Top Tags

One step at a time …

A few days ago, I listed 10 big mistakes that people make in trying to change behavior.  Here’s #2: attempting big leaps instead of baby steps.

The antidote? Seek tiny wins, one after another, according to the folks at B. J. Fogg’s Persuasive Technology Lab.

They’re right, in more ways than one.

We’ve heard for years about the power of big audacious goals, sweeping visions, and ‘breakthrough’ leaps. But we live life in moments, one after another. Only in retrospect, when we string those moments and events together, do we see patterns and create narratives to explain what happened.

What if we could capture and study all those little moments? What might we learn that’s different?

That’s exactly what researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer did. They set out to identify what really engages and motivates people at work. What they found is that what motivates people most is making progress on meaningful work. That means little wins strung together on a bead chain over weeks and months.

Amabile and Kramer recruited 238 professionals across 7 companies in 3 industries and sent them an electronic diary form to complete every day. They got back 12,000 sets of data about the participants’ “inner work life”–the perceptions, emotions, and motivation they experienced on a daily basis!! The results, just published in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, are fascinating.

Their findings clearly show that what goes on in the world behind our eyes–our perceptions, emotions, and motivation–has a huge impact on our performance.

Whether we’re pursuing a meaningful goal at work or an important change in our behavior, the same dynamics are in play. We have a deep need for what psychologists call self efficacy, or a belief in our effectiveness, our ability to deal with challenges and to succeed in the world. That’s why tiny wins and small successes are so powerful: they boost our sense of effectiveness.

Each win gives us a little hit of confidence and positive emotion, and each little hit boosts our motivation, pulling us a tiny bit closer to that important goal.

Here’s another tidbit from The Progress Principle that might be useful, especially if you’re struggling at work. When the authors surveyed nearly 700 managers about what they think motivates employees, “support for making progress” came in dead last.

So if you’re in a management or leadership position, get a copy of this book and read it–preferably before you make any more big changes at work. And if you’re an individual or team contributor, read it for the many little insights and exercises about ways to nourish progress.