Progress monitoring: countermeasure against the negativity bias

Progress monitoring can be a powerful countermeasure to the negativity bias. We almost always start our training sessions with a start up exercise. This is a short exercise, usually about 10 minutes, that we usually do in pairs. During the exercise, we always give the participants a concrete question to discuss. A question that is regularly used is: “Take turns telling each other about meaningful progress you have made in the past period.” I often remain surprised at how well this question works and how beneficial it is.

The invisibility of progress achieved

The focus on achieved progress does not come naturally. In fact, many people usually have little insight into the progress they have made recently. Meaningful progress often remains invisible. This is partly due to the negativity bias. In short, the meaning of this is: the negative is more noticeable to us, influences us more strongly and lingers longer than the positive. Almost all of us have the negativity bias to some degree, although there are individual differences. It is not a typical national or Western phenomenon. The negativity bias has been established all over the world.

The progress principle

It is useful and nice to gain insight into the meaningful progress you have achieved because of the progress principle. This is the phenomenon that the experience of meaningful progress, even only small progress, leads to positive perceptions, emotions and motivation and therefore also to better functioning.

Progress monitoring: countermeasure against the negativity bias

Progress monitoring, the conscious tracking and discussion of meaningful progress, is a way to make progress visible and benefit from the progress principle. Progress monitoring is therefore a countermeasure against the negativity bias.
Progress monitoring has several advantages. Here are some of the main things it delivers:
  • Energy . This is because you are reliving the positive emotion you had when you made the progress. This energy boost makes it easier for you to cope.
  • A sense of competence: Having things going right supports your sense of competence. The fulfillment of the basic psychological need for competence contributes to feeling better and functioning better.
  • Positive emotions: you feel better and this makes you more creative 

Added value of discussing progress together

Progress monitoring is already useful if you do it independently. But by doing it together with others (like in our entrance exercise) there are even more benefits:
  • More insight: By having to explain, you gain a more conscious view of what you did that worked
  • Contagiousness of positive emotions : you infect each other
  • Sense of belonging: recognition, getting to know each other better, useful information exchange

Using the progress principle

You can use the progress principle in many ways. Here are some suggestions:

We should do this more often

Almost invariably, when we invite participants to our training courses to discuss with each other what meaningful progress they have made, they find it pleasant and useful. We often hear comments like: We often don't get to do this during work, but we should do it much more often!
Yes, I can agree with that.