Readers' Questions On Psychological Momentum

The last post on this topic.

During the last few days, I published a streak of posts on the research behind psychological momentum (PM). Those included:

There are many other ideas that consultants would like to see explored in this blog, so the time has come to close this topic. But before that, I picked three questions that were sent by readers to answer in public.

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.

Interesting to understand what creates psychological momentum. But what does it take for it 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.

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