Making a positive change almost always results in a very cool phenomenon: The improvement ripple effect.

Work to become a better leader, and before you know it you've become a better parent. Work to cut fixed costs, and before you know it you've also increased operational efficiency and improved sales flow. Train to run a marathon, and before you know it you've also improved your diet. 

Focusing on one thing naturally leads to making other improvements. Say you're trying to lose weight: Once you've lost a few pounds, it's a lot easier to go to the gym and work out. Success feels good. Success is motivating.

The key, of course, is to stay the course long enough to lose a few pounds, enjoy that early success, and kick-start the improvement ripple effect.

Which, science says, is a lot more likely to happen if you do one simple thing: Log what you eat. 

In one study, people who consistently tracked their food intake lost the most weight. As the researcher says:

Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful.

It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference (my bold) -- not the time spent or the details included.

Yep: How long people spent tracking what they ate, or the level of detail in their logs, didn't matter.

All that mattered was doing some form of logging -- and doing it consistently. 

In fact, other research shows that people who keep a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who did not.

According to those researchers:

It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories. (But) keeping a food diary doesn't have to be a formal thing.

Just the act of scribbling down what you eat on a Post-It note, sending yourself e-mails tallying each meal, or sending yourself a text message will suffice.

It's the process of reflecting on what you eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully change our behavior.

Again: It's not what you log, or how long it takes you to log what you eat.

The real key is that you're logging at all.

The Hawthorne Effect

While an unexamined life may not be worth living, an unexamined life is definitely less likely to help you achieve your goals.

When we're being observed, we tend to change our behaviors. (That's the Hawthorne Effect.)

In business, you are what you measure. Measure productivity, and your employees will typically be more productive. Measure quality, and quality will typically improve. 

When people are being observed they instinctively change their behaviors -- and that's true even if you're simply "observing" yourself.

Writing down what you eat helps keep you from "mindless" eating. And it helps keep you from underestimating how much you eat -- because we all underestimate how much we eat, just like we all overestimate how hard we work out. 

The key is to log often. Don't wait until the end of the day; log immediately after you eat.

The process of logging is what matters: The more immediate and frequent that process takes place, the more powerful its impact.

A fact that can help you improve just about any other area of your professional or personal life.

You Can Become What You Measure

Almost all incredibly successful people set a goal.

Then they focus all of their attention on the process necessary to achieve that goal: The steps they need to take this minute, this hour, this day.

Success is based on staying the course and doing the right things, the right way, over and over.

Perfect example: Jerry Seinfeld. Early on, Seinfeld decided the best way to write better jokes was to write a new joke every day.

So got a large wall calendar, one that showed the entire year, and hung it where he couldn't miss it. And every day, once he wrote a new joke, he put a red X over that date.

"After a few days," Seinfeld told Brad Isaac, "you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain."

Logging helped him stay on track. And helped him stay motivated.

Try it. If you need to make cold calls to increase sales, decide how many calls you'll make each day and then make a mark on a calendar for every call you make. If you need to to improve employee morale and engagement, jot down every time you praise an employee for doing something well. If you need to increase customer retention, log every time you call a customer to check in, offer support, or ask for feedback.

Sure, you know what you need to do to boost sales, improve morale, and increase customer retention.

But don't assume knowing automatically leads to doing. Logging leads to doing. 

And leads to a much greater chance of success -- which naturally leads to kick-starting your own ripple effect of improvement.

Which means you'll "win" on multiple levels.

Can't beat that.