Hi there, Danilo here. 15 consultancy partners picked today's topic: Creating psychological momentum.

Why is this relevant to you? If you understand how it works, you can consciously create momentum to fuel the growth of your consulting business. With momentum, you get better results and more enjoyment out of your practice.

Wish you a great reading.

One Idea

Psychological momentum is one of the most frequently discussed phenomena among sports fans and commentators.

Over 90% of fans, 92% of coaches, and 76% of NBA basketball players themselves believe that their performance is crucially determined by momentum, to the point that they “almost can’t miss” their next shot.

Athletes seek confidence because they know that, the more they have, the better they will play.

But momentum is not just a sports phenomenon:

  • In every election candidates are frequently gaining and losing momentum, and specialists often highlight that this affects how strategic alliances and political concessions are made.
  • After the 2008 "Great Recession", it is now clear that companies postponed capital investments and the hiring of new employees because they were waiting to see if the economy was “gaining momentum” and truly recovering.
  • Over the short term, stock prices are mostly driven by investor sentiment rather than companies’ performance (“fundamentals”). High-momentum stocks are heavily traded and often have unreasonable price-to-earnings ratios.

There's extensive and conclusive research showing that psychological momentum ("PM") is not a myth, but a reality. Previous performance significantly affects subsequent performance.

Initial success creates, reinforces, and lengthens momentum. And the longer the psychological momentum can be sustained, the more likely the success.

Before we explore how you can create momentum to improve your business development performance (and by consequence, growing your consulting practice), it's important to understand how it works.

In our context, we consultants feel and experience PM when:

  1. We feel competent, confident, and in control of our abilities to generate new business opportunities;
  2. We recognize that we're doing business development better than our competitors and industry peers;
  3. We perceive a higher likelihood of reaching our growth goals.

These perceptions combine to form momentum, which becomes a psychological force or wave that can carry you to further success.

If you know you don't have the right skills or are not confident in the way you've been sourcing new projects now, you will feel like rowing against the current. The same happens when you compare yourself to others and cultivate negative self-talk. Chances are you won't see good results from your initiatives.

When the opposite happens, you have positive momentum. You trust your system and know that the way you're approaching clients and prospects is ethical and effective. You know you're playing your own game by putting relationships first and focusing on only the best opportunities.

Creating positive psychological momentum makes everything easier. It feels natural and effortless, like you're being carried by the wave. The score takes care of itself.

Like ocean waves, however, PM doesn't last for long - you can't ride one forever. If you want to fully leverage it, you will need a series of consecutive momentum. The question then becomes: How can you create more and bigger waves?

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 momentum 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.

For you, it might be closing your biggest advisory project. Signing a partnership with someone you admire from the industry. Or even speaking to an audience that's 10x bigger than what you're used to.

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.

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 his game. For you, that might be consistently booking consultations and presentations to prospective clients, week after week.

Isolated successes here and there are not enough to create PM. A “birdie” on the second and 13th hole, with pars and bogeys in between, does 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.

If you want to benefit from the intensity and/or the frequency effect at work, check the “One Question” section. But before that, I picked three questions consulting founders often pose during workshops and trainings.

What's more effective to create PM, the frequency or the intensity effect?

There's no scientific consensus on whether one single high-intensity success (winning a huge contract with a dream client) or the perceived link between two successes (selling two smaller projects for different clients) creates more PM. The answer to this is probably context-dependent.

Also, there's an important thing I haven't mentioned about the frequency effect: It's possible that, in certain situations, you need more than two "wins" in a row to create PM. Context matters.

What does it take for psychological momentum to "vanish"?

According to research, PM is terminated in two ways:

  1. A stoppage in performance in time.
  2. A performer’s own unsuccessful (or an opponent’s successful) performance.

When you stop doing something, you will inevitably kill momentum. An interesting study about this was published by Mace et al. (1992), and showed that “timeouts” in collegiate basketball reduced momentum and subsequent performance by 56%.

Also, it's well documented that losing or falling behind in competition dampens our confidence and PM - even when we're "competing" against ourselves.

An interesting finding here is that PM can be maintained by a “neutral” performance. For example, after creating PM by two consecutive “birdies,” a golfer can sustain PM even if he or she makes several pars in a row after the birdies. These "non-losing" plays suggest to him that his “system” (technique, approach) still works, which keeps PM alive.

Is it possible to sustain positive psychological momentum forever?

No. Whether in direct competition (tennis) or performing with no direct opponents (golfer), it's impossible to avoid errors in human performance. This means it's impossible to sustain PM forever.

However, the longer you or your team can ride momentum, the more likely you are to reach specific goals and generate positive results.

One Quote

“Research has shown that initial success increases attributions to internal factors, which in turn lead to higher effort expenditure and task persistence. Such attributions signify that a performer believes his or her skills and effort, not lucky breaks and other external factors, were critical for success. These attributions are more likely if goal commitment is high, as it typically is among competitors. A high goal commitment also promotes effective responses to failure, thereby preventing performers from shifting their attention away from the task and losing momentum.”

Source: "Psychological Momentum: Why Success Breeds Success” (Iso-Ahola & Dotson)

One Number

These findings are also important in showing that there is a ceiling to how much of the total variance deliberate practice and ability can explain in various domains of human performance.

If their combined effect in a given domain is about 50%, most of the variance of the other half comes from the contribution of psychological factors. How much of that percentage is attributable to PM is still unknown at the moment. If you follow the related research and have concrete numbers on this, please do share.

One Question For You

This week, I actually have two for you.

To leverage the intensity effect, ask yourself:

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

Tip: Take a look at your to-do/action list. Replace "meeting with John to discuss new project" with "Calling John to ask for a meeting to discuss new project". You don’t need anyone’s permission to complete the latter. The former is an outcome that doesn’t depend on you.

To leverage the frequency effect, 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. Aim for and celebrate progress.

Thanks for reading. You can get more specialized and actionable growth insights for micro consultancies in our newsletter. Every Tuesday, you get one idea from Danilo, one quote from other experts, one number you need to hear, and one question for you to level up your consulting practice.

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