The Progress Principle
Here are articles discussing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer's study on motivation at work, The Progress Principle.
It turns out that 95% of managers are wrong about what motivates people at work. It's not financial incentive or stress--rather, the most powerful motivator at work is the sense that you're making progress towards a meaningful goal.
Take some small step today, and value each step you take. You never know which step will make a difference. This is much better than not trying to do anything.
Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, in Jane E. Brody’s NYT’s Well Blog post, When Daily Stress Gets in the Way of Life.
Dr. Chansky suggests taking a small step and acknowledging it as an effective way to deal with paralyzing anxiety.
“If you’re worrying about your work all the time, you won’t get your work done,” she explains. And don’t forget, every small step is itself powerfully motivating!
Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.
By now, participants of NaNoWriMo are more than halfway through writing 50,000 words. That’s about 1,667 words a day. Not necessarily that many good words. But the point of it is to get you to start, so that by the end of November, there’s a novel. A whole novel!
I’ve never been able to do NaNoWriMo. The thought of all those words the first day — 1,667 probably pretty stinky words — is enough to make me run to the sofa and turn on the TV instead. I know I’m good at that.
The Starting Challenge
The blank page of any project — writing, exercising, making, learning, doing — is paralyzing. It’s the weight of great expectations and unmet aspiration. It’s the fear of finding out that you’re no good, of failing, of looking stupid. It’s laziness. It’s the specter of busyness that looms over your shoulder saying you don’t have the time and energy for this, to do it “right” — and you listen.
“First, do no harm”—it’s a fundamental principle of medical ethics and constant reminder to every medical professional that intervention carries risks just as inaction does. In Latin, it’s Primum non nocere:
Another way to state it is that, “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good”. It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.
It’s something that’s easy to forget for doctors, because they view themselves as healers and they’re capable of tremendous good. But it’s an absolutely vital to check the behavioral tendency that Abraham Kaplan called the law of the instrument: “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” What’s important is the health of the patient, not the dilemma between intervention and inaction.
In The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer discovered a surprising fact about what motivates people at work that every manager should know. The most powerful positive motivator for people at work is making progress in meaningful work, but it pales in comparison with the negative impact of hitting dead ends and encountering setbacks which has the greatest effect on motivation.
Professor Amabile and Kramer analyzed the language used in nearly 12,000 employee diary entries for accounts of progress and setbacks, and they compared appearances of those events to self-reported emotional levels of happiness and frustration, and what they found was alarming. Setbacks were greater than three times as powerful in increasing frustration than the power of progress to diminish it.
[A]fter a year of practice in my parents garage I came to suck a lot less, and by the time I gave up the instrument I had risen to the ranks of the “Merely OK.” But I didn’t feel “Merely OK.” I felt like a king, because I knew from whence I came. I knew that great distance (and it is great) between “Utter Suckage” and “Merely OK.”
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, comparing learning the djembe as a child to learning French and the awesome that comes from “becoming good at something which you kind of naturally sucked at.”
Check out our post about breaking down your perspective on progress by recognizing the small triumphs that happen every day and tracking that great distance on the road to feeling like a king.
Here’s a little sunny and fish encouragement. Keep making tiny, wonderful triumphs happen!
Empirically, the way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.
Paul Graham‘s advice for startups, which applies to tackling challenges in general.
Start small, and then onward and forward to big things!
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” — Pablo Picasso
Hope inspiration, or at least some ice cream, finds you working today!