The other day I was on TikTok (I know, bear with me as I gag for a bit 🤮). But I came across this clip that I found useful and got me thinking more about this concept of leading and lagging indicators.
This idea has its origins in business and economics circles. Leading and lagging indicators are the inputs and results that influence or showcase the position or trajectory of a business or entity.
Let’s break it down.
Lagging indicators are essentially results. They are the output, the culmination of all the your actions up to this point. They show you where you stand now and where you are coming from. These are things like your weight, your bank balance, your general level of happiness, whatever metric you want to look at.
This is usually where most people new to goal setting start when they begin their approach. They set goals based on lagging indicators, looking solely at the end result of their efforts, and then its off to the races.
You go out and you do whatever you have chosen as your path to get there. You keep in mind the goal of gaining 5kg, and you push on going to the gym 3 times a day, eating healthy, all the while comparing your results against your goals. Each week, you weigh yourself and see how well you are doing towards your goal.
This is useful, you have a clear sense of where you are, and where you want to go. By monitoring your results, the lagging indicators, you can keep yourself accountable to your goal.
However, this approach is limited for 3 reasons.
- Your focus is solely on your results which is just a snapshot of what has already happened. This would be the lump sum of your good efforts, a bunch of wasted effort and probably a lot of inertia and missteps. It’s good information, but you can’t change the past, and it has come too late.
- Because results can take time to manifest and arrive, we run the risk of getting discouraged on working towards our goals, and doing less of the things we need to be doing. You are a failure from day one, until you finally hit the goal.
- When you are only focused on results, you can easily fool yourself that you are busy taking action, when you are really just doing busy work and avoiding the real tasks you must undertake. Your inputs may not be targeted enough.
A better path to goal achieving, is to focus on leading indicators, the inputs needed to get you where you need to go. You need to be clear on choosing high quality inputs – what actual actions you need to take to achieve your goal. These are things like how often you work out, how consistent you are, what you eat every day.
So, your ‘focus’ shifts from the goal – ‘I want to gain 5kg’ to the process – ‘I work out 3 times a week and eat 5 nutritious meals every day’. And that becomes the target to hit every week and iterate upon, because instead of being solely obsessed about what results you are getting, you are focusing on the things that are actually in your control to execute and do.
If you are able to focus on these and get them right, then you are a success from day one, just for executing and sticking to the plan. You are not stressed or overwhelmed by your goal, but you are simply focused on getting it right on a day to day basis. You learn to enjoy the process, the journey. And as you get the hang of things and are consistent with your inputs, your results will catch up and get you where you need to be.
So, think about the big thing you are trying to achieve, and figure out what the leading indicators you should be focusing on. If you find inputs that are simple, within your control, trackable, with visible progression, and which are effectively aligned to your goals, then your success is only a matter of time.