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.