The Strategist

Small steps that will get you closer to your goal

06/22/2018 - 15:31

Small goals lead to small victories, and small victories often trigger a positive behavioral spiral. Let's consider some interesting examples on this subject from the book "Switch" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

The placebo effect

In 2007, scientists Ellen Langer and Alia Crum published a study on the attitude of hotel housekeepers to physical exercises. The topic doesn’t look very interesting, but its results were simply stunning.

The average housekeeper cleans fifteen numbers per day, and each takes 20-30 minutes. During cleaning, they have to walk around the room, bend over to wipe the dust and clean the tub, push furniture, lift and carry things and much more. It’s physical work, and the exercise load is significantly higher than the daily norms recommended by the Ministry of Health, very concerned about the idea of a healthy lifestyle for our fellow citizens. 

However, the housekeepers apparently do not even notice that their work is akin to intensive sports training. At the beginning of the study, 67% of the respondents reported that they do not do regular physical exercises. More than a third said that they did not pay much attention to sports. It's as if a third of the leading talk shows complained about the lack of human communication.

Scientists wondered what would happen if they surprised the housekeepers by telling them that they are the true stars of fitness. One group of them was informed in the most detailed way: they were given instructions describing benefits of the exercises and explained that their daily work is enough to obtain the described benefits for health. Exercises do not have to be heavy, and do not have to be done in the gym. Everyone in this group was given a table showing how many calories they burn in different types of work: 40 calories with a 15-minute change of clothes, 100 calories in half an hour of cleaning with a vacuum cleaner and so on. In another group, the housekeepers were informed just the same, but they were not told that their work was a great way to train the muscles. They also did not receive any statistics for burning calories.

Four weeks later, the researchers again contacted their respondents and found something incredible. Those, who were told that they train well, dropped an average of 0.82 kilograms (this is almost 225 grams per week, a fairly significant result). In another, little-informed group, the housekeepers did not lose weight at all.

The researchers explained this by the placebo effect. In other words, they concluded that the very awareness of the health benefits of such work caused weight loss regardless of behavioral changes. This sense of progress is critically important.

Easy goals

David Allen, author of the book "Getting Things Done", emphasizes the importance of setting achievable goals. He says that the majority of to-do lists have a fundamental mistake. There are many tasks: "Cut spending", "Talk to Helen", "Make a presentation", "Jogging" and so on. According to Allen, this is all too vague and only hinders real action. In his opinion, it is critically important to ask yourself: "What is the next step?".

When the task seems too large, we begin to resist. It is not accidental that societies of anonymous alcoholics often set a goal to be sober just for "one day". They bring about changes. Life without alcohol seems to awful, but a day without drinking looks quite easy.

Here's how one of the organizations - Al-Anon - explains the mantra about the "one day": "In most cases, it is impossible to foresee all the likely turns of events, and how diligently to prepare, still we will be caught off guard by something. But we spend so much time and energy trying to predict events, mitigate the blow and prevent consequences, that we are missing today's opportunities. And the large-scale tasks that we set ourselves, cause devastation, depression and confusion."

People become more motivated when a longer segment of a long journey passes than at the beginning of a shorter one. This is why it is customary in the circles of fundraising experts to declare a fundraising campaign, already having half of the amount on the accounts. In the end, who wants to give the first $ 100 if you have to collect a million?

Thus, one way to motivate for some action is to give people initially feel that they are closer to the finish line than they think. 

Based on "Switch. How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, "Getting Things Done. The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by Allen David

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