Lisa April-Naidoo
The Power of a Bias-Free Goal Evaluation for Year-End Success

The first thing my partner and I usually ask each other when we get home is: “How was your day?” I realized that I typically focus on the negative aspects of the day and the tasks that I haven’t completed. I seldom focus on the positive aspects and what I achieved that day.

As I sit here reviewing the year's work, I wonder how cognitive biases can significantly skew our perception of success, both personally and in business. In this article, I will highlight how the Zeigarnik Effect, Negativity Bias, and Peak-End Rule can influence our evaluation of our year-end achievement and how to overcome them for a more accurate review.

The Zeigarnik Effect: Unfinished Business

Imagine a team working tirelessly on a year-end project. Despite meeting most objectives, the team is hyper-focused on a few unmet goals which overshadow their substantial achievements. This is an example of the Zeigarnik effect, which is one of the first biases to be mindful of.

The Zeigarnik effect refers to our tendency to remember incomplete tasks over completed tasks. This phenomenon was first recognized by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik who observed that waiters only remembered orders that were in the process of being served.

Zeigarnik tested her theory in a study. Participants were asked to complete a series of tasks, such as solving puzzles and stringing beads. However, they were interrupted in the middle of some tasks. Remarkably, the participants recalled the interrupted tasks 90% better than those they completed. This study demonstrates how our minds are prone to fixate on what's left unfinished.

The Zeigarnik effect can cause a negative outlook on our achievements which can affect future motivation. As you evaluate your personal goals and business goals, take the time to acknowledge what you have achieved. Celebrate yourself and your staff for achieving the tasks they have completed. To mitigate the risk of falling into this pattern in the future, try breaking down larger objectives into smaller, achievable tasks, and celebrating these milestones as they are achieved can help create a sense of completion
Negativity Bias: Focusing on the Dark Side

I asked myself why we tend to focus on the one thing that went wrong during a day and deem that as a notable experience to share. This is when I came across negativity bias, which is rooted in prospect theory, which states that we feel the intensity of pain twice as much as we do to an equivalent gain.

Negativity Bias is our inherent tendency to pay more attention and give more weight to negative experiences or information. This is because the intensity of emotions we feel about negative experiences are far easier to recall.

This concept was studied by John Cacioppo and colleagues. In the study, participants were shown pictures of positive, negative, and neutral images, while their brain activity was recorded. The results showed that the brain reacted more strongly to negative stimuli, suggesting a greater sensitivity to unfavorable information.

Negative experiences can cloud our judgment and it is important to be wary of this bias when reflecting on the year. Practicing gratitude and maintaining a success journal can help offset this bias, allowing for a more balanced view of events. Sometimes it’s difficult to consistently keep a record of successes, so try and seek out external input because they can offer an objective view.
Peak-End Rule: Remembering the Extremes

Thinking back on the numerous projects we have completed, one stuck out to me. We had a nearly flawless project run but right at handover, we faced an unexpected challenge. I realized that when I talk about the project, I only mention the unexpected challenge, which is an example of the peak-end rule.

The Peak-End Rule, coined by Daniel Kahneman, states that people judge an experience based on how they felt at its most intense point and at its end, rather than the total sum or average of every moment.

Kahneman and his colleagues tested this theory in a study on pain perception where participants had to undergo two different painful experiences. In the first scenario, subjects submerged their hands in 14°C water for 60 seconds. In the second, they did the same but then kept their hands in the water for an additional 30 seconds at a slightly higher temperature, which, though still uncomfortable, was less painful than the first minute. Surprisingly, participants rated the second experience, which was longer but ended less uncomfortably, as more tolerable.

The peak-end rule can skew our memory and perceptions of events and if we do not take actionable steps to mitigate this bias, we can have a more negative view of our performance. By setting regular reviews throughout a project, not just at the end, we can provide a more balanced overall perspective.

In conclusion, understanding and mitigating the impact of cognitive biases such as the Zeigarnik Effect, Negativity Bias, and the Peak-End Rule is crucial for an accurate assessment of our year-end successes. These biases, if left unchecked, can distort our view of achievements and impede our ability to accurately evaluate our performance and growth.

By actively acknowledging what we have accomplished and celebrating these milestones, we can combat the tendency to overlook our successes. Additionally, incorporating regular reviews and seeking external perspectives can provide a balanced and comprehensive view of our progress.

Ultimately, a bias-free evaluation not only helps in appreciating our true achievements but also paves the way for setting realistic and achievable goals for future endeavors, thereby fostering a culture of continuous improvement and positive reinforcement.

·Zeigarnik, B. (1927). "On Finished and Unfinished Tasks." Psychological Research, 18(1), 300-314.
·Kahneman, D., Fredrickson, B. L., Schreiber, C. A., & Redelmeier, D. A. (1993). "When More Pain is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 6(3), 201-215.
·Cacioppo, J. T., & Gardner, W. L. (1999). "Emotion." Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 191-214.
·Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1991). "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model." The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106(4), 1039-1061.
Lisa-April is an experienced behavioral economics consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the management consulting industry.

Skilled in assisting clients identify key behavioral biases that affect decision-making.
Lisa-April is an experienced behavioral economics consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the management consulting industry.

Skilled in assisting clients identify key behavioral biases that affect decision-making.

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