Game of Snakes N Ladders

Why over-expectation and under-expectation both are bad


Pressure & DeMotivation

I had a lengthy discussion with an old friend whom I consider great in providing me clarity over things bothering me over time. My long-time friend from IIT Patna - Sushant Kochar. The topic of discussion was whether we should be over-expecting from ourselves or under-expecting - however, we both knew reality lies somewhere in between and highly varies from person to person. In this article, I would write on what I think is my understanding of this.

So, it started with me saying that I start any project or in general any work thinking that I am probably the last person anyone would nominate to work on something - not to mention I do not get demotivated by this. Instead, I get motivated by the thought that no-one is expecