Building Psychological Momentum
The true secret of getting things done
If you have ever tried to change your habits, you know how difficult it is. You might know very well that you should exercise daily, perhaps you have even started, yet you lack the stamina to really progress with your goals. As a result, you get increasingly frustrated.
While I have been helping organizations create and verify their strategies, I met a handful of extremely successful and interesting people. Those people seemed to lack any sort of self-reflection and doubt. Their modus operandi was ‘Action! Action! Action!’ and failures did not seem to slow them down.
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They would try different approaches and, eventually, they would find something that did work.
They were a problem to me because of two reasons:
they had no time, no will and no patience to talk about anything strategic. They did not engage in any knowledge exchange if it was not immediately useful.
Their existence - and success - was breaking my situational awareness model, in which you needed to know a little bit more than your competitors to seize opportunities when needed.
Psychological Momentum enters the stage
Note that means of achieving success and mental and physical effort are not alone to be successful. Chances are that without the belief in a high probability of achieving your goals, you will disengage and give up.
And to believe in your own victory, you need to think positively of yourself:
confidence in your capabilities
see yourself as competent
spin positive stories about yourself
But that is not enough in the competitive situation, because you also need to be borderline arrogant. You must believe that:
you have superior skills,
a stronger mind,
and more energy.
And that will NOT happen without success.
You need success before success.
Each next success enables you to dare more, as it increases your confidence. If work on your skills alongside, you are building momentum. Bigger success enables you to aim for more. And the ball gets rolling.
The ball rolls downhill (and uphill, too!)
It works the other way, too. If you fail your undertaking, you have just started undermining your self-esteem. For some people, this process will be faster, and for some will be slower, but everyone is affected.
After a few failures, you set up yourself for a trajectory of failure. You might have skills but you will lack the mental capability to put effort in.
The secret of highly energetic people
Apart from extreme self-confidence (did I use the word “arrogant” before?), there is a mental trick which makes life a little bit easier: enjoy the ride.
Marathon runners know that even if you are extremely exhausted, you will do your last sprint before the finish - because the finish is so close. They also know the starts are easy because you are excited.
It’s the middle part which is so gruesome.
So, how do long-distance runners cope with the exhaustion?
They split the large effort into smaller chunks. It’s not about finishing the marathon, but about getting past that tree, or getting to that turn. And then to the next one. The next goal is the only thing that matters, and therefore you do not deplete your willpower quickly.
Apply the same mental model to your life or business3 - and you will enjoy the psychological momentum which is easier to maintain. Small tasks will give you the feeling of constant progress. And we all know that it is what really moves us.
How small is small enough?
There are three things that will prevent you from building momentum.
Running out of time
Running out of energy
Being too ambitious
It looks like time-boxing is of great use here. If you are using a Pomodoro (or similar) technique, you will be inclined to define short tasks that can be finished in one slot. As time progresses and it gets easier for you to maintain the focus, you might expand your task length.
But there is a caveat - if your task is too long, it will get interrupted, and interruption counts as a failure. It might be your partner, your boss, your car or your bladder - your momentum was just put on reverse.
The remaining two reasons are fairly straightforward - do only things which you are reasonably sure you can do. Potential big successes will emerge as a result of the accumulation of many small gains.
TL;DR: Start small
Maintaining the psychological momentum is key, so you should modify your environment to support it. That means:
Big goals have to become ambitions. A day is a good day if you have moved in a desired direction even if you feel the movement is ridiculously small.
Learn to recognize & appreciate small successes. You might need to revise what you think of yourself. Remember, high ambitions will cause frustration.
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I am not going to analyse what success means. But I do recommend watching ‘How to get rich’ on Netflix.