So you’ve decided it’s time. You’re giving up on the fatigue-inducing self-help addiction, the glow-up-quick schemes, the perfectionism-based procrastination. You’re going to change your life, and you’re going to do it the right way. Where to first?
May I suggest that, before doing anything else, you carve out time to establish a baseline?
WHAT IS A BASELINE?
A baseline is defined as “a minimum or starting point used for comparisons.” Whenever you see online transformations, they always have some initial data to compare their relative wins with. Businesses and organisations use baseline data to figure out the next steps to success. In teaching, we use baseline data to customise our lessons for the specific students sitting in front of us each day.
WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A BASELINE
Toggl explains that a baseline is important because it “allows you to efficiently oversee and manage how a change in your schedule, cost, or scope affects everything else.” They are speaking from a project-based perspective, but are we not our own biggest, longest projects?
It isn’t irrational to hesitate about the thought of reducing yourself to mere numbers. Indeed, when we obsess about associating our identity with emotionless data, it can spell trouble. But the flipside is also true – taking a break from subjective perceptions of our efforts and realities can be truly refreshing! The objectivity of baseline data provides, if nothing else, a concrete starting point that will guide your next steps.
Baseline data also moves you away from idealism, in turn towards the reality you’ll be living at least for the immediate future. It’s easy enough to get caught up in this sense of what if… fantasising. We close our eyes and play out what we’d do, if only we could break open our armour and let our true, deeply embedded personas unleash themselves upon the world. Spoiler: This does not work.
What does work? Knowing that you haven’t been able to get out of bed before 6am two weeks in a row, and that you haven’t been going to sleep before midnight for just as long. Suddenly you no longer have to wonder why you feel your energy levels slumping midway through the work day. The answer is right in front of you, in black and white.
Knowing our starting points will allow you to foresee problems and plan for them. Obviously we can’t predict anything, so a baseline will allow you to reflect on your ongoing results and pinpoint the factors affecting them.
HOW TO ESTABLISH A BASELINE
There are different ways to establish baseline data. What you will need straight-up is uninterrupted time to journal and/or reflect on your thoughts. The goal is to palm down the urge to think big and ambitious, and instead formulate single action steps that will, over time, make a difference to the less shiny elements of your current lifestyle.
To take away some of the initial brainwork, you might find it eye-opening to take an online questionnaire that reveals your current levels of effectiveness across the various aspects of your life.
In starting my own official, bonafide, this-is-it-I’m-doing-it-the-right-way journey to true personal development, I figured I’d better gather some baseline data about my habits and lifestyle. Just to see how effective I really am.
Lucky for me, my recently acquired copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People comes with a link to FranklinCovey’s Personal Effectiveness Quotient. I also decided to fill out a supplementary questionnaire: Lifehack’s Life Assessment (links at the bottom!). Each questionnaire provided a different way to quantify my current lifestyle, and both have given me much food for thought.
I’ll start by sharing the results themselves, and then go into a little more detail about my reflections.
FRANKLINCOVEY’S PERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS QUOTIENT
48 for my overall effectiveness and THIRTY-FIVE FOR MY PROACTIVITY. Eeeeeesh.
LIFEHACK LIFE ASSESSMENT
50 percent of my potential is currently being accessed. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh.
REFLECTIONS ON MY BASELINE
Here are some things that are immediately noticeable:
- I’m a problem-solver
- I accept responsibility for my actions
- I’m faring better in the family/relationships and spiritual stakes.
- I find it hard to maintain self-control
- I often feel anxious about things I have no control over
- I let outside circumstances or people dictate or influence my behaviour
- I don’t stay calm in overwhelming situations
- I find it mildly hard to not blame others when things go wrong.
I’ve always said I function at about the 60% mark. Turns out even that’s a bit optimistic on my part. There’s something very confronting about seeing how far from optimally I’m living, but there’s also a real sense of calm, now that I have quantifiable data that I can refer to and later test myself on – in the interim, and as I make larger, more obvious strides. And also, to be fair on myself, anecdotally I am a fairly productive person. I can’t help but wonder what I could be like if I added 10-30% to my efforts?
Seeing your effectiveness presented visually gives you an indication of how you might go about answering the following questions:
- In what areas of my life should I be trying to improve?
- What are some specific barriers or obstacles stopping me from performing better in these areas?
- What are some easy actions I can confidently take that might move the needle, even a tad?
- How can I track these actions, and when will I do so?
For me, it looks like the worst is physical health. I need to implement some gradual habits there that will service my more focused goals based on the 7 Habits (I’m also thinking back to the four physical health quadrants – nutrition, water, fitness, and rest.)
My current goal is to work slowly through each of the 7 Habits in my current text study, and formulate via the spectrums in the above picture a list of questions I can use to track my effectiveness.
All it takes is a pause, and an honest, unabashed look at how your day-to-day is faring. Give yourself thirty minutes. Go on.
Choose a questionnaire that can determine your baseline. Here are some for you to choose from.
If you’re feeling brave, share your results in the comments below! What single step can you take to start making a shift in one of your problem areas?