habits blog some 12 weeks ago, I issued a 30 day challenge to those interested in addressing the negative affirmations that haunt so many of us and replacing them with uplifting, positive and affirming messages.

We are all too aware of the impact those “tapes” in our heads have on our sense of self-worth and the role they all too often play in keeping us imprisoned inside the thick walls of self-doubt, self-criticism and self-loathing.

Ever since that day way back on January 9th when I first issued this challenge, I have received a steady stream of calls from people at various stages of their 30 day mission.

While some abandoned this project within the first few days, the majority seem to have stayed committed to the ideal for the full 30 day period and, indeed, a number of folks have continued well beyond their 30 days and still text me each day with the day # and the word “Done.”

Each participant, whether they stayed the course or not, used a system of measurement or feedback to evaluate their progress and then determine their next move(s).

Their measurement began the very day they sat down with pen and paper to record their list of affirmations.

As they pondered what to place on the list, their emotions became the measuring stick by which they determined the “stay” or “go” of every line they wrote.

And as each one of them began their daily ritual they used the same system of measurement to determine whether they would stay with the process, quit the process, increase/decrease frequency and/or intensity of their process and alter, modify, add or delete the content of their affirmations.

In other words each person used their own internal measurement to determine whether this practice was worth pursuing or whether to discontinue the activity.

Regardless of the conclusion reached, all decisions made pertaining to this exercise were arrived at as a result of some measure of the progress being made or not made.

Interestingly, those folks who stayed the course for 30 days and beyond, and who have communicated directly with me, have all reported that the progress they made resulted from their own subjective measurement of how they were doing and then from the changes they made.

They listened and paid attention to their own feelings and modified what they were doing so as to produce stronger, more permanent results.

There is no other way of knowing whether we are on the right track. Measuring our results and paying attention to feedback – be it external or simply our own feelings communicating with us – are vital to any success we hope to achieve.

The old saying, “if it matters, measure it,” renders a truth that is ignored at our own peril. The universe has a unique way of communicating with us and letting us know how we are doing.

When we are in pursuit of a goal, measuring the results of everything we do enables us to enhance effectiveness and speed up progress. By not measuring we leave ourselves vulnerable to the dubious world of assuming and we all know that when we assume facts not in evidence we position ourselves firmly on the road to self-delusion.

And that just doesn’t measure up.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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11. Measuring pizza is easy as pie.

I received an interesting phone call last week from a man I have never met before.

He called to comment on last week’s blog on the topic of measurement and wanted me to know how using measurements as a marketing tool has more than tripled his business.

He owns a small, family restaurant, specializing in pizza, in a nearby residential community. He has long known that distributing flyers around the neighborhood always leads to a short-term surge in sales and for a number of years he has engaged the services of local kids to walk the neighborhood every six weeks and place flyers in each mailbox.

One day he became curious. He started wondering what impact these flyers were having on his business, how many people were actually reading them and to what degree they were being influenced by the specials offered in each flyer.

He carefully wordsmithed his next flyer and offered a free 2 litre bottle of pop with each large pizza ordered for delivery.

He then began a campaign of data-gathering and precise measurement.

He prepared a short questionnaire so as to ask each customer the same questions and personally spoke with every customer who phoned in a delivery order.

He asked if they had read the flyer, had they ever ordered from him before and, if yes, how many times, did the flyer influence the type of pizza they were ordering, did the offer of a free 2 litre bottle of pop help persuade them to order from him, and several other questions he thought pertinent.

He dutifully recorded all answers onto a spreadsheet and monitored how many phone-in orders he received on the day the flyers were delivered, the next day and so on.

He also turned his attention to those customers coming into the restaurant to eat. He visited each table, asked several questions and recorded the answers. He kept track of how many customers visited the restaurant on the day the flyers were delivered, the next day and so on.

A few weeks later he distributed a revised flyer, this time offering an additional incentive to customers to come into the restaurant to eat.

And again, he spoke with each phone-in customer and visited every table, always gathering information, recording and studying his findings.

As he continued his research over several months certain pieces of the information he had been gathering started yelling out to him.

And each time he gleaned a new piece of information he changed something on his menu or in the flyers or both.

And after each change, he meticulously measured the results.

The data told him that his flyers contained too much information, so he shortened them and sold more pizza.

The data told him which price points had the widest appeal to his customers, so he modified his prices and sold more pizza.

The data told him which toppings his customers preferred, so he changed his menu to include more offerings with those toppings and sold more pizza.

The data told him which times during the month his flyers had the greatest impact, so he amended his delivery schedule and sold more pizza.

The data told him that the free dessert he was offering to in-house customers had no impact on increasing his business, so he started charging for desserts and sold many more of them.

We talked on the phone for quite a long time and he laughingly told me that the best business decision he ever made was the day he decided to quit the restaurant business and go into the data collection and measurement business.

He told me how much he had enjoyed reading my blog last week, thanked me and hung up.

He didn’t offer me a free pizza.

Or even a free 2 litre bottle of pop.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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10. By any measure, this is a smart thing to do.

It has long been said by the uninformed that practice makes perfect.

The well-intentioned but erroneous thought behind that statement is that if we practice something long enough, hard enough, and often enough we will reach a higher level of skill and proficiency.

The glaring weakness in that statement is an obvious one. If we consistently practice doing something incorrectly, or poorly, we will simply better getting better and better at doing it poorly.

So the challenge, in order to achieve perfection, becomes the practice of perfection. In other words, as the revised version reads, “perfect practice makes perfect.”

This brings us to our topic for the next three weeks: the Habit of Seeking Feedback – the Habit of Measurement.

The difference between imperfect practice and the perfect practice of making perfect is determined by the degree to which we value feedback.

