In my article Countdown I described how it is more motivating to count down than to count up when tracking your progress numerically. For example if you goal was to lose 10 lbs in weight, then it’s more motivating to say “I’m 5 lbs away from my weight goal” than to say “I’ve lost 5 lbs towards my weight goal”. The first concentrates your mind on the end result and encourages you to reach zero. The second takes your mind away from the end result.
I have just had a very good illustration of this principle in the Kindle for Android app. Up to now the Kindle app has only told you how far you have got through a book, e.g. 80% completed. But they have just introduced a new version which also measures your reading speed and tells you how long it will take to finish the current chapter and the whole book. I’ve found its estimates to be pretty accurate.
I’m reading a fairly long and detailed non-fiction history book at the moment (Frederik Logeval’s Embers of War) - just the sort of book I usually get distracted from quite quickly - and Kindle is giving me the following feed-back about how far I currently have progressed:
7% of book completed
26 hours 4 mins left in book
25 minutes left in chapter
You can only see one of these at a time. Which would you monitor in order to motivate yourself to keep going with the book?
I’m finding minutes left in the chapter to be the most motivating by far. One chapter is an achievable chunk, and so I get the satisfying feeling of achieving zero quite regularly.
It’s not very difficult to see how the same method - counting down using small chunks - could be applied to other goals. Weight, exercise and money goals immediately spring to mind as they are easily measured. But even with less measurable tasks we can switch from saying “This is three quarters done” to “Only a quarter left to go!”