How do you know if you’re making progress toward your goals?

When I run a marathon, I rely heavily on mile markers. Since I’m such a slow-poke racer, there can be a full twelve minutes between each mile marker. Each time I see one up ahead in the distance, I let out a little relieved hoot. In some races mile-markers are big and colorful–hard to miss, such as at the Disneyland half marathon I ran this last January where the numbers were flashed on large electronic placards and even heralded by Disney characters.

At more low-key races, mile markers might be nothing more than a number written in black ink on an orange plastic traffic cone. You have to know what you’re looking for to spot them.

But no matter the stature of the mile marker, I give myself permission to engage in a bit of internal celebration each time I pass one. Why? Because the finish line is so far away from the starting line that if I waited until the end to celebrate, I would spend my whole five hours on the course waiting to be triumphant rather than enjoying every step along the way. The purpose of a goal is, certainly, to reach the finish line, but if the journey isn’t equally as (if not more) important, you might as well just drive over to the finish line and say, “Yep. There it is. I reached it.”

No, what makes meeting a personal goal so life-changing is the distance between the beginning and the end–and achieving each benchmark along the way. Celebrating the benchmarks of completion adds to the joy and sense of accomplishment when you finally get to the finish. The feeling of exaltation gathers steam along the way.

What is the goal you’re working toward nowadays? Are you writing a book? Planning a trip to Europe? Losing weight? Working on a degree? Training for a long race?

Great! Good for you for getting to the starting line. Be sure you identify your mile markers. Every draft of every chapter written, every hotel reservation made, every pound lost, or test taken is a reason to let out a hoot and raise a glass to toast yourself.

Give this a try:

1. Write a goal you’re shooting for at the bottom of a piece of paper.

2. At the top of the paper write today’s date.

3. In between, identify 10 benchmarks (10 steps/activities/achievements that indicate you’re moving toward the goal).

4. Now, next to each benchmark, jot down a creative way to celebrate when you reach that mini-goal. Celebration can be as simple as calling a friend to announce your accomplishment or as complicated as buying yourself a whole new outfit. You get to decide.

What are you waiting for? Celebrate the benchmarks!

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