A Few Thoughts on Goals and Progress
Posted by PintofStout on April 18, 2006
I had written this a while ago and thought I’d post it here. It shows signs of my physics background, though that is fading fast. I’d also like to note that I’m not so much an advocate for any way to reach the goal regardless of means, especially on a large scale. On a more personal level, creating goals for independent and autonomous living can benefit from a realistic look at goals and progess – not activity, progress. Here is the piece:
Displacement is a scalar quantity, meaning it has magnitude, but not direction. Unlike its vector counterpart, distance, which involves magnitude and direction, displacement need only to consider the start position and the end position in order to be determined. If the position at the end of the observation is the same as the position at the beginning of the observation the displacement is zero, regardless of the path taken. Distance on the other hand counts the entire path and increases with movement in any direction. Displacement shares many similarities with the struggle for the realization of freedom.
As I was driving home again the other day, I thought about how far (distance) I travel every day, going to work, going home from work, going to the store, etc. But after all this travel and time I end up in the same place; my displacement after all this time is zero. That got me thinking of goals and progress. Our goals would be at maximum displacement. In any time frame we choose, which could be scaled up or down, we can evaluate progress. After a day of trying to reach a goal what is the displacement? Did we have lots of activity and run ourselves ragged just to end up where we started?
Activity and speed of motion means nothing without considering the stopping point. Baby steps are sited as the usual way to self-sufficiency, but even though baby steps are slow the final destination is all that matters. It is the displacement that places us closer to our goal. And it is the evaluation of the displacement that will report our progress, not the speed or the motion.
By considering the displacement from our starting position, we can better evaluate our progress. The time frame we choose is critical. Choose too short a time and we may be discouraged. Altering the starting point by not looking far enough back gives an illusion of less displacement. Setting the desired displacement too far away can also be discouraging by making what displacement was already achieved seem small in comparison. This illustrates the need for short-term goals.
The most important thing to know about displacement is that it can also be negative when comparing to two or more values in a timed sequence (measuring one value of displacement can never be negative). What separation we put between our starting point and our destination can be reduced. Displacement is therefore a better gauge of progress than distance. Think of the constant motion of the governors of the United States; they’ve covered lots of ground, but have had more negative displacement than positive in the goal for individual liberty.