Momentum is a powerful tool. In the arsenal of techniques that reprogram our brain, momentum is a low-cost high-impact solution. Discussed by executive coaches and process consultants, momentum is a re-patterning method that either reinforces or alters behavioral patterns.
Loosely defined, momentum is the reason behind why tackling a small task consistently leads to the ability to accomplish a larger goal. However, the flip side to accomplishment is becoming mired in an undesirable habit. Consistently reinforcing a negative behavior will lead into a downward spiral away from a positive outcome.
Why? Put simplistically, our brains prefer routine to upheaval and order rather than chaos. As a student of theology, a characteristic that both eastern and western religious traditions adopt with regularity is the theme of order. Whether it be through creation stories or complex narratives, stability in a trusted framework is valued.
Emotions are also subject to the powers of momentum. Ever start off on a Monday feeling unenthusiastic and by Friday wished you'd taken the week off? I'm guessing that's happened. Or how about the converse, ever started off with a positive attitude on a Monday, and despite obstacles, had it carry you to unexpected benefits during the week?
How do we reinforce/break this emotional cycle? Probably more importantly, how do you get out of the confined space of a negative experience?
One approach that seems to work is to break down complex negative thoughts. For example, if emailing that client went poorly on Monday then you might feel anxious about emailing a different client on Tuesday. This worry is an outgrowth of a perceived similar situation, Monday's email. However, the two scenarios while related, are more different than we care to admit. The clients are unique, we are in a new state of mind, and perhaps most importantly there is no information to forecast the second email will go poorly. The worry isn't based in fact, its based in perceived routine.
To combat this mental incongruence, instead of jumping into the Tuesday client email right away focus on accomplishing small positive tasks. Work on that report that will be due next week, complete an errand on the way to or from the office, work on that upcoming presentation, or respond to emails that have come in the night before. By focusing on the small tasks directly in front of us, we can limit the ability for our mind to make unequal assumptions and block one semi-related experience on top of another. Put another way, one can force our mind to remember positive experiences.
The former Notre Dame football coach turned motivational speaker Lou Holtz often talked about the acronym WIN. WHAT'S. IMPORTANT. NOW. Although it may seem trivial, the expression is couched in a proven psychological approach. Allow your mind to be resilient by not worrying or focusing on another negative end result. Interrupt an assumed thought pattern by focusing on small, easily finished tasks. Once you are able to reconfigure your brain to focus on the positive value occurring directly in front of you, the negative thought will be distracted from taking hold.
Our minds are powerful machines capable of a strong negativity bias and equally deterministic positive resilience. If we are able to take small steps toward resilience our mind will carry the rest.