We’ve all probably heard that ostriches stick their heads in sand when they sense danger. (Obviously, if you ignore something, it goes away, right?)

But this actually a myth—in fact, the propensity to “bury our heads in the sand” in times of trouble or uncertainty is a uniquely human trait.

“The Ostrich Problem,” as coined by English psychologists, is the tendency to avoid really tracking our progress toward a goal. As Christian Jarrett of 99U explains, we’re often afraid that our actual progress won’t be as good as our expectations, so we avoid confronting that reality:

…the avoidance of progress feedback is often motivated by fear—fear that we will be confirming what we suspect: things aren’t going well. If you’re comfortable with your current modus operandi, it can be very tempting to delude yourself that there’s no need to change, and avoiding progress monitoring is one way to do that.

Think about it: Have you ever delayed looking at feedback you’ve received because you knew deep down it probably wouldn’t be as good as you hoped? Or ever been reluctant to monitor your workflow progress because you know it’s not where it should be? All these tendencies reflect the Ostrich Problem at play, and they have a direct impact on your productivity, progress, and effectiveness.

So, how can we overcome our desire to ignore our progress? Jarrett has some ideas:

…if you’re afraid of undermining your self-belief, remind yourself not to be a perfectionist. It’s okay to screw up. Struggles and set backs aren’t an abnormality, they are part of the process. Another tactic is to ask a colleague to provide you with feedback on your progress, or set up some kind of automatic feedback system—both approaches will stop you from needing the willpower to check how you’re doing.

Let’s face it: You’re not always going to like the truth of how far you’ve come. But by biting the bullet and tracking it anyway, you’ll be amazed by how much further you can go.

Photo of ostriches courtesy of Shutterstock.