Midpoints are important: A third observation from Dan Pink

Dealing with the midpoint slump.

As you would expect in a book about timing, Pink in his book When talks about midpoints and their importance to us. Most of us are familiar with the concept of the “midlife crisis”. Movie after movie has been created and image after image of people taking off to reinvent themselves have been created. Pink, however, was not able to find any scientific evidence of a midlife crisis. He did, however, find evidence of the importance of midpoints, be they in projects, studying, writing or half-times in a sport. In this section of the book, the most important part to me was the guidance Pink offered to Five ways to reawaken motivation during a midpoint slump. But first a quick mention of the “uh-oh” effect.

Oh, Sh*t!

Many of us operate under what Pink calls the “Uh-oh” effect. We start something and quickly our effort tapers off. There is often no sense of immediacy, be it working on a project, buying gifts, studying for a test, or any number of things. Then suddenly we reach that moment in time that is about half-way through our time allotted for what we are doing and we have that uh-oh moment where we realize time is expiring more quickly than we thought and we don’t have nearly enough done. So we get on the task, we rally the troops, we get the project back on schedule, or we finally crack the book and start studying. I doubt there are very many of you that can deny this occurring in your life. That is the importance of midpoints in human psychology.

Five ways

If you are working on something and the “uh-oh” has not kicked in, Pink offers five ways to reawaken the urgency. These are:

  • Set interim goals. Rather than having one midpoint you end up with multiple midpoints that let you take advantage of the “uh-oh” effect.
  • Publicly commit to those interim goals. Nothing spurs you along better than knowing that embarrassment awaits you at the other end if you don’t do what you committed to.
  • Stop your sentences in the middle. This is a great technique if you are a writer. Apparently, Hemingway used this technique in order to be able to return to his work and be ready to go. Pink said that this is known as the Zeigarnik Effect, named after the psychologist who discovered it. She found that people who stopped in the middle of a task remembered the task to a much greater level than those they had completed. I have found this to be useful myself. I use it when I work crossword puzzles.
  • Don’t break the chain. This one can keep you going in a number of areas, writing and exercise are two examples. Jerry Seinfeld writes every day whether he feels inspired or not. Not a day goes by where he is not writing. Exercise is the same way, if you are trying to form a habit of exercising, initially you are enthusiastic about it, but about half-way through you stop. If you endeavor to do even a little bit of exercise, thus not breaking the chain, you will be much better off.
  • Lastly, think of someone who will be helped by what you are doing. This will help you stave off that midpoint slump.

How does this help you in HR?

Applying these principles in HR will help you as you work. We all have projects in HR. We all have deadlines we have to meet. We all have communication we have to write. Fortunately, we can all picture someone in our organization that will be helped by what we accomplish.
So, be aware of those midpoint slumps, but don’t get overwhelmed by them! You now know a way out of the mire.

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