A few years ago, I was doing a writing challenge that required me to write 1000 words a day. It didn’t matter what those words were – fiction, non-fiction, a journal entry – as long as I met the target for the day.
As you can tell by my chatty posts, I can pour out a lot of words in a day. That capacity increases if I can just go on about any old thing. And if you take out the need for quality and/or comprehensibility, I can churn out all kinds of half-useful nonsense at lightning speed.
After a few weeks of figuring out when to schedule my writing time/how to break my writing up into sessions, I found my rhythm and the challenge was not much of a challenge for most of the year. For months and months and months, I didn’t break the chain – I churned out 1000 words every day. Some were good, some were mediocre, some were awful, but they all counted.
And then, one day in December of that year, I forgot to write.
I was so annoyed with myself. I had time to write. I even had things to write about. I just forgot all about it.
I was complaining to my friend Nat about it. (This isn’t blog friend Nat, it’s a different delightful human. Let’s call this friend Nat the Engineer, because that’s one of the things she is.)
Nat the Engineer, being math-inclined, quickly came up with a new perspective on my frustration.
I was looking at the situation as me having broken the chain and ruined my streak of success. I wasn’t going to give up writing for the rest of the year or anything but the whole challenge felt a little tainted. I had long since gotten over the idea of aiming for perfection in my words but apparently I had been aiming for perfection in my habits without even realizing it. I was inadvertently telling myself that only 100% success would count. (Glerg.)
Luckily, Nat the Engineer came to the rescue with a reframing that looked like this:
Christine wrote for 348 days out of 349. That’s a 99.7% success rate. That’s cause for celebration.
Nat the Engineer’s perspective snapped me back to reality.
Yes, it would have been cool to be able to say that I had written every single day but saying that I had a 99.7% success rate was a whole different kind of cool.
99.7% of the time that I had tried to write, I had succeeded. That’s terrific!
Your Success Rate
If you are being kind to yourself and you have set reasonable expectations about what counts as a practice, given your current capacity, resources, and abilities, thinking in terms of success rate can be really motivating.
Sure, it’s fun when you can complete your practice every time you had planned to but life can often get in the way. Using a success rate lets you keep perspective on how many times you *could* pull it off instead of feeling like missed days have ruined everything. It keeps your focus where you need it to be.
In fact, you could even make a certain success rate into a goal and track your progress that way, if that serves you well. If you had a low success rate in a given week, you could challenge yourself to increase it a little the following week. Or if this month was rough, you could tweak a few things to see how the changes affect your success rate.
Remember, you set your own bar for success so keep it reasonable. If you are just starting out, you could make putting on your sneakers or sitting on the floor for meditation the marker for success. If you have more practice, you could choose something else that has meaning for you. Right now, I’m using the ‘cardio’ percentage of my daily steps on my Fitbit as a marker, for example.
While I know that lots of our readers will be comfortable with calculating a success rate, I also know that the idea of math makes some people’s brains freeze. To alleviate brain freeze, here’s how to calculate your success rate: take the number of times you did your practice and divide it by the number of times you had planned to do it. Multiple that answer by 100 to get your rate.
This post is not intended to narrow your focus to one particular definition of success. And it is definitely not meant to imply that the number of complete practices is the defining metric for success.
Instead, this post is an invitation to keep perspective on your efforts by finding different ways to celebrate the things that are going well for you as you develop your practice.
When I forgot to write on that December day, one part of my brain really felt like I had messed up a whole year’s work. I kind of felt like one missed day had negated all the effort that went before. This is foolishness, of course, but you know what brains and feelings are like once they get going.
Nat the Engineer’s calculation of my success rate helped me shift my focus to my overall project.
While I had been planning to write every day, that was just the process not the actual point of the exercise. My true goal was to make writing sessions routine, ordinary, and low pressure. And looking at my success rate made me realize that all my work was adding up to that result. Even if my success rate had been 10%, I would still be 10% closer to making my writing easier.
Your success rate can point to the same thing. It can take the pressure off any given practice. AND it can remind you that all of your efforts count, even if they add just 1% to your success rate.
Here is your gold star for today’s efforts, big and small, visible and invisible. Your efforts matter. Your work counts.
And you are doing the best you can with the resources you have available.
You have a 100% success rate for showing up for yourself. Your rate for everything else will add up as you go along.
For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.