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Does stopping hard tasks midway through negatively affect your chances of success?

Does stopping hard tasks midway through negatively affect your chances of success?



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When a person has embarked on an undertaking that is both unpleasant and important (a good example could be a 12 step drug treatment program), lets say they make progress, and then stall before completion.

Is the the person significantly less likely to be successful as a result of the break in their momentum?


Here are some thoughts on potentially important moderating factors for any such basic effect:

  • Whether stalling is voluntary
  • Whether there are social or environmental reasons for stalling
  • How long one stalls
  • Whether one has made a complete break from the undertaking
    • Whether one turns in the meantime to related matters that might facilitate or conflict with it

I'm not implying you have to narrow your question down to get a general answer, but the general answer might not be a noticeably influential factor in specific subsets of the general question. For instance, going to sleep before trying to finish something one has been working on all day might replenish momentum the next day; this is a short, voluntary stall that probably addresses a particular reason for stalling (e.g., fatigue, or maybe needing daylight or businesses to be open to make progress), and people consolidate experiences and replenish energy resources during sleep, so sleep is a facilitating matter to turn to in the meantime.

In contrast, stalling for months because of setbacks in one's personal life might better represent the kind of scenario you have in mind that would more likely prove detrimental. For example, say you're working on a research project, but happen to be living in an apartment you share with a crazy roommate. If your roommate suddenly becomes so disruptive that you have to find new housing, negotiate a breach of your lease, move out, and settle in to your new spot before you can get back to work a couple months later, your new rate of progress might be slower at first than when you left off. This stall is essentially involuntary, due to disruptive social influences in one's environment, long enough to potentially result in forgetting some aspects of how you were doing your work (which could require refamiliarizing with even your own organizational structure! My former advisor warned me about keeping detailed notes for this reason), and it's a complex enough reason to stall in the meantime that you might stop thinking about your research entirely, and have to focus on something completely unrelated… Then again, the result still might facilitate your rate of progress if your research was being hampered by living with that crazy roommate, and your new roommates aren't equally crazy. (Based on a true story! :)

I suppose the implications for your question are that moderating factors like these may overwhelm any basic, duration-independent effect of stalling. Again, this is not to say the basic effect hasn't been studied, much less that it can't be… but my recent dissertation was on goal progress, and I haven't yet come across any sufficiently sophisticated research to address your basic issue, whereas there's plenty of research out there on relationships between progress and goal characteristics like environmental support and goal conflict, including a little bit of my own research. That being said, I'd love to see any research others might be able to contribute to this discussion, as I do find the basic issue interesting!


Psychotherapy and all other behavior modification programs work on a voluntary basis. Admittedly someone may initially not want to participate but after the initial period they should want to modify their behavior. If this key change does not occur then they will not benefit from slugging through hours and hours. Things like court imposed therapy do not have as great an impact as voluntary therapy. This same principle applies to many forms of rehab. In recent years the total number of days after detox from drug rehabilitation has dropped from a month to a couple of weeks because for most people it is equally effective.


Avoidance Learning occurs when someone faces an unpleasant stimulus (say, a 12-step), and is rewarded by the sense of relief they get from successfully getting away. Of all sorts of behavioral learning (eg learning behaviors via reward and punishment), avoidance learning can take exceptionally deep hold because there is never an opportunity to feel rewarded for successful completion or get a realistic sense of what the outcome would be if not (habitually) avoided. You can't easily unlearn the habit of avoiding. From that standpoint, quitting halfway through is avoiding the outcomes of continuing or finishing. Every time you avoid what you predict to be an unpleasant outcome, you become more likely to avoid in the future. So, all other things being equal, avoidance becomes a habit and if you are quitting something to avoid it, if you start again you'll be more likely to quit again, having already reinforced the avoidance habit.


How Does A Lack Of Confidence Affect Your Life And Career?

Many of my clients suffer from a lack of confidence. They are highly educated and talented women. But at some point in their lives, they allowed negative feedback or situations to undermine their self-esteem and that has continued to affect their performance and success every day.

