Sometimes I don’t step on the scale because I’m scared of what I’ll see.
Psychologists in England call this “The Ostrich Problem.” That’s when people, afraid of learning bad news, avoid information about their progress (or lack thereof). A recent post by Christian Jarrett on 99u.com describes the Ostrich Problem and outlines the risks of falling pray to it. Leaders looking for tips about motivating and coaching employees (and themselves) would be wise to consider these risks.
1. You’ll become scared to leave your comfort zone. Social psychologist Thomas Webb and his colleagues at the University of Sheffield assert that those who most need track their progress are the least likely to do so. ”If you’re comfortable with your current modus operandi, it can be very tempting to delude yourself that there’s no need to change, and avoiding progress monitoring is one way to do that,” writes Jarrett.
2. You won’t reach your goals. Study after study shows that if you check your progress, you’ll improve. Jarrett cites a study of students tracking their math homework as one example. Yes, negative feedback hurts. But “the temporary pain of negative feedback is nothing compared with the crushing experience of project failure,” he writes.
3. You won’t be able to evaluate your methods. The only way to improve at any process — whether it’s losing weight or cutting costs — is to hone your techniques through trial-and-error methods over time. Measurement is the only way to compare the results of one method to those of another.
How to Overcome the “Ostrich” Problem
What’s the best way to stay diligent about measuring and tracking? Here are some tips:
Set deadlines. In the absence of deadlines, we procrastinate. In the presence of looming deadlines, we catch fire. “Psychologists call this largely unconscious mechanism the ‘Goal Looms Larger Effect,’” writes Heidi Grant Halverson points out on the Harvard Business Review blog. Halverson is the associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School. ”The nearer you are to the finish line, the larger the goal ‘looms’ in your mind — the more it dominates your thinking, and benefits from your attention.”
Automate the measurement process. If you ask colleagues to check progress on your behalf, you’ll no longer need the willpower to check things on your own, notes Jarrett. Someone else will have to do the work of checking — and breaking the news to you.
Find ways to confront and get past negative news. Let’s say you’re scared of measuring something, for fear of detecting a dispiriting lack of progress. Look anyway. Then forgive yourself for the result. “Remind yourself not to be a perfectionist. It’s okay to screw up,” writes Jarrett. “Struggles and setbacks aren’t an abnormality, they are part of the process.”