Another crucial aspect in making long-term progress toward your goals is measurement. Human minds are designed to crave feedback, and one of the biggest motivations is experiencing evidence that we are doing well. Measurement is critical for effective goal-setting and achievement. When you measure your progress, you get insight about your progress.
The things we measure are things we can improve. There are a few techniques for setting measurable goals. One of them is the Paperclip Strategy.
The Paper Clip Strategy
As productivity writer James Clear explains, habits are formed both physically and ritually. Having something tangible that you can control helps you work toward a goal. By doing so, you build a habit. Clear explains it using the strategy used by stockbroker Tyler Dyrsmid.
When Dyrsmid was a 23-year-old stockbroker, he got hired by a bank in a small town in Canada. Given the location of the bank and his youth, nobody expected much from him. But he made great progress by using a simple habit he created.
Dyrsmid began every morning with two jars on his desk. One of the jars was filled with 120 paperclips, and the other one was empty. After he settled in, he made a sales call. Directly after the call, he moved one paperclip from the full jar to the empty jar. He kept doing this until he had moved all the paperclips to the empty jar.
Within 18 months, Dyrsmid had brought in $5 million. Soon after, he landed a high-paying job at a large company.
Dyrsmid’s strategy was incredibly simple: Success is usually a result of committing to fundamental things repeatedly.
But why was Dyrsmid is so successful when you and I struggle to be consistent with basic stuff, like eating healthy or working out? What worked so well with his strategy that we can use in our daily lives?
One thing that makes the paperclip strategy work so well is that it creates a visual cue that boosts your motivation to perform a habit consistently. You get immediate feedback on how you are progressing.
It’s satisfying to make progress and have a visual representation of that progress. This reinforces our behavior and provides satisfaction during the activity.
Visual cues are a reminder of desired behavior. We often fool ourselves about our ability to perform a new habit (“I will exercise at least twice a week — this time for real!”) Some time later, when motivation goes down, our old habits take over. Merely hoping that you’ll follow up on your new habit is a recipe for failure. That is why visual cues, like a jar of paper clips, can be useful — it’s much easier to stick with a new habit when your environment stimulates you to do so.
Visual cues show progress. Consistency is a crucial component of success, but few people measure how consistent they are. With the paperclip strategy, you have a ready visualization of your progress.
Visual cues boost motivation. When you see progress in your new habit, it’s natural to become more motivated to continue this habit. The more paperclips you see in the jar, the more motivated you are to fill it up completely. In psychology this is called the “endowed progress effect,” which says we place more value on things once we have them. The more paperclips in the jar, the higher the sense of value you get.