Just last week, I asked one of my clients if she could recall a time in her life when she was more confident. She spoke at length about her wonderful childhood and her outstanding academic success. She always felt competent and able to tackle any situation at work. But then there a specific incident that triggered her. Years ago, one of her bosses commented to her, ‘You’re not as smart as you think you are’. And that did it. That statement unlocked her deep seeded fear that she wasn’t smart enough or good enough to succeed.

Once a limiting belief is triggered and activated, your outlook changes. You see everything through a new filter. You look for validation daily that you aren’t smart enough. And of course you will always find something that confirms this belief. For example, someone offers a different opinion than yours in a meeting. Instead of acknowledging the comment or being open to discussing it, you remain silent, or immediately get defensive and start beating yourself up. ‘Why didn’t I think of that? Obviously, I’m not smart enough!’

This is just one example from one client, but I’ve seen this over and over again with the women I work with. Their lack of confidence affects their ability to reach their full potential. Whether perfectionism or the imposter syndrome is the cause, the negative self- talk erodes their confidence as they look for proof that they will ultimately not succeed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The good news is that we can rewire our brain with focus and intention. And although our fears and limiting beliefs won’t completely disappear, over time they lose their power over our daily thoughts and actions. Practicing mindfulness and meditation supports building new neural pathways, and consistently reciting positive mantras supports more positive thinking and self-talk.

During my work with clients, I will often give them an exercise on this topic and ask them to reflect on how their life and career would be different if they were more confident.

Here are some responses from clients.

If I were more confident…

I would be in a role I enjoy, doing work I enjoy, and growing in my profession.

A lack of confidence can have a dramatic effect on your career. It will keep you in your comfort zone because you that’s where you feel safe with little risk of failure. This prevents you from leaving a bad work situation, seeking stretch assignments, or applying for a new position. You risk of losing your motivation and it undermines your self-esteem over time.

Try saying this mantra: I believe in my ability to find and succeed in a fulfilling career.

If I were more confident…

I’d allow myself to make mistakes and learn lessons from them.

In order to grow personally and professionally, you need to be willing to take some risks and make mistakes. You can start small with something that has little risk and start to build this muscle. Gradually take on more risk. Be curious and expand your horizon.

Try this mantra: I’m open to trying something new and I’m confident that I can learn from this experience, whatever the outcome.

If I were more confident…

I’d ask questions, listen, and respond in an objective way. Because I’m worried I won’t say the right thing, I say nothing.

A lack of confidence holds you back from speaking up in meetings and voicing your opinion. How many times have you said to yourself, ‘He/she said what I was going to say’? But you didn’t open your mouth and so no one knows how you think and what you have to offer. You run the risk of being invisible which can be damaging to your career. You will be overlooked when it comes to promotions, raises, or special assignments.

Try this mantra: I am smart and thoughtful and have a lot to contribute to my team and the organization.

If I were more confident…

I would be clear and direct in my communication and not use minimizing language or find ways to soften my statements.

A lack of confidence makes it difficult to communicate assertively. You end your sentences with a question. You use qualifying words such as kind of, sort of, which minimize the effect of what you are attempting to say. Your discomfort with assertive communication leads you to talk too much after making a strong statement instead of remaining quiet and waiting for input from others. The lack of conviction leads others to question your thinking and contributes to their perception that you are not a valued contributor. In fact, they may see you as a weak player.

Try this mantra: I am confident in my ability to communicate clearly and directly to others.

If I were more confident…

I’d question myself a whole lot less a whole lot less.

How much time do you spend questioning if you’re doing or saying the right thing? The time you spend questioning yourself can be spent in a more productive way. The inner dialogue keeps you from taking positive action on your behalf or for others. You are too consumed with self-doubt to be proactive and therefore your only option is to be reactive. You aren’t seen as a leader.

Try this mantra: I take positive action on behalf of others as well as myself.

If I were more confident…

I’d be less defensive and more open to receiving constructive feedback. In fact, I’d ask for it on a regular basis.

No successful career was ever built in a vacuum. You need to get regular feedback on your work not only for validation that you’re on the right path, but so that you get an objective point of view and learn how to improve your performance.

Try this mantra: I value feedback from others and I’m open to receiving feedback in order to grow professionally.

If I were more confident…

I wouldn’t be consumed by the thought that everyone else is smarter and more successful than I or view their success as a mark against my self-worth.

