The next time you feel frustrated for not making greater progress on something you want to change about yourself or your relationship, remind yourself about the “Progress Bank”. I “coined” this to encourage my clients to be more mindful about the many small steps or “deposits” that all contribute toward a desired outcome. It’s about recognizing that every step we take toward change “counts” as progress. It is also about setting realistic (small) goals and expectations to prevent us from feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, which can lead to avoidance. It is not only doing more of a positive behavior, but also doing less of a negative one. For example, if you are arguing with your partner or spouse daily, and the next week you have 1or 2 days of no arguing, this is a step toward the greater goal of improving your relationship. If you are able to refrain from saying something critical and blaming of your partner this week (“you’re always coming home late from work and leave me all alone”), and instead, state your need in positive terms (“I would appreciate it if you could try to come home from work earlier tonight so we could have dinner together”), you are making a deposit in your Progress Bank. Making a point to tell your partner at least one genuinely positive quality about them or their behavior each day is a step toward improving your friendship and overall quality of your couple relationship. Being a parent and professional may not leave a lot of time to schedule a date night out on the town with your spouse. Instead, set aside 15-20 minutes after the kids are in bed to check in with each other about what was positive or challenging from your day and offer emotional support to each other. Or, if you are engaging in a problematic, compulsive sexual behavior every day, decreasing the amount of time you’re doing the behavior in a given day or hour is another example of taking a step toward your eventual goal and adding to your Progress Bank.
Giving credit to ourselves and our partners for the effort that we make can sometimes be overlooked because we live in a society that tends to focus on the “grand prize”, the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”, or the “final destination”. We tend to be dissatisfied with not reaching our goal instead of noticing what has happened along “the journey”, in other words, what we have accomplished and giving ourselves credit for heading in the right direction. Reminding yourself that you are heading in the right direction will multiply your investment in the Progress Bank, and can ultimately lead to a richer and more satisfying life for yourself and your relationship.