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How to Boost Productivity Through Building Momentum

How to Boost Productivity Through Building Momentum

Momentum has a profound effect on willpower and productivity. Negative momentum can hurt your productivity tremendously and positive momentum can help your productivity tremendously. This article will describe how to stop negative momentum, how to build positive momentum, and how to sustain it.

You might notice that when you’ve been sitting around all day, it’s a lot harder to go to the gym than when you’ve been busy all day. Conversely, when you’ve been working 12 hour days every day, it’s easier to keep working than when you come back from a long Summer vacation.

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Below are six tips on harnessing momentum to boost your productivity.

1. Cut Negative Momentum

Feeling unproductive can hurt your confidence and make you even more unproductive. You first must cut negative momentum before you can start building positive momentum. Recognize that what you’ve done (or not done) in the past is in the past. Don’t beat yourself up for something you can’t change. Be in the present moment. In the present moment, you have a choice about how to proceed. This is a tactic I’ve learned from meditation.

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2. Start with Small Wins

Like pushing a heavy object, going from standstill is the hardest part. Once you get it moving and start building momentum, it gets easier. For personal productivity, start with small, less intimidating tasks. Trying to tackle a huge task without a warm-up seems daunting. Failing to do so would be discouraging. Start small to build some momentum before trying to tackle bigger tasks. The confidence you get from the initial accomplishments will help you with larger tasks later on. To illustrate, if you want to run a marathon, you wouldn’t start by trying to run a marathon, you would start by trying to run a mile or two.

3. Reward Yourself for Accomplishments

Rewards give your brain some validation for hard work, which gives confidence and makes you crave more. Give yourself rewards after significant accomplishments. I’ve recently started taking James Altucher’s advice of writing a list of small wins and accomplishments at the end of the day–like a reverse to-do list. Writing down my accomplishments reinforces my productivity and helps build momentum. After major accomplishments you could go out for a nice dinner or dessert.

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4. Stay Consistent and Form a Habit

Once you build the initial momentum, sustain it by forming habits. Make a habit of continuing work hard and completing tasks. Do your best to stay on a consistent schedule. Get yourself used to working hard and completing tasks every day.

5. Take Pride in your Work

I’ve recently gained an appreciation for the feeling of pushing myself. I take pride in being productive. Pushing yourself, while difficult at the time, makes you stronger for the next time you need to work hard. Like running for those extra few minutes or doing that last rep at the gym, giving your brain and body the experience of pushing through will make it easier to push through next time.

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6. Take Breaks to Sustain Energy

Once you’ve built momentum, don’t forget to take breaks when appropriate to avoid burnout. Taking breaks will help you sustain your momentum and productivity over time. Be conscious of when you’re getting a lower return on the time you’re putting in, and just take a break. Keep yourself craving that feeling of pushing yourself. Don’t get sick of it. It might hurt your productivity in the short-term, but it will help you tremendously in the long-term to take breaks. Some feel they should always be pushing themselves as much as possible, but in practice, it can be quite detrimental to your productivity in the long-term to overwork yourself.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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