Savor Your “Small Wins” To Get the Job Done

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Metaphorically speaking, we all have mountains to climb, and some of us manage to ascend to a higher plateau than others, notes Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard magazine. Which psychological traits help people push their way to their peak? A new study of actual mountain climbers—specifically, adventurous people who attempted to climb Mount Everest—suggests one promising path is to manage your anxiety and savor small victories:

“In the spring of 2008, a team of researchers led by psychologist Jim Cartreine of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston surveyed 71 people at the South Base Camp of Mount Everest, as they prepared to make the ascent up the world’s tallest peak.

Participants completed a brief survey designed to reveal their attitudes toward risk and their current emotional state, including the degree to which they were feeling euphoric, excited, and anxious about their impending climb. One month later, 42 of them had sent back a follow-up questionnaire, reporting the highest altitude they had reached and whether they had reached the summit. (Sixty-four percent did so, about average for that spring.)

The researchers found that, on average, climbers who had high marks in ‘reward responsiveness’ made their way higher up the mountain. These are the people who responded positively to such statements as ‘When I’m doing well at something, I love to keep at it.’

The authors speculate that climbers with this mental attitude ‘are energized by the attainment of each smaller goal en route to the summit (e.g., successfully crossing a challenging crevasse), and this helps to fuel continued engagement.’

Says lead author Greg Feldman, a research psychologist at Boston’s Simmons College: ‘These results suggest the ability to maintain a reward focus, and savor each accomplishment during the relative drudgery and discomfort inherent in tasks like mountain climbing, may be crucial to success in such endeavors.’

Given that ‘drudgery and discomfort’ play a role in pretty much any task worth accomplishing, that advice sounds valuable for even those of us who stay at sea level.” (Read more here.)

This finding reminds me a lot of the work of Harvard Business School psychologist Teresa Amabile, who has written about “the power of small wins.” As she writes in an article in the Harvard Business Review:

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.” (Read more here.)

How do you savor your small wins? I reward myself with a cup of tea.

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One Response to “Savor Your “Small Wins” To Get the Job Done”

  1. Kevin says:

    I read “The Progress Principle” and the information helped me change how I work, study and live my life.

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