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Smallish Obstacle-Biggish Impact

Posted by Chris Holman on Sep 27, 2011 3:40:00 PM

Ever have one of those days where the smallest little setback seems to set a negative tone for the rest of the day?

You’re not alone. It can happen to all of us. Regarding the battle of Setbacks vs. Wins, it’s Setbacks…in a cakewalk!

I’m reading a terrific new book, The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

Amabile and Kramer cite extensive research that indicates that the emotional effect of setbacks to diminish happiness is twice as strong as the power of progress to boost happiness.


  • The power of setbacks to increase frustration is more than 3X as strong as the power of progress to increase frustration.
  • The connection between mood and negative work events is about 5X stronger than the connection between mood and positive events.
  • Negative team leader behaviors have a much broader and critical influence, than do positive team leader behaviors.
  • In general, people expend much more cognitive and emotional energy on bad events than good ones. (When looking at diary narratives, researchers found that the recounting of negative events, was much longer and more detailed than recounting of neutral or positive events.)

So, what's the answer?

  1. Be aware that this bad event vs. good event asymmetry is pretty typical for most people. Don’t think that it’s just happening to you.
  2. Try to ensure that good events outnumber bad events. (Obvious!) Put yourself in situations where good things are more likely to happen to you.
  3. Remove any obstacles that might impede the progress of yourself and/or your team.
  4. Make sure that YOU aren’t the obstacle!

Hope this helps. Have a nice day!

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