Every project, whether it is an advertising campaign or getting a new job, has a specific goal to achieve but if it is going to take six months to accomplish, you have a long time to wait until you can experience success. In the meantime, we experience feelings of pressure — frustration when progress is stalled; responsibility for the results as the project deadline approaches; and anxiety of whether you will produce the needed results. Distraction, loss of focus and team conflict also can surface as the feelings of pressure increase. If not managed effectively, these feelings of pressure are sure to derail you and your team from success.
In researching my latest book, Performing Under Pressure, I discovered that an effective way to manage the pressure arising in the pursuit of long-terms goals is to create micro-successes. The concept applies the fact that even small victories — a productive conversation with your boss, a positive phone call with a client, a compliment from a colleague or friend — can have the same impact for promoting your confidence and maintaining your motivation as a larger success.
The caveat is that you must perceive these moments as achieving success. When we do, our brain stimulates the release of testosterone and dopamine, which in turn build confidence. Because micro-successes happen in our lives far more frequently than the big victories, they may be even more important.
The more micro-successes you and your team experience, the more optimistic, confident and resilient you both become. Here are two micro-success strategies:
All projects have goals but they are often long term and thus postpone feelings of success. Break down the ultimate goal into a series of smaller goals, and make the first one easily attainable. Goal completion is a natural promoter of confidence and a natural inducer of enthusiasm. We feel good when we complete our goal – the pressure is off! A team that is frequently meeting their goals feels less pressure and is more motivated to reach the next one — and they expect they will.
When you and your team achieve these goals or have a micro-success, be sure to acknowledge and celebrate them — that fuels you onward.
You can create micro-successes by redefining success in terms of how you perform, rather than the outcome you achieve. A great interview or a presentation is the success; not getting the job does not negate your successful performance.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld lives by this process. Each January, he pins up a calendar with the entire year on one page. On days when he writes new material, no matter how little, he will draw a big red X over that day. Over time, a chain develops of crossed off days. His goal is not to write brilliant comedy; his goal is to not break the chain. He says, “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
his is the idea behind micro-successes. We need to mark the small wins, no matter how insignificant they might seem. For a team doing technical work in pharmaceutical trials, a small win can be sitting down at the end of the week to discuss the smaller and perhaps less significant progress members are making toward the bigger goal of bringing useful new drugs to the market. For a client service team, it can mean getting through the week without any major hiccups. For a human resource team, it can mean getting a couple of key managers on board for a training initiative.
These micro successes are at the heart of building confidence, and when confidence is high, pressure is low. That helps any project!
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