Creating Momentum With Frequency & Intensity

How to design work to maximize psychological momentum.

This week I shared some research behind psychological momentum (PM) and mentioned how you can look at it like a force or wave that pushes you forward. But PM only lasts for a limited time. How can we design our work so that we feel energized and confident in our success for longer periods?

Science says that the key to sustaining PM lies in combining two different effects:

  • Intensity effect: The stronger the momentum, the longer it will last.
  • Frequency effect: The more positive momentums you can accumulate consecutively, the longer PM will last.

Intensity Effect

For the vast majority of activities you perform, the bigger the perceived initial success, the greater the psychological momentum. And the greater the PM, the greater the chance of subsequent success.

If your success is an unexpected huge win - or has a “wow” factor associated with it - the more likely it is to create strong momentum. In a sports context, this could happen when:

  • A basketball player makes an impressive dunk.
  • A boxer makes a devastating hit.
  • A football team beats the season’s leading team.

Research shows that in these situations, the “wow” factor is obvious. The value, meaning, and power you take from it is huge, leading you to feel a strong psychological momentum.

Ask yourself: What's a big win I can have this week that is growth-oriented and completely in my control?

(Tip: Replace "meeting with John to discuss new project" with "Calling John to ask for a meeting to discuss new project".)

Frequency Effect

The other way to extend momentum is to experience several wins in a row.

You don't need any “spectacular” win to benefit from the frequency effect. It happens when you understand that there's a connection between two instances of success. Seeing that link between them will increase your confidence in your system, skills, and abilities.

Research shows, for example, that a golfer who makes two “birdies” in a row has a higher probability of qualifying for the final rounds of a tournament. The sequence of wins creates momentum and increases confidence in him/her game.

Isolated successes here and there, however, are not enough to create PM. A “birdie” on the second and 13th hole, with pars and bogeys in between, do not allow the player to see a connection between the two wins. The closer in time the two successful performances are, the more likely the perceived link between the two, and thus, the more likely is PM.

Ask yourself: What's a big recurring activity that I've been avoiding, and how can I break it down into ridiculously smaller tasks?

(Tip: Do tasks, not projects. The smaller the task, the greater the likelihood you can complete it and the easier it will be for you to improve the way you do it.)

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