When you lack confidence, you spend more time thinking and worrying about what other people are doing than focusing on your own competence and potential. This focus on others robs you of the positive energy you need to fuel your ambition and reach your objectives. The external focus validates that you’re not good enough or smart enough to succeed.

Try this mantra: I have the talent to reach my full potential and I celebrate the success of others as well as my own.

If I were more confident…

I’d be happier and my relationships would be healthier.

Low self-esteem can lead to depression. A negative mindset undermines your success and also your relationships as you don’t show up as the best version of yourself. In some cases, you may not even know what that best self looks like. You tolerate toxic relationships too long and not stand up for yourself when appropriate.

Try this mantra: I love myself unconditionally and freely express my love for others.

Can you related to any of these statements? How would you answer the question, if I were more confident how would my life and career be different?

If you found this article valuable, please follow me on Twitter and check out my website and book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead for additional resources.


HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?

Being an active part of children’s homework routine is a major part of understanding feelings and of be able to provide the needed support. As parents, you can help your child have a stress-free homework experience. Sticking to a clear and organized homework routine helps children develop better homework habits as they get older. This routine also comes in handy when homework becomes more difficult and time-consuming.

Learn more about the current world of homework, and how you can help your child stay engaged.


8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

The negative effects of procrastination can range from simply missing a deadline on an important task to something more long-term, such as a missed opportunity that kills a dream. Some of us might be lucky enough to identify our tendency to procrastinate in time and still do something about it.

For others, it can have long-lasting effects that resonate throughout their lives.

The reason we procrastinate varies from person to person and is not always obvious. Sometimes, it is a hidden fear that we don&rsquot want to acknowledge, or it could even be as simple as not wanting to do something because it just doesn&rsquot motivate us.

Whatever the reason may be, if you know you are a procrastinator, you should be careful, as it has far more damaging effects than you may realize. You can find out if you&rsquore a chronic procrastinator with this free assessment: Are You a Chronic Procrastinator?

Here are the 8 most common effects of procrastination that can destroy not only your productivity, but your life.


How Your Mood Can Affect Your Sports Performance

Every good athlete knows it takes more than physical stamina to succeed. Along with developing your muscles, reflexes and physical capabilities, you need to be able to cultivate the appropriate mindset for competitions and games and learn how mood affects performance. A bad mood can throw off your whole performance, while some days you may feel like you’re flying through the field with ease.

Mood has a measurable effect on your athletic performance. A negative mood, anger, frustration, stress and fear can all have a profoundly harmful effect on your ability to run, to coordinate, to concentrate your energy and to work in sync with your teammates. The effects range from the physical to the psychological.

Although most people know that over time, athletic activities can have a positive effect on your mood, effectively combatting depression and anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your individual performance cannot be negatively affected by a sour mood. Although your performance may improve, frustration and anger can have immediate, noticeable effects on your speed, response, quick decision making and focus.

Negative emotions slow you down

Besides leaving you in a cloudy mood, anger and similar negative emotions have a documented effect on your physical capabilities. A negative mood can cause you to tense your muscles more than normal, which can leave you feeling exhausted and low on energy much quicker into a game than you normally would. You can also experience breathing difficulties from balancing the need for oxygen with the stress that inhibits your ability to take deep breaths.

Negative thoughts can also have a significant impact on your capabilities, especially if hitting the field doesn’t serve as a helpful distraction. Although some people find athletics a good way to take their mind off their anger, negative emotions can be hard to shake, leaving you trailing behind your teammates, delaying your reactions and lowering your confidence and ability to perform. You might stumble before kicking the soccer ball, thinking you can’t make the goal, whereas a confident you would have kicked without hesitation.

The more frustrated you feel, the more you may begin to experience despair and a lack of motivation on the field, even for minor of setbacks. A bad mood can alter your entire mindset toward a sport, leaving you unmotivated and unsure of yourself and your skill.

Although adrenaline caused by fear or anxiety may give you an initial burst of energy, you’ll find it far more difficult to coordinate, plan or control your efforts under the combined forces of adrenaline and fear.

