Why small wins generate motivation

From The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile:

This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work.

We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.

This pattern became increasingly obvious as the diaries came in from all the teams in our study. People’s inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments.

Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one.

Notes: Perhaps this is one of the reasons why celebrating wins is so important — it’s a way of reminding yourself of your progress. And why Jeff Weiner starts staff meetings with wins.

2 thoughts on “Why small wins generate motivation

  1. This is such an important insight. While home runs are obviously desirable, they don’t come around as often as we’d like. As such, small wins become the lifeblood of daily progression. I personally look for small wins every single work day — often, they are just sitting there for the taking.

    There’s a great sports analogy here. Back in high school, my basketball coach used to tell us that when our shots weren’t falling (i.e. when we were ice cold), we should do small things to build our confidence. Drawing a foul and getting a couple of free throws does wonders when you aren’t hitting the 30 footers. The same philosophy applies to the workplace and it’s something every manager should communicate to their teams.

    • I’m similar, Colin. And I think there’s also a management take-away here. Reviewing your and your team’s recent wins is very important; it reminds everyone that we’re making progress, and makes everyone feel good.

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