Feedback is the information source that tells us how we are doing and whether we are heading towards where we want to be or just aimlessly going around in circles.

An old axiom reminds us that “if it matters, measure it” and fanatical measurement is one of the great secrets of producing changed or different results in our lives.

I have a friend who at age 37, found himself in the unenviable position of becoming a cardiac patient following a heart attack which took place while he was sitting at his desk eating a Big Mac and fries and washing it all down with a supersized chocolate milkshake.

At that time he tipped the scales at a svelte 335 pounds. My friend is five feet, eight inches tall.

There is little doubt that an event of this nature would certainly bring urgency into one’s life and it certainly did with my friend. He set out, in his words, to re-engineer himself so that he could be around another 50 years.

Interestingly, my friend is an engineer and he set about this task with the ruthless efficiency and attention to detail that is the hallmark of his profession.

You might say he became obsessed with this project. He measured everything.

He adopted a particular nutrition style and began by weighing and measuring every morsel of food that passed his lips.

Then he measured the results.

He weighed himself every single day and used the results to determine and re-plan and rearrange the quantities of his caloric intake. He began walking. This was awkward for him because of the painful strain on his joints but he persevered and in relatively short time had progressed from barely being able to walk one block to walking one mile a day and then two and then three.

And he measured everything. He measured how long he walked, the distance he walked, how long it took him, his pulse rate pre-walk and post walk.

He bought a BP machine to monitor his blood pressure and established a weekly measurement comparison so as to compare the results from one week to the next and then make small, minor adjustments.

Now we might think this attention to detail and measurement is a bit excessive, but my friend would heartily disagree. He began his journey slightly more than five years ago and three weeks ago he completed his 9th marathon. He now has his eye on Iron Man competitions.

He has relaxed his intense focus on measurement slightly over the past years and yet remains somewhat fanatical about his awareness of how he treats his body.

That’s not to say he doesn’t take days off and indulge in some of the joyful pleasures there were part of his previous daily life. He still visits McDonald’s now and again to get his favourite fix.

If you ask him he will tell you that he would never have been able to stick with the program he put himself on had he not regularly measured the results because the frequent measurements provided him with two opportunities to choose from.

The first opportunity was to make small changes if the results were not to his satisfaction.  The second, greater, opportunity was to celebrate every little success along the way, no matter how small.

He had bought a digital scale which allowed him to measure his weight in nanoparticles and each time his weight dropped by as little as one a fraction of a gram, he celebrated the victory.

And each celebration created the inspiration to continue.

And on those occasions when his measurements provided “bad” news? The bad news was just data to be analyzed in order to create improvements.

He will tell you that the quality of our decisions is directly proportional to the quality of objective, measureable data and it is next to impossible for us to do better at anything without first measuring our present results.

Seeking feedback is the best way to get to the best way.

And adopting this habit is a true measure of your commitment to succeed.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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9. Grandma knows best.

As soon as the server placed his meal in front of him my friend Daniel picked up his knife and fork and, with planned intention, gently moved one food item off to the side of his plate.

He then systematically consumed everything else on his plate and, once the relocated item was all that was left, set about devouring it with obvious enjoyment.

I have enjoyed many meals with Daniel over the long period of our friendship and have always been intrigued by his habit of sliding one item to the side of his plate for later consumption. This time I decided to ask why?

Before I tell you how he responded I should tell you a little bit about Daniel first.

If I was asked to select one word to define Daniel that word would be “disciplined.”

Daniel is one of these rare people who accomplishes everything he sets out to do. I have always been amazed by his innate ability to focus and never allow anything to deter him from the task at hand.

He has an extremely successful career, a delightful family and keeps himself in impressive physical shape.

So when I asked him about the strange habit of his, he told me that he has done this for as long as he can remember. He said he began doing this when he was a child and was visiting his grandparents.

His grandmother had baked his favorite treat – chocolate cake. She had placed a rather sizable piece on a plate and had lovingly watched as he had attacked it with gusto.

Like so many of us, he had eaten his favorite part – the icing – first and was working his way through the cake part of the cake when his grandmother had asked why he had chosen to begin with the icing.

He explained to his grandmother that icing was his favorite part and she had taught him something that has stood him in good stead ever since.

She told him about the concept of always “saving the best for last,” and had convinced him that if he saved the icing until the end he would be more than doubling his enjoyment of the cake because as much as he would be enjoying the cake part of the cake, he would still have the real prize – the icing – to look forward to.

Daniel went on to tell me that his grandmother’s advice has played a role in almost every decision he has made since then.

“Saving the best for last,” has allowed him to push aside temptation to do things that would feel good in the moment and would trigger regret later on.

Daniel told me that he has seen many colleagues damage their careers by doing things that perhaps made them feel good in the moment and then came back to haunt them later on.

A regular attendee at his gym, he said that frequently the motivation that has enabled him to sustain a decades long regimen of three grueling workouts per week has come from reminding himself, at those times when all he wants to do is go home and collapse onto his couch, how good he will feel after he pushes himself through the workout regimen.

Interestingly, Daniel had not heard the term “delayed gratification” prior to our lunch and yet he is the very embodiment of what that means.

He absolutely gets the notion that if we push aside temptation today we will invariably reap far greater pleasure tomorrow.

And the wonderful life he has built for himself and his family attests to the truthfulness of that statement.

Mastering the Habit of Delayed Gratification will not guarantee success in every undertaking but staying with the Habit of Immediate Gratification will almost always ensure a life of endless frustration and self-disappointment.

I think we would all benefit mightily by following the sage advice of Daniel’s grandmother and committing to the habit of “saving the best for last.”

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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