Joy and excitement improve your performance

Despite the common belief that anger can be channeled into powerful athletic capabilities, multiple studies have found that excitement, joy and happiness are actually more closely correlated to concentration and capability than negative emotions like anger and frustration. A positive mood, say from an activity like dating, can improve your psychological performance, help you focus more and assist in rapid problem solving—all critical skills on the field.

Happiness appears to be correlated to better focus, because doing something you enjoy and want to participate in, particularly competitively, more easily allows you to focus all your tasks. A bad mood or depression, on the other hand, can itself serve as a distraction from whatever athletic activity you’re participating in.

You’re more likely to zone in on the ball on your next step when you’re able to focus on the goal of kicking the ball, passing the finish line or scoring the goal.

Your mood and your athletic ability are inherently connected. Whether your activities on the field improve your mood or whether your emotions negatively or positively impact your reaction time and focus, your psychology has a strong and noticeable impact on your athletic skills.


It&rsquos time to pause change your internal dialogue

For many of us, our internal dialogue plays without us thinking. Our catch phrases are handy because they enable us to operate on autopilot. It is critical to disrupt these negative and self-defeating thought patterns.

Every time you catch yourself repeating a negative mantra, hit the internal pause button, and try to come up with a better solution. If you&rsquore guilty of saying, &ldquoI don&rsquot know,&rdquo then try saying something like, &ldquoI don&rsquot know, but I&rsquom going to find out.&rdquo By flipping your negative statements into positive ones, you can allow your brain to live up to its full problem-solving potential.


Positive attitude

1. It reduces daily stress

Workplace stress is a genuine and growing problem. To find a resolution, it starts by understanding what is causing the stress in the first place. Before you think that you need to spend a huge sum of your HR budget on this matter, all you need to do is monitor the workplace for a few days.

If you compare the stress levels between someone who is always looking at the bright side of life and someone who only sees darkness at the end of the tunnel, you notice a significant chasm. It makes sense because you do not allow the small stuff to eat away at your soul and cause you to fall victim to the regime of trepidation. Positivity can ensure that even the slightest of hiccups, the very ones that can metastasise your workstation neighbour’s day into a personal hell, fall off your back.

Put simply: positivity can allow you to experience greater success and perseverance.

2. It improves your leadership skills

Positivity is key to leadership. Who wants to look up to somebody who is cynical of everything and forecasts disaster on an almost daily basis? The answer is nobody. Well, except the nihilists and their Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer!

When you want to lead, or if it is in the purview of your new position, you need to be positive. Studies have consistently found that alacrity can lead to organisational success. And what is wrong with being ebullient, anyway? It seems like in this day and age, where being an existentialist is all the rage, anyone is considered a leper if they emit a hint of eagerness.

3. It enhances interpersonal relations

You’ve heard the expression ‘misery loves company’, and it’s true. However, it is also true that we need to avoid these people like the plague. But who needs that in their life, personally and professionally? As the meme goes: ain’t nobody got time for that!

So, if you wish to bump up your interpersonal relations and skills, then it is imperative that you take the advice of legendary philosopher Charlie Brown: ‘Keep looking up. That’s the secret of life’.

With this new outlook on your career development, you will see many benefits, particularly an improvement in teamwork.

4. It cuts back on ‘sick’ days

HR experts continually encourage businesses to look for signs of a toxic work environment, even if everything seems fine. How can you spot toxicity? That is easy: check the number of ‘sick’ days.

This is when your personnel is not really sick simply take the day off just so they don’t have to deal with colleagues’ negative behaviour – bullying, gossiping or misery. Whether this is officewide or concentrated on a handful of employees, your company needs to probe the matter and determine what exactly is going on.

When more people in the office are positive, then it reduces these so-called sick days, because most staff members won’t feel the dread of a couple of bad apples. You can feel confident that your aspirations, achievements or ardour will not be frowned upon.

5. It increases confidence in your abilities

There is a direct connection between positivity and confidence.

You can likely come up with a whole host of examples that highlight your zeal leading to courage and determination. Whether it is leading a team meeting or heading a new project, your spirit and grit can guarantee tremendous confidence in your abilities to get the job done.

If you do not have strong self-esteem, then how can others have faith in your hard and soft skills?


