Challenges of measuring progress
October 8, 2014 9:04 PM   Subscribe

What are good ideas how to measure progress towards life goals and future projects?

Lately, my family has been asking me about my life plans and whether or not I am improving wrt to my depression. I have said that I myself feel like as if I have improved over the past few months but to other people it looks like "I'm wasting my life."

It seems like no matter how much I say I am getting better it's not enough and I need to have some kind of physical/literal proof I am indeed not as depressed as I was last week? I keep journals, notebooks, and other notes to remind myself of other times but I'm wondering if there is anything I can do to convince people I am indeed making progress.

For example, I asked my friend and he mentioned by creating a new project I could track my work as a way to prove that I am doing something with my time. The thing is well, I am better but starting a new project is a good way to have me fall back into a depression spiral due to my inability to focus on anything.

Yes, I'm in therapy and seeing doctors right now. Honestly, I'm just happy that I can do basic chores, go to sleep at night, go to the grocery store, and not having panic attacks every few days.

Yet every time my mother asks me, "What do you want to do for the rest of your life?" I immediately want to fall to pieces. No, asking her to stop doesn't change anything really in the long term. She is the type of person who disregards other people's requests because of her personality.

I'm looking for suggestions for ideas how I can track my progress for life goals and informing other people who seem to doubt it. For example my current goal is to find a part time job or decide how I want to deal with college. So far I found that deadlines and to-do lists don't really help me out.

Yes, I have tried breaking larger tasks into smaller parts but even then I end up procrastinating in the end. I have tried creating schedules but I then never follow them after a day or so.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I use the site to track days that I managed to do something. I've had chains like 'Exercise", "Study Spanish", and "Do two job-hunt things" (like apply somewhere, search for jobs, interviews, etc). Every day I do these things I get to add a link to my chain.

This is obviously something that you could fake, so if you need to show them irrefutable proof that you're making progress it's not good. But it helps me track good habits and progress toward goals.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:11 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

During low times, I like making lists of everything I've already accomplished that day. I include chores, cleaning, taking care of some irritating grooming stuff, exercise, whatever. As long as I have something to put on the list (even just one thing), I figure I'm good. I put wake up/bedtime on there, too, and any changes in medication.

You'll probably be able to see how you're able to accomplish more each day and how your routine is taking shape by reading over the "activity log" later.

When people ask what's going on and you'd rather not answer, just try to use vague, generic cliches. "I'm figuring it out," "I'm getting myself together," etc. You can also then segue into something that you're doing for yourself right now -- like, if you're exercising, start talking about that. If you're eating better, start making conversation about your cooking/shopping. If you're cleaning up your space, chat about cleaning. Your mom is still going to be your mom, but if she knows that you're physically doing well (clean, eating, going out in the sun, talking to friends at least sometimes, etc) she'll hopefully back off a little. Are you tied to her financially and is that an issue right now?

In terms of big stuff you're trying to figure out -- maybe you're not ready to tackle that stuff just yet? That's OK, and doesn't mean you won't be. Just try to get a healthy, comfortable, sustainable routine in place and go from there.
posted by rue72 at 9:48 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

WRT to family you could tell them:

- My therapist says to walk every day and keep a journal;
- My Doctor says to keep taking my medication and to follow what my therapist says;

And in that case, they will listen to the "authority figure," instead of you.

So if anyone ever asks you about your progress, you just tell them "the doctor said to do this" or something like that. Then go on about your business.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:55 PM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I don't like this whole idea. If you'd like an objective way of tracking things for yourself, that's one thing, but you don't owe it to other people to provide them with that information. What if you came up with some way to "prove" you're doing better and then that turned into them judging you for not getting better quickly/steadily enough, or nagging every time you had a bad day? You really might be best off just holding the line on something like, "Things are getting better, even if you can't tell from the outside yet. I have to get healthier before I'll be ready to make any major decisions."
posted by teremala at 9:55 PM on October 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

I use beeminder for this and it's brilliant because it's got built in slack and is making me get a little bit ahead so that on a bad day I can relax (I put no slack for things that must happen every day like taking meds). It's nice to have, and I like showing it off to my husband when I hit a significant goal because I can go "It took 89 hours of piano practice to finish that book, so awesome!" and reward myself, and when I fail, it's just a straight cash payment (you can have free ones) which feels bitter but without shame of failing an actual person.

