The Importance of Measurement

Over the weekend I went to a retreat for a leadership group that I am a part of. The theme of the retreat was centered around a book called, “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon. I highly recommend reading the book. On the final day of the retreat we talked about some real ways that we can measure how we’re doing in life. I thought that I would share some of my strategies in this blog that I’ve used, some of what I learned, and some new things I’m going to try.

Habit Tracking

The first book I read last year was called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. In it there is a theory of getting one percent better every day. Clear uses an example of the British national bike racing team that focused on getting one percent better, on fixing and improving small things. After five years of doing this, the team won 60% of gold medals at the olympics and after another 4 years, it did even better. To read about this story, check out this link.

After reading this book I decided to try getting one percent better every day. Previous to this decision I had taken some time at the end of 2018 to lay out what I thought the ideal person might look like. I wrote about excellence of body, mind, and soul and what entail. My goal in 2019 was get better in all three areas. Another concept that Clear talked about in his book is the idea of consistency. Consistent habits builds long-term habits.

So, I started using a habit tracking app. The app, Habit Share, pictured below, shows some of the habits that I have been working on.

Some of the habits that I’ve been working on.

As you can see, I’m not perfect by any stretch. However, this app has been helping me get better. This app both rewards me for success and shows me how long I have been doing something. By measuring how often and for how long I’ve been doing my habits, I hold myself accountable to keep them going.

Friends/Family — Qualitative Info

Another key way to measure my success in life is less data-driven. I like to seek out feedback from people around me about how I’m doing in my life. Late last year I decided to survey some of my closest friends, family, and mentors about how I’m doing. I asked questions like: “Do I leave you feeling better after we talk?” and “What are some of my weaknesses or things that are holding me back?” If you want to fill it out or check out the questions, you can here. Getting this feedback really helped me focus in on the things that I need to work on. I am a very reflective person but sometimes I need to hear from the outside more details that I haven’t noticed about myself. It can be hard to always self-identify the areas we need to grow.

Those closest to us can also act as support systems to help us build habits and measure success. A new idea I had this past weekend was to set up friends around me as tripwires. A tripwire is a response to an “if, then” statement. For example: I can say to a housemate: “If I wake you up, text me to tell me.” This is a simple one. Most are more data driven. For example, a company could create a data tracking system and have it notify the CEO when the average turnover goes above 5%. Tripwires are used to call out when something happens that might be missed or looked over due to overwhelm, inability to know, or confirmation bias. I want to use tripwires in my life to support my habits and to measure my success. A new one that I am thinking of is to clearly ask my friends to call me out when the way I’m acting doesn’t align with either what I say I will do or what my values are. By having outside sources call me out, I believe that I will have to respond to situations more quickly.


Earlier today (while at the gym – habit check!) I was listening to a podcast with Tim Ferriss interviewing Penn Jillette. One of the interesting things that Penn talked about is his journaling practice. When he was younger he decided to journal every day and has done so ever since. Now, every day he will look back and reread a journal entry from 20 years ago, 5 years ago, and 1 year ago. Doing this helps him measure his life and see how he and/or his environment has changed or grown.

I have found that by journaling it helps me move through things, understand myself better, and give a gift to future me. Journaling is a really powerful form of measurement because it gifts our future selves a window into how we actually were when writing that journal entry. There is a big difference between how I was in the past and how I perceive my past self to have been because our memories are actually quite bad representations of reality.

So What?

This all comes down to one’s ability to accurately understand one’s self and to judge whether they are doing well or not. This necessitates having two things: measurements, and systems to measure. In this blog I’ve talked about four systems to measure one’s self and hold one’s self accountable: trackers, surveys, tripwires, and journals. I have also touched on some ways that I measure myself that I have found useful, like consistency of workouts, my integrity in situations, or if other people are left feeling better after I talk to them. The ways in which people measure themselves should and have to be subjective. The systems to keep measuring ourselves are important but can only be implemented once we have decided what is important to us. So, I ask you, what is important to you and how will you measure your life?

2 Comments on “The Importance of Measurement

  1. Faolan, Once again, you have written a cogent and intriguing blog entry, one that tells me how hard you are working on being the best person you can be. The books you have read, the journaling you are doing, the four take-always (like trip wires) all demonstrate your efforts at growth and personal development. I trust that these efforts are also nourishing your spiritual life. [Of course, spiritual is distinct from religious, which is a different dimension of human existence.] Next week I shall be at SCU for a few days, and I hope we can meet up. Might you be around Sunday (1/19) afternoon? Hope so. In the meantime, take care of your good self. Fr. Engh


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