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  • Melissa Panara

Focus on the Delta

In tenth grade, I took a class called speedwriting.  My guidance counselor, Mr. Clarke, had encouraged me to take it along with keyboarding (the typing kind, not the music kind).  He assured me that anytime I needed to take notes during a lecture, speedwriting would be my best friend.  And it really was.  No surprise, thirty years later, I recall almost nothing from my speedwriting days… with one exception. The delta.  A simple triangle that you can substitute for the word change.  Decades later, in my real-world-adulthood existence, I find myself still using that helpful little triangle. Glance at my to-do list and you might see oil Δ or Δ guest room sheets or maybe exΔ Natalie’s cleats. For some unknown reason, the delta decided to stick around.

Here in Western New York, it is today. January 14th, to be exact.  Everywhere I turn, people are talking about the personal reinvention that comes with welcoming in a new year.  Plans to begin anew: get in shape, eat right, tackle that big project. Ads for gym memberships, diet plans, and self-help programs are around every corner. We’ve long since eaten the last of the Christmas cookies, so we might as well think about it.  December leaves exactly zero percent of American adults feeling thinner and adequately rested.   It’s time for some me-time.

January or not, I think personal inventories and their resulting goals are really important. They allow us to take stock of where we are and where we want to go.  If you've read anything I've written in the past, you can probably guess that I am all for this.  I love the idea of pausing, thinking about what you want, and making a plan to give it a try.  And while you can set a goal for yourself at any time throughout the year, if it’s January, we call it a resolution.  Unlike goals, I find resolutions to be a little problematic. Here’s why: they seem to come with a certain amount of all-or-nothing “right now” thinking: either you’re actively doing what you set out to do or the entire thing is out the window.  Why is this?  Did someone say that once we mess up a resolution we can’t make a few adjustments and continue on? That we can’t just yell “DO-OVER!” like when we were kids?  If the resolution is a worthy goal to begin with, then I believe we can.  True change comes from two things: knowing why the change is important to you and being willing to play the long game.  If we can’t do those two things, I think it’s possible we’ve confused growing and winning.

Winning: Becoming the Singular Best

Kids in spelling bees, contestants on game shows, participants at state fair pie-eating contests - people compete to show they are better than everyone else. Or at least everyone else who showed up that day.  And we will compete with each other in just about anything. I kid you not, there is a sport called Extreme Ironing. There’s actually a documentary about it, Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory. My friend Kara would absolutely dominate this sport.  Google it - the photos are absolutely hilarious.

Okay, let me backup a little.  In order to win, something has to be competitive, right? And in order for something to be competitive, there must be comparison.  Times or points (or perfectly pressed pleats) need to be collected and compared in order to determine the winner.  To find the singular best. Jerry Seinfeld, who can make light of almost anything, has a bit about coming in second, “Congratulations… you almost won.  Of all the losers, you came in first in that category.  You’re the number one loser.”  I guess this is why Queen never released a song called, “We Are (Almost as Good as) the Champions”.  

Winning is what follows the hard work of growing - what goals should really be about.  And, yes, sometimes the result of growing is a gold medal or Superbowl ring, but the growth, in and of itself, is a reward.  Even if you come in second, third, or dead last.   Your gains are yours to keep.

Growing:  Moving Closer to our Personal Ideal

It goes without saying that not every aspect of life is a competition.  Thinking otherwise is a recipe for misery.  Life is not an all-or-nothing endeavor; there are many benchmarks of progress along the way.  Thank goodness for that because just think of the exhaustion.  So many more of our “competitions” are the ones with only one contestant - ourselves.  How far we’ve come might be the truest metric of success. After all, we are the ones who know exactly where we started, what we’re shooting for, and why it is important.  

This is where my little triangular friend comes in.  The delta is our progress. It’s remembering when you knew only a handful of phrases in a language you now speak fluently.  It’s trying on the “before jeans” and discovering how loose they are.  We know where we started, and incremental change in the right direction is growth. It is success. And best of all, you don’t have to out-run or out-iron the next guy in order to grow.  You just have to be a little better than the you of yesterday.

It’s the delta that deserves our focus. The thrill of going from average to good and from good to great.  A lot of people are driven solely by the traditional metric: the win. But how do we achieve that?  Growth.  Improvement.  Change.  While winning says, “I came in first in this and I got gold in that”, growth only needs to say “I came from here and I got all the way to there”.  “The best” is a moving goal post; there will always be someone younger, stronger, new to the scene.  In the context of goals, it is more realistic to give the word “win” a broader, more personal definition.  And we do this by factoring in the delta. 

This is a choice we can make.  As we set our intentions for the new year, whether it is to gain skills, lose pounds, or iron a blouse on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, we can choose to give a little more importance to the delta. Our progress. We can celebrate the milestones along the way as “wins” in their own right.  These will be powerful motivators to keep us moving in the direction of our choosing.  Moving toward the singular best… version of ourselves. 

And, I think if that little triangle could talk, it would say,  “Melissa, my friend, just look how far you’ve come”.  That said, my goal for the foreseeable future is this: to see my progress toward achieving something important to me as a win.  I am going to focus on the delta.  Hmmm… I guess that's why the little guy decided to stick around.

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