Not Everything That Matters Should Be Measured

July 18, 2017 by Stacey Barr

If you take the right approach, you can meaningfully measure just about anything. But there are some things better left unmeasured.

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We measure things because we want to improve them faster and easier than we otherwise could. Well-designed measures give us objective feedback about how close we are to our goals, and help us correct our course by quickly telling us which changes work and which don’t.

Most of the time, therefore, measuring what we want to achieve is very useful. But there are times when some things we want are better left unmeasured.

Those times are when the goal is the experience, and not the result.

I do measure my cycling training, for example. I measure my heart rate, power, training stress, and workout intensity. That’s when I’m training. But when I’m immersed in an event, like the cycling tour I did in the French Alps (alongside Le Tour de France) I measured nothing.

When we measure something, it’s easy to get caught up in comparison and expectation and improvement.

It’s too easy to get caught up in comparing.

We compare what the measure is telling us now with what it has told us in the past, or with what other people’s or other organisation’s measures are telling them. We get disappointed if we don’t come out on top.

If I compared my speed climbing Alpe d’Huez with anyone else’s in the group, I’d be disappointed I wasn’t faster, and I’d forget to enjoy the company of my fellow tour participants.

It’s too easy to get caught up in expecting.

We expect a particular result from the measure, like hitting an explicit target or standard, or reaching an unspoken hope or desire. We get disappointed if we don’t get the result we expected.

If I expected to complete all the planned climbs without stopping for a rest on any of them, I’d be disappointed I wasn’t stronger, and I’d forget to absorb the atmosphere of the world’s greatest cycling race.

It’s too easy to get caught up in improving.

Even if we avoid the traps of comparison and expectation, measuring is, after all, about improving results. We get disappointed if things don’t improve when we try.

If I focused on getting fitter each day in the Alps, I’d be looking more at my bike computer than I would at the spectacular views as I climbed each mountain.

Sometimes, it’s just about being.

If we want to immerse ourselves in an experience, for the experience, then we shouldn’t measure it.

It’s like when we want to be in the moment, rather than in our heads thinking about the past or future. It’s like when we want to explore or discover, rather than get to a specific destination. It’s like when we’ve worked to achieve a level of performance, and simply want to appreciate and enjoy it.

Not everything we do has to be about doing better. Some things, at least, are only about appreciating, enjoying, being. So not everything that matters should be measured.

If you want to immerse yourself in an experience, for the experience, then don’t measure it.
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DISCUSSION:

How often do you reach a target, and then simply stop and enjoy the experience that the new level of performance has created for you?

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