Psychological Momentum Doesn't Just Help Sports Team, It Works for Entrepreneurs, Too

Like sports, a lot of a company's success rides on how they handle their wins and failures.

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By Chris Myers

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There are two things in this world I'm insanely passionate about: growing my company and ASU Sun Devil football. While they may not seem to have a lot in common, the success of both comes down to one common thing: momentum.

When my Sun Devils have a few successful plays early on, they build positive momentum, which is difficult to stop. Conversely, when a mistake is made during a play that error tends to compound and the rest of the game often falls apart.

I've seen the exact same principle at play inside of my own company, BodeTree, over and over again. That realization has inspired me to dive deeper into the psychology of momentum. How do you generate momentum? Why does it seem to have such a significant impact on teams?

Related: How to Keep Your Employees Motivated

Here's what I've found and how we're working to apply it inside of BodeTree.

It's all in your head.

The experience I describe above is called psychological momentum, and it's defined as a state of mind where an individual or teams feels things are going unstoppably their way. It's a concept well known in the world of sports. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association's Review of General Psychology, 92 percent of football coaches believe their performance is "crucially determined by momentum." Put simply, regardless of whether or not it's true, initial success frequently leads to more success. Perceived momentum leads to increased confidence, which in turn leads to more activity and better performance. The impact is so strong, studies have shown that football coaches frequently change their overall behavior and adopt a more aggressive strategy after a single successful play early in the game.

Observers are often amazed by our ability to sign deals with much larger partners and manage the business with a fairly small team. I attribute this to the momentum we've been able to foster internally. This momentum isn't necessarily due to specific successes, but rather how we perceive the actions we take as a team. After all, the launch of a new product or signing of a new contract often leads to more work, challenges, and headaches for the team. There's also the ever-present risk of encountering failures and setbacks along the way, which can derail a team's progress and hurt morale. How do you manage your team's perceptions and build positive psychological momentum?

The 'as-if' principle

One of the most impactful books I've ever read was Richard Wiseman's The As If Principle. The "as-if" principle is as simple as it is enlightening: Your emotions don't control your behavior; rather, your behavior controls your emotions. Once again, it's an idea ingrained in anyone who has played team sports. Why do high school football teams dress formally before a game? They do it because the sense of professionalism and discipline that goes along with dressing up actually influences behavior on the field.

Related: 5 Ways to Remind Yourself How Powerful You Really Are

Early on at BodeTree, my team and I fell terribly short when it came to managing our behaviors effectively. The frustrations of launching an innovative product into a very conservative market were big; morale we absolutely suffered. I'm embarrassed to admit negativity and stress permeated the atmosphere, and the prospect of coming into the office every day wasn't an exciting one. Fortunately, we began to take the "as-if" principle to heart and work to make sure we behave in a way that fosters a feeling of success. Challenges and obstacles began to be viewed as opportunities for greatness, rather than reasons for despair. We also worked to encourage a lively environment, trying to avoid stifling silence in the office. Most importantly, however, we began to identify and celebrate successes, no matter how small.

All of these behaviors began to add up and lead to a palpable feeling of momentum. It isn't always easy to keep it up, as old habits die hard, but today we hold each other accountable and always manage to get back on track.

How to build momentum in your business

Naturally, coming to these realizations, and more importantly, putting them into action took a lot of soul-searching and time. What emerged from this introspective process are five key principles that can be applied to any business.

Act like you're already succeeding : Conduct yourself in a manner that exudes confidence. Come into the office composed, well rested and energized.

Focus on the positive: Don't dwell on problems. Instead, look at them as opportunities for greatness. Be realistic, but try to frame things positively at all times.

Celebrate victories: It doesn't matter how small they are. Make sure your entire team knows of your wins and recognize their contributions every time.

Show excitement: If you're running your own business, you're doing something comparatively few people ever get to do. Show your excitement in everything you do and never take your position for granted.

Don't give up: If you find yourself short on success and start to see pessimism on the rise, don't despair. It takes determination to build momentum. Just keep pushing, and it will come.

The task of building and sustaining momentum in your life falls to you. No one can do it for you, and unless you take the initiative you will forever be the victim of circumstance. It isn't always easy, but nothing of value ever is. All you can do is push forward and create your own success.

Related: To Motivate Employees, Find a Balance Between Job Enrichment and Job Enlargement

Chris Myers

CEO of BodeTree

Chris Myers is the co-founder and CEO of BodeTree, a popular web application designed to help small-business owners make better financial decisions.  

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