How’s It Going? (#961)

One of my coaches once described my business strategy as being “like a man who’s job it is to lay railroad tracks.” He pointed out that I was always running just ahead of the train, laying tracks as fast as I could in fear that if I didn’t, the train would derail.

Every now and again I would get far enough ahead to take a break, but then I’d hear that whistle blowing and the whole process would begin again.

When we dug deeper into that analogy, it became clear to me that I was using my feelings as a primary indicator of how things were going.

If I felt like things were going badly, I’d work as hard as I could to turn them around; if I felt like things were going well, I’d let the status quo carry on and turn my attention to relaxing and enjoying my life.

The problem with this strategy (besides the constant stress and exhaustion it engendered in me) was that it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the mind works.

It looks as though our feelings act as a barometer for how things are going, but all they actually tell us about is our state of mind – how we are doing in the moment. In other words:

Our feelings are only and always a perfect barometer of the flow and content
of our thinking in the moment.

Our relative levels of hope, despair, optimism, pessimism, encouragement, or discouragement tell us everything about our thinking but contain little to no valuable information about how things are going in our life, relationships, projects, or goals.

Because I didn’t understand that, in those moments when my thinking was mostly made up of positive imaginings about future success, I felt positive about the future and assumed everything was going well. When, on the other hand, my thoughts were mostly made up of dark imaginings of pointless efforts and inevitable failure, I would feel hopeless about the future and assume everything was going badly.

What I’ve learned since then is that regardless of how I’m doing in the moment, the only way to get a relevant answer to the question “how’s it going?” is by creating a clear set of impersonal measures as a standard of comparison.

For example, if I want to lose 30 pounds over the next six months, I could decide that losing at least a pound a week and at least five pounds a month would be a reasonable measure. At the end of each week and month, I can answer the question “how’s it going?” with a fairly clear “on track/off-track” and “ahead of schedule/behind schedule”.

This is true regardless of “how I’m doing”. I may feel great because I found it easy to button my jeans this morning and still be off-track with my overall plan; I might despair because I ate the leftover mac and cheese from the refrigerator at 2am in the morning but still be ahead of schedule on my weight loss goal.

What has been interesting is seeing how much easier it is to work on a project once how it’s going is divorced from how I’m doing. It frees me up to experience all the ups and downs and swings and roundabouts of my emotional life while continuing to move forward step by step and day by day on my goals and projects.

And because attempting to control my own state of mind is no longer at the forefront of my thinking, the innate well-being of my essential nature rises to the surface more and more of the time. I’m doing better than ever, regardless of how things are going; things are going better than ever, regardless of how I am doing.

What thoughts and insights does this distinction prompt in you? How would your own work be different if “how’s it going?” and “how am I doing?” became two distinct and separate questions?

Please share your thoughts on the Inside-Out Community Facebook page, and I look forward to continuing the conversation there.

With all my love,

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