Small Wins and Deliberate Mediocrity

Excerpt from "Oliver Burkeman on Failed New Year’s Resolutions," Newsweek, Dec. 17, 2012:


If you must make resolutions, it’s preferable to make tiny individual ones, repeatedly throughout the year, rather than multiple, ambitious ones at the start of it. Research by the psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, based on diary entries collected from hundreds of American employees, concludes that regular minor accomplishments—"small wins”—contribute much more to happiness than do occasional, bigger ones: contrary to what you might expect, the satisfactions of a bigger achievement aren’t proportionately larger or more long-lasting. Tiny goals, even absurdly tiny ones, can be an effective way to sneak under the radar of your mind, which always stands ready to procrastinate on, or otherwise resist, bigger ambitions: you might laugh at the idea of doing 15 seconds of exercise, but for exactly that reason, you’re also much less likely to resist it. (The next day, make it 20 seconds, and so on.)

The cognitive therapist David Burns makes a related suggestion, utterly antithetical to the spirit of the all-or-nothing positive thinkers but a splendid weapon against perfectionism: try having a deliberately mediocre day at work (or elsewhere). Resolve to perform at around 60 percent of your ability, he advises, and you’ll find it psychologically liberating, as well as hard not to surpass your target.

Read the entire article...

See also:

  • Burkeman, O. (2012). The antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking. New York: Faber and Faber. [library]
  • Burns, D. D. (2009). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Harper. [library]