However, teremala is right that this sounds like having to prove yourself to others. My dad did this with a struggling adult sibling, and I've been in the same position as a parent of having to set goals for a struggling kid. It was awful with my dad for a while because however well-intentioned, it became a judgement with embarassment and pain and made no allowances for how hard internal stuff was. We had therapists help us work out good boundaries with our kids with mental illnesses, totally normal as part of treatment.

You're seeing a therapist. You're getting basic stuff done, and you're in the middle of depression. That's A LOT, but it's invisible to your family unless they've had depression themselves. Lots of people still think it's just something willpower and gumption can fix, especially in teenagers/young adults.

I would think about tracking for your own benefit, not theirs. Ask your therapist to meet with your parents either with you or separately and explain what they can do that's supportive and why requiring you to recover on a schedule isn't helpful and just won't work. It's hard for a depressed person to be able to set boundaries from people they need to take care of them, and your therapist has the authority and knowledge to do this. It's pretty common for a therapist to have to explain and help a patient's family understand what's happening, at least when they're in a family-support situation.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:22 PM on October 8, 2014

I feel like there is a lot to unpack here, but I absolutely have to say one thing: When parents ask "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?!?!?!?" it stresses out almost EVERYONE, regardless of age or mental state. It's just one of those stupid, nagging questions that are basically impossible to answer. So please, don't let this get to you! Take one step at a time.

If you want to keep track of your progress (I agree with teremala here that it should be an internal want and not an external must) there are nice to-do lists where you can check items off.
For the bigger stuff I like this blogger's approach on "How To Make And Keep Your New Year's Resolutions (title is a bit misleading, you make yearly plans and constantly compare your progress). I wrote about it in this regarding life goals, which might be helpful to you as well. Good luck.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:56 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with teremala's advice above and think that's a great script to use with people. However, I would like to pass along a blog post that might provide you with some ways to reframe your answers to your mom: A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life

The blogger (Leo Babuta) argues that you can't know the future and should be working toward developing a broad set of skills and mental practices that will serve you well in any future endeavor rather than focusing on a single career path. He says, "The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want."

That preparation for you right now is taking care of your basic health needs. The other stuff can come later.
posted by BlooPen at 4:28 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

rue72: Yes, I'm pretty much financially dependant on my immediate family and I can't leave atm.

teremala: I agree it's a somewhat demoralizing experience since it's hard to judge what is a good, bad, or OK day. Yet there is immense pressure for me to "prove" I am showing signs of progress to my family. I mean, it's not like I'll be disowned but so far there is this underlying message if I don't make a certain % of improvement I'll be cut off or seen as a freeloader.

BTW: Thanks for all the other different advice everyone :)
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:20 AM on October 9, 2014

What your family is really trying to say is that they cannot (or don't want to) financially support you forever, so they want "progess" to materialize in the form of a job and/or school to enable better employment.

No listing of how you made your bed and then cooked kale chips is going to satisfy their anxiety about supporting you because while those things are productive, they do not show how you will support yourself for the rest of your life.

So my advice is: Set low employment goals. It's October, seasonal retail is hiring, go to the mall, get a job.

Go to school. Enroll in the most local community college. Take a community college gen ed. you can transfer or start a directed program for something 2 years and specific, like medical coding or automotive repair or whatever is best suited to your tastes / location.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:09 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

What your family is really trying to say is that they cannot (or don't want to) financially support you forever, so they want "progess" to materialize in the form of a job and/or school to enable better employment

I agree. Are you in school now? Could you start by taking a class or two, if you don't feel up to a whole schedule yet? If you're having trouble choosing classes or dealing with the paperwork for enrollment, ask your family for help. Sometimes you just need a little assistance getting over the first hump with something, and then once you're going to class every day it will start to seem easier. I think the goal should just be taking *a* class, if you're not, rather than deciding on a major/your whole future/etc etc. Just take a class in anything to help yourself get rolling.

For a job, rather than aiming for the perfect part-time job, take anything you think you would like (I worked at a bookstore in college, which was great). Just having a few fixed things in your schedule is really likely to make you feel better, and be able to get more done otherwise. Action and activity helps fight depression.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:26 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best way of getting to the point where you can make progress, maybe even the kind of progress your family seems to feel is necessary, is to take care of yourself. Trying to prove that you're getting better takes up energy that you could be spent doing the things that will help you feel better. When your family and friends probe, I would do the opposite, and use that as a reminder to do something for yourself.
posted by MrBobinski at 7:49 PM on October 9, 2014

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