Dealing with life's challenges

We all go through difficult times, and it can be a healthy reaction to feel negative emotions when facing challenges.

There's no single "right way" to react, and some of us are more deeply affected by events than others. Everyone is different.

Our genes, life experiences, upbringing and environment all affect our mental health and influence how we think and respond to situations. It can also depend on how well other parts of our life are going or how supported we feel.

Being aware of these factors may make it easier to understand when we, or someone we care about, are struggling.

Find out more about what can affect our mental health, as well as lots of things you can do and organisations that can help.


Job Characteristics Model

The job characteristics model is one of the most influential attempts to design jobs with increased motivational properties. Proposed by Hackman and Oldham, the model describes five core job dimensions leading to three critical psychological states, resulting in work-related outcomes.

Figure 6.3 The Job Characteristics Model has five core job dimensions. Source: Adapted from Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1975). Development of the job diagnostic survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60, 159–170.

Skill variety refers to the extent to which the job requires a person to utilize multiple high-level skills. A car wash employee whose job consists of directing customers into the automated car wash demonstrates low levels of skill variety, whereas a car wash employee who acts as a cashier, maintains carwash equipment, and manages the inventory of chemicals demonstrates high skill variety.

Task identity refers to the degree to which a person is in charge of completing an identifiable piece of work from start to finish. A Web designer who designs parts of a Web site will have low task identity, because the work blends in with other Web designers’ work in the end it will be hard for any one person to claim responsibility for the final output. The Web master who designs an entire Web site will have high task identity.

Task significance refers to whether a person’s job substantially affects other people’s work, health, or well-being. A janitor who cleans the floors at an office building may find the job low in significance, thinking it is not a very important job. However, janitors cleaning the floors at a hospital may see their role as essential in helping patients get better. When they feel that their tasks are significant, employees tend to feel that they are making an impact on their environment, and their feelings of self-worth are boosted.

Autonomy is the degree to which a person has the freedom to decide how to perform his or her tasks. As an example, an instructor who is required to follow a predetermined textbook, covering a given list of topics using a specified list of classroom activities, has low autonomy. On the other hand, an instructor who is free to choose the textbook, design the course content, and use any relevant materials when delivering lectures has higher levels of autonomy. Autonomy increases motivation at work, but it also has other benefits. Giving employees autonomy at work is a key to individual as well as company success, because autonomous employees are free to choose how to do their jobs and therefore can be more effective. They are also less likely to adopt a “this is not my job” approach to their work environment and instead be proactive (do what needs to be done without waiting to be told what to do) and creative. The consequence of this resourcefulness can be higher company performance. For example, a Cornell University study shows that small businesses that gave employees autonomy grew four times more than those that did not. For example, Gucci’s CEO Robert Polet points to the level of autonomy he was given while working at Unilever PLC as a key to his development of leadership talents.

Feedback refers to the degree to which people learn how effective they are being at work. Feedback at work may come from other people, such as supervisors, peers, subordinates, and customers, or it may come from the job itself. A salesperson who gives presentations to potential clients but is not informed of the clients’ decisions, has low feedback at work. If this person receives notification that a sale was made based on the presentation, feedback will be high.

The relationship between feedback and job performance is more controversial. In other words, the mere presence of feedback is not sufficient for employees to feel motivated to perform better. In fact, a review of this literature shows that in about one-third of the cases, feedback was detrimental to performance. In addition to whether feedback is present, the sign of feedback (positive or negative), whether the person is ready to receive the feedback, and the manner in which feedback was given will all determine whether employees feel motivated or demotivated as a result of feedback.

According to the job characteristics model, the presence of these five core job dimensions leads employees to experience three psychological states: They view their work as meaningful, they feel responsible for the outcomes, and they acquire knowledge of results. These three psychological states in turn are related to positive outcomes such as overall job satisfaction, internal motivation, higher performance, and lower absenteeism and turnover. Research shows that out of these three psychological states, experienced meaningfulness is the most important for employee attitudes and behaviors, and it is the key mechanism through which the five core job dimensions operate.

