Inspect What You Expect

by on January 6, 2012

I first heard this little catch phrase when as a much younger junior management wanna-be my boss sat me down for a lecture. The old man (he was probably 35) said in his authoritative tone; “Inspect what you expect, otherwise your just flailing away in the dark”. I found his advice snide and paid no attention.  Such is the stupidity of youth!

 The truth is that while he may have had an ego problem,  this piece of advice was perfectly correct. Inspect what you expect indeed – how else can you know what is going on if your not taking a close look pretty dang often?

 Expectations are goals. Not in the sense that your expectation of the sun rising tomorrow morning is some goal of yours,  but expectations relative to efforts you are putting forth. Whether you put much thought into it or not, when you take any action with a specific outcome in mind, you have created expectations and set a goal. If you have done a very poor job of defining your outcome, then your actions are less likely to be effective in moving you toward your expectations. Too often, folks put little to no effort at all into specifically defining their intended outcome and thus they have no real expectations or goals. They end up flailing away in the dark, confused at their lack of results.

 Do you want your Fibromyalgia symptoms to improve? Do you expect them too? Do you see the difference? If someone asked me if I wanted to be a racecar driver, I would immediately tell them “Sure”!  I would love to be a racecar driver.  But do I expect to be a racecar driver? No. Because I am not putting any effort into becoming a racecar driver, I have no expectations nor goals relative to that reality. Wanting something and expecting it can be very different things. If you expect to get better, you need to get specific in defining exactly what “better” means. Your expectations need to grow to include specific well defined goals.

 Once you have a goal, you can begin to educate yourself and research different options for actions targeted toward your goal. This will involve your care providers and support network as you seek ideas and evaluate which options you feel are best for you, and why. When enough information has been evaluated to enable a decision, you are ready to take action -  goal focused action.

 This brings us to the second critical part of our axiom -  Inspecting.  Inspecting means measuring results and fundamentally this boils down to 3 basic things -  collecting, analyzing and utilizing data.

 Throughout the process of taking whatever action we have decided upon to move toward our goals, we need to be collecting data relevant to our goal. If the goal is to be reducing the frequency and severity of headaches – we have to note each headache experienced:  When did it happen?  How severe was it?  Can we note any possible triggers? How long did it last? What did we do to treat it?  If we want to validate our actions, we have to have data to analyze and utilize so step 1 is collecting that data and hopefully storing it in a format that better enables analysis. Make sure to note details! Sometimes things that seem trivial at the time can be shown as causal or related upon deeper analysis.

 This collection of data is a process that will be ongoing.  Management of a complicated chronic illness like Fibromyalgia is unfortunately something that takes time and patience. Results will not be linear and you must anticipate that some actions will yield a negative result. Understand that developing a treatment approach that is best for you is a process that will ultimately enable your expectations, but this process can be slow and at times tedious.  Accepting this up front makes dealing with it later much easier!

 As you build results, you can begin the analysis process. Look for patterns. Note negative results, positive results and neutral results if changes appear to be related to our actions.  Can any consistent triggering events be identified?  Seek causal relationships within the data. Does the data indicate any roadblocks or interferences with other factors active in your efforts?  Involve your care and support teams in the analysis process. Is the feedback from your care team valuable? Is the team serving their purpose?

 What you learn through the process of analysis must be utilized in determining your next course of action. Should the current actions be continued or expanded? What complimentary actions are possible? If any causal relationships have been identified, what actions can be taken to eliminate or reduce the causal factors? 

 Clearly if the data indicates a negative impact the action will be halted, (this is the easiest analysis – if something is making you worse it takes little thought to quit that! ) but less clear is dealing with neutral results. Sometimes, actions may not yield any measurable result. In this case,  more research and education may be required to determined realistic time frames but ultimately if an action does not yield positive results it should be halted as it represents a waste of time, effort and resources. Remember -  the purpose of inspecting what you expect is not just to determine what is effective, but equally to determine what is not effective!

 This process should be an upward spiral:  Take action  à  Collect data à Analyze data à  Utilize data to determine next action à Take action…  constantly moving towards or setting new goals.

 Systemizing a process like this yields what I like to call “Intelligent Trial and Error” -  which is a fancy way of saying “NOT flailing away in the dark!”  Putting together your own process to inspect what you expect should be a key strategy in developing your own effective self management program.  (it is also one of the primary functions of the FibroTrack application -  more on that later!)

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Kimberly March 30, 2012 at 10:20 am

Being analytical and logical in nature, this approach makes perfect sense to me. I’m relatively new to fibro, and actually am not a hundred percent sure it’s what I’m dealing with, but it’s the diagnosis that makes the most sense given my symptoms. I like this idea of setting goals, symptom-tracking, and measuring success. Thanks for a great post!


Terry S. March 30, 2012 at 10:49 am

Thanks Kinberly – there are a number of great articles (all research based) on the “What is Fibromyalgia” page in the menu to the left for Diagnosis that help you understand that process.

Also – see the articles on research studies relative to self-management programs and those fighting fibro. Interesting stuff.


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