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Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Success, Just Progress

The power of thinking in ahead and behind days, not good and bad


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Leon Purton

2 years ago | 3 min read

I had a good day today

How many times have you been asked how your day was, and replied with the above?

It is an automatic response.

But, did you really have a good day? Or just a couple of good moments? Or perhaps only a good chat over lunch with a friend. In recent studies, it has been identified that the largest contributor to workplace happiness is in making progress on meaningful work.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a boss. He said to me;

People don’t crave easy work, easy work is boring. They want work that means something, even if it is hard.

The same goes for when people said they had a bad day. They probably didn’t. They may have just had a bad moment or a setback. Those singular moments tend to define our perspective on the whole day.

Good and bad are absolutes, binary. But life is often a spectrum from negative to positive, good to bad, sad to happy, hot to cold.

If life is not binary, not an either-or, then is also true that success is not absolute. You can only progress towards success and your definition of success will change over time.

So instead, I have been confusing people when they ask how my day was. I tell them “I’ve had an ahead day today”. On the spectrum from the finite binary ends (good and bad), you have a choice to describe it as either ‘I made progress’ or ‘I didn’t and went backwards’. I had an ahead or a behind day.

As a leader, instead of focussing on good days for your team, your company and yourself — focus on ahead days, and the key to ahead days is progress. Even if it is micro-progress.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Ahead and Behind

Think of your absolute best day, where everything was amazing. You finished the day so content, so happy with how everything went. It couldn’t get better!

Right?

Nope — it could have been better, and it is the same in all aspects of your life.

Always looking to get better, rather than trying to be the best is the attitude of successful people. People that aim for perfection shun the feedback required to be truly excellent.

At any one moment, you can do your best. But you can always find a way to be better. This is why better is greater than best and ahead is more suitable than good.

Progress in the greatest compliment, at every opportunity, try and be a little bit better. Just a little bit ahead.

Do not wait to celebrate the big things, learn to focus on micro-progression. Leaders have a responsibility to enable or provide a catalyst for progression, and then to let the team know the importance of that progress.

Progress

Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer published a tremendously powerful article in the Harvard Business Review in 2011, called the Power of Small Wins.

They describe the role of the leader is identifying catalysts for progress and nourishers of inter-personal support. As well as the opposite, removing inhibitors of progress and toxins.

In a study completed across 26 project teams in 7 companies, a mass of daily diary entries were reviewed to assess what gave people a positive work-life. It was through this study, that the power of progress. In the study, the days were people had the most positive work experience, were days where they made progress.

Perhaps, equally importantly, it was in the days that showed a negative work-life experience that there was a correlation with set-backs.

After reviewing the diary entries, they identified some leaders that seemed to create better days more often. Their time with those leaders identified some consistent daily habits aimed at providing progress catalysts and nourishing their teams while removing inhibitors and toxins.

They created a daily checklist, and I found it particularly powerful.

The Daily Progress Checklist: HBR article The Power of Small Wins 2011

Progress for Success

There is much to be celebrated about those you identify as successful. But there is a greater power in celebrating the little things that you make progress in.

There is no elevator to success, you can only take the stairs.

And to climb the stairs, you need to take one step at a time.

So, don't focus on whether the step you are on is good or bad. Focus only on taking one small step forward. Eeking out just a little bit of progress.

And if you do, then you had an ahead day…

And they are the best types of days.

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Leon Purton

Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership. https://medium.com/@spurtapurton


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