The Only Two Trends That Matter

The Only Two Trends That MatterIn this article I’m going to share with you my thoughts on how this very simple concept can be used to break down any complex problem.

As I’m writing this, two of my very favorite expressions are bouncing around in my brain and dying to make it onto this page. They want to get out because they know they relate very strongly to what I want to share here. I’ll let them out in a moment.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my diet experiment trying Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Body / Slow Carb diet and why even though I’m really not into diets, I’m giving this one a try.

I’m still on that diet (week 12, I think) and even though, as I shared in the article it’s not getting the results it should, I’m persevering – and it’s because of the only two trends that matter.

In the same article (or maybe it was in the comments section…) I also described the nearest that I’d come to being on a diet before. This ‘nearest thing’ was a kind of system I’d created for myself to get healthier and fitter and do so in a way that was convenient for my very busy life at the time (i.e. simple, and therefore sustainable).

I concluded that after giving the slow carb diet more of a chance I would most likely transfer to something like the system (I love systems) I’d used before. This system, which is also based very much on the only two trends that matter (hence me writing this first), is something I’m going to tell you more about next week.

The Only Two Trends That Matter

So What Are The Only Two Trends That Matter?

Simple: You’re either moving closer to your goal or further away from it.

Think of it in terms of direction if you like or in terms of improvement, whatever works for you (better/worse, up/down, more/less…).

Am I over-simplifying things here? No. That’s exactly the point. Simple works. Don’t get me wrong, there may be an awful lot of complexity going on underneath these two trends you’re monitoring, but this is what you need to be tracking. Are things getting better or worse? Nearer your goal or further away?

In fact it’s even easier than that – it’s just really one check, better or worse?

You’re either getting closer to your goal or further away from it.

Thinking in this way will stop you getting bogged down in the details, it will stop you wasting time and it will prevent doubts and limiting beliefs from stalling you.

It Helps To Have A Clearly Defined Goal

To make this simple concept really effective, it helps to have a clearly defined goal so you know what you’re shooting for. The clearer the goal the better, and great visualization which I’ve written about before both from a life coaching point of view (Create Your Compelling Future) and from a business results point of view (Begin With The End In Mind) and will write about again (because that too is really simple but really powerful) will help to make that goal a very effective one.

Expression #1: The Confused Mind Always Says ‘No’

OK, out you come.

The first of those two expressions I told you I had bouncing around in my head is “The confused mind always says ‘No'”. I’m not sure where I first heard this expression but I love it. Just a moment, let me look it up… OK, I couldn’t easily find out – Google tells me lots of sites that use this quote but none showing who first said it (if you know, please do share in the comments below).

I believe it’s very true. Great marketers for example make things really simple for people. Steve Jobs was a master of this.

I’m sure you can see how this expression relates well to what we’re exploring here.

Back To The Diet Example: Using The ‘Two Trends That Matter’ Concept

To use the example above, if I’d worried too much abut the results claimed by the diet (e.g. how many pounds I should have lost in the first week etc), then I may well have concluded it’s not working and given up.

Instead, my only focus has been the two trends that matter, which are really simple to check and that has made it really really easy to persevere with this diet. To be very specific:

Weight: Am I losing weight or gaining weight?
Answer: I’m pretty sure I’m losing weight, much slower than Mr Ferris claimed I would but, I am losing weight. Therefore the trend is good = keep going.
Note: You may notice I say ‘pretty sure’ that’s because I deliberately didn’t even weigh myself and I’m not checking the scales every day, that much detail is just not necessary, and could even work against me if I’m not meeting my expectations – I only care about generally if my weight is improving or getting worse and I only check this, simply visually and from the way I’m feeling, around once per week

Diet: Is my diet getting better or worse?
Answer: My diet is definitely getting better as a result of this diet, i.e. trend is good = keep going.

you can look at as many criteria as you like in this way – e.g. psychology, energy levels, strength – whatever it is that you want to test. But the test is simple – is it getting better or worse? Are you nearer your goal or further away (since the last time you tested).

Using the only two trends that matter makes it really easy to track and adjust accordingly (try harder, keep going, make alterations, abandon).

Expression #2: What Gets Measured Gets Improved

According to Google, this one comes from Robin S. Sharma. I can’t exactly say it’s one of my favorite quotes as such, just because it reminds me too much of work, and even, to me, somehow suggests detail… but I certainly believe it.

So this expression too is a very powerful one. The point is to make sure you are measuring the right things.

… and if you agree that there are only two trends that matter, then that’s what you should be measuring.

How Does This Work For Complex Systems?

I did say that this concept can be used for anything.

It can.

If you say to me that your situation, system, problem is way too complex and this just isn’t relevant in your case, then I say to you: Pfffff.

In fact the more complex your problem, the more important this is. It will stop you getting lost.

If you are dealing with very complex systems or situations then you may need systems and more detailed measurements in place to answer the question: are we getting nearer our goal or further away. It may be very complex to put these together, but you still ultimately just want to answer that very simple question (the two trends question).

Have the supporting detail, put the relationships, systems and mechanisms in place to enable you to answer the most fundamental question with respect to the ultimate goals that really matter to you, your life, your health, your finances or your business: better or worse?

i.e. don’t waste too much time in the detail. Focus on what’s important.

A Really Quick And Simple Business Example

I’ve often used something called ‘Golden Milestones’ which I believe was first thought up at IBM (but please don’t quote me on that). Rather than tracking complex plans and getting into lengthy discussions about tasks and dependencies, the senior manager only cares about the key (‘Golden’) milestones and we track a very simple report with these on it. That doesn’t mean that all of the other plans which underpin those milestones aren’t needed. They absolutely are, but having a clear list of the key milestones and tracking that keeps the focus and precisely because these key milestones are being tracked effectively, the underlying plans have to be robust.

The senior manager in the example above only cares about meeting the key milestones. Specifically, he cares only about two trends in relation to each milestone: Are we ahead of schedule or behind schedule.

Does your organization waste time with ineffective planning?

Most organizations struggle to focus on tracking what’s really important and when it comes to planning tend to spend too long discussing the wrong things. Sadly, I’ve seen on more than one occasion someone maintaining a monster of a plan which is almost a full time job in itself and actually doesn’t really mean anything.

Final Thoughts

The idea here is to get the balance right. Simple works. I recently heard a podcast from Srinivas Rao where he said he had switched to checking his Google Analytics stats once per month. He’d previously been checking them every day. Once per month is perfect, it means he can get on with what he needs to do, he is still tracking to make sure he is on track, but he is not getting so obsessed with the detail that the measuring of those stats actually ends up working against him.

Simple works.

But the key point here is that by checking the stats once per month instead of every day, he gets a much more accurate answer to the question that really matters: Are things (for whichever key stats he cares about) getting better or worse?

The confused mind always says no – so make it really simple for yourself. Focus only on the two trends that matter.

What gets measured gets improved – track your progress but make sure you have a good system and that you are tracking the right thing at the right frequency.


The Only Two Trends That Matter — 14 Comments

  1. Need to high light both ‘trends’.
    You really only high lighted the first.
    Measuring your weight is objective.
    But saying your diet is improving I feel pretty
    certain the criterion you use are probably subjective,
    not listed. I agree about measuring of complex system,
    this what oracle would call instrumentation, over the years they
    Added more and more, which has made tuning more affective.

    The confused mind says no, this has gotten into trouble a few times. I have understand
    Before I agree. I may be dumber the rest so may take longer to understand, so end up viewed to
    Be delaying the project. Then along way in you am then see as the only honest person
    For stating that the project was not fully understood!!

    • Hi Everton,

      I think you may be missing the point a little here.

      The point of the article is really simple – you’re either moving closer to your goal (any goal, big or small) or further away from it. It’s then up to you to decide whether you want to be objective or subjective about measuring that and both have their place.

      In addition you may wish to take a step back (further away) in the short term in order to take 2 or 3 steps forward (closer) in the long term but the point is to be mindful of these things and avoid ‘sweating the small stuff’. If, overall you are ‘trending’ in the right direction then that is a good thing and a focus people often lose.

      The thing you mentioned about projects is potentially confusing the word ‘confused’ with the word ‘complexity’. Whether a project is complex or not does not determine if you are confused about it – if you are, then this principle still applies, and if so, remember that projects can be broken down into smaller tasks.

      Consider this: there is not a single person in the world who knows how to make a kettle and can do it (think about it) – yet you would consider this a simple endeavor – why is that?

  2. Hi Alan.
    Just found your post on Allie Rambles blog and thought I would drop by.

    I was reading this post and I hit this sentence “You’re either moving closer to your goal or further away from it.” A lightbulb went on and I thought, you know, it really is as simple as that.
    A couple of sentences later and you wrote “Am I over-simplifying things here? No. ” It made me grin to myself.
    We can make things a lot over complicated for ourselves.
    Each time I plan to do something from now on, I’m going to just stop and ask myself, does this move me closer to my goal.

    • Hi Steve,

      thanks so much for doing so, I hope you like ‘my place’ too. Take off your shoes and make yourself at home. We go for minimal around here but hopefully you’ll find everything you need 😉

      I really do believe that often simple concepts such as this one can often be the most powerful (and I have plenty more where this came from) and you’ll see a lot of my advice (both for life and also for business) here is of a similar nature.

      take care & best wishes,

  3. It is that simple yet many people overlook this simple fact. Setting goals and objectives gives you a challenge. It gives you something to strive toward us and to other people.

    • Hi Mika,

      thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

      My thing is really that simple things can often be the most powerful. Don’t underestimate the power of simple concepts!! 😉

      taking it a step further, when we over-complicate problems we often get in our own way,

      thanks again for the comment,
      take care & best wishes,

  4. Hi there! I know this is kind of off-topic however I had to ask. Does managing a well-established blog like yours require a massive amount work? I’m completely new to blogging but I do write in my diary every day. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my experience and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

  5. Hey Alan,

    For me and obviously for you, things take time to work. So by jumping into quick with wanting results, we aren’t giving it enough opportunity to actually do what we want. Now in the end some of it may not work which is why you will always here, test, test, test things.

    I use to obsess over things too and then had to realize that I have to give everything time to work. If it’s moving toward my goal then keep it up. If it’s working against my goal, move on to something different.

    Patience is the real key, something a lot of people today don’t have. We are that quick fix society and we want everything yesterday. Greatness doesn’t come overnight though.

    Thank for sharing this with us as always. Great information my friend.


    • Hi Adrienne,

      I wanted to share this concept before writing about my diet system, because it’s kind of a fundamental basis for it, and important to understand in terms of motivation and sustainability (for anything, not just diets).

      Though the results of my experience with Tim’s diet aren’t what it said on the tin, that’s cool – I’m actually happy as long as the trend is positive. That being said, the system I will introduce next week goes one better:

      1) because it is a system and
      2) because it follows the principles outlined above (i.e. things can only really go 2 ways (better/worse), what gets measured gets improved and that you should be tracking the right information – i.e. what’s important and makes the most sense to you).

      More next week 😉

      take care & thanks for stopping by!!


  6. ‘A confused mind always says no’ – it was ME who first said it, Alan ! (I’m kidding, obviously….)

    I too am a big believer in systems and the simpler they are, the better. This is what I teach to my students as well. The great thing about them is that if something doesn’t work, at least you know it doesn’t through the use of your system, rather than guessing or flitting.

    Is this the nature of a scientific mind?

    • Hey Razwana,

      I thought it might be you – but How come Google doesn’t know that?

      Weird. Perhaps they’re not as clever as I thought they were.

      Yup, I’m a big believer in systems and in keeping things simple too. I also happen to believe if you can combine those two things well, then you are on to a winner!

      Scientific mind? Hmmm, not sure – sounds a bit swish. Curious mind is probably the closest I come to that…

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