Are all five job characteristics equally valuable for employees? Hackman and Oldham’s model proposes that the five characteristics will not have uniform effects. Instead, they proposed the following formula to calculate the motivating potential of a given job:

MPS = ((Skill Variety + Task Identity + Task Significance) ÷ 3) × Autonomy × Feedback

According to this formula, autonomy and feedback are the more important elements in deciding motivating potential compared to skill variety, task identity, or task significance. Moreover, note how the job characteristics interact with each other in this model. If someone’s job is completely lacking in autonomy (or feedback), regardless of levels of variety, identity, and significance, the motivating potential score will be very low.

Note that the five job characteristics are not objective features of a job. Two employees working in the same job may have very different perceptions regarding how much skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, or feedback the job affords. In other words, motivating potential is in the eye of the beholder. This is both good and bad news. The bad news is that even though a manager may design a job that is supposed to motivate employees, some employees may not find the job to be motivational. The good news is that sometimes it is possible to increase employee motivation by helping employees change their perspective about the job. For example, employees laying bricks at a construction site may feel their jobs are low in significance, but by pointing out that they are building a home for others, their perceptions about their job may be changed.

Do all employees expect to have a job that has a high motivating potential? Research has shown that the desire for the five core job characteristics is not universal. One factor that affects how much of these characteristics people want or need is growth need strength . Growth need strength describes the degree to which a person has higher order needs, such as self-esteem and self-actualization. When an employee’s expectation from his job includes such higher order needs, employees will have high-growth need strength, whereas those who expect their job to pay the bills and satisfy more basic needs will have low-growth need strength. Not surprisingly, research shows that those with high-growth need strength respond more favorably to jobs with a high motivating potential. It also seems that an employee’s career stage influences how important the five dimensions are. For example, when employees are new to an organization, task significance is a positive influence over job satisfaction, but autonomy may be a negative influence.

OB Toolbox: Increase the Feedback You Receive: Seek It!

  • If you are not receiving enough feedback on the job, it is better to seek it instead of trying to guess how you are doing. Consider seeking regular feedback from your boss. This also has the added benefit of signaling to the manager that you care about your performance and want to be successful.
  • Be genuine in your desire to learn. When seeking feedback, your aim should be improving yourself as opposed to creating the impression that you are a motivated employee. If your manager thinks that you are managing impressions rather than genuinely trying to improve your performance, seeking feedback may hurt you.
  • Develop a good relationship with your manager. This has the benefit of giving you more feedback in the first place. It also has the upside of making it easier to ask direct questions about your own performance.
  • Consider finding trustworthy peers who can share information with you regarding your performance. Your manager is not the only helpful source of feedback.
  • Be gracious when you receive feedback. If you automatically go on the defensive the first time you receive negative feedback, there may not be a next time. Remember, even if receiving feedback, positive or negative, feels uncomfortable, it is a gift. You can improve your performance using feedback, and people giving negative feedback probably feel they are risking your good will by being honest. Be thankful and appreciative when you receive any feedback and do not try to convince the person that it is inaccurate (unless there are factual mistakes).

Sources: Adapted from ideas in Jackman, J. M., & Strober, M. H. (2003, April). Fear of feedback. Harvard Business Review, 81(4), 101–107 Wing, L., Xu, H., Snape, E. (2007). Feedback-seeking behavior and leader-member exchange: Do supervisor-attributed motives matter? Academy of Management Journal, 50, 348–363 Lee, H. E., Park, H. S., Lee, T. S., & Lee, D. W. (2007). Relationships between LMX and subordinates’ feedback-seeking behaviors. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 35, 659–674.


Your turn

Emotions are created by incorrect perceptions — there is a gap between appearance and reality. Understanding how emotions affect your productivity requires practice.

Self-awareness is key — the more you know yourself, the better you can deal with your emotions. Treat yourself kindly, embrace your emotions. Pay attention. What are they trying to tell you? Learn to adjust your routine to your emotions rather than avoiding them. Or it will backfire.

Naming your emotions is a critical step — it’s easier to manage something when you know what you are dealing with. I hope the above guide helps you improving at listening, naming, and understanding your emotions. Cheers for an awesome 2019!

Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator that helps organizations lead positive change. Author, Consultant, and Speaker on team building and cultural transformation.