How do you quantify self-improvement?

Say you have some goals (or "resolutions", in the case of the new year)... How do you measure progress toward success? Goals are much easier to actually accomplish if you break it into steps. I haven't done the Googling, but I assume tapering with the help of patches or nicotine gum is a much more successful method of smoking cessation than cold turkey. Fitness improvements are almost by definition something to work toward one step at a time -- you can't just go from the couch to running a marathon, you need to run around the block first.

This all came about from me lying in bed thinking about some things I'd like to accomplish this year and trying to come up with ways to keep track of my paths toward them. A lot of this is based on my use of the Physics Diet web site for tracking my weight. Even when I'm not succeeding, I love having the data in front of me. I can forgive myself a big red spike if I then come back with some green afterward.

I want something like that for other goals, so I started bending my brain around it a little. Physics Diet depends on daily weight and body fat measurements, and each day your "goal" (in most cases, at least) is to weigh less than you did the day before. How do you break other types of goals into similarly measurable "micro-goals".

I think the main crux is how you formulate your goal.

Suppose I want to be able to run ten kilometers this year. The first step is to get out and run - period. That means running once in this next week is an improvement from the previous state of not running at all. Then if I get to the point where I am running consistently three days a week, I need to change my metric to something like distance covered or even time if my distance covered is the same as before. Obviously, this just got a lot more complex than a weight chart...

At least there are still obvious metrics, though - in the example above you have frequency, distance, and time. All of which you can easily measure and compare. You might even be able to make a pretty chart/graph to show progress/regression. Even without the chart I could track progress in each of the metrics and use that data to motivate myself toward my originally stated goal of running 10k within my time frame.

Here's another one: I want to learn to play my Fluke ukulele. How the heck do I "chunkify" something like that? Well, I could rephrase the goal to something more like "I want to practice the ukulele every day." That give me the frequency metric again. I could also perhaps measure a duration metric, too. Those will definitely be helpful to me at the start, but after a while two hours of plinking tunelessly will become a disappointment, and it's a big jump from counting how often I practice to counting something like songs I've learned to play....

Perhaps this illustrates a lack of knowledge -- I might not actually understand what it takes to reach my goal.

Maybe that's OK, though. Maybe tracking data on these small metrics is just a way to get me off the ground for some goals, while with others - like running or other fitness goals - it could be a long-lasting habit.

Besides, there are other things to track. Perhaps some goals are better broken into a sequential checklist of milestones -- when you can check something off, you have made progress. This sort of goal wouldn't really have backwards progress, I suppose, aside from stalling out on time.

What do you think? Is this likely to be a useful tack for achieving goals? Am I just using the idea of tracking data as a procrastination tool? (Thanks to my experience with Physics Diet, I'm quite certain this isn't the case. Tracking measurements takes very little effort and thinking out your goals is never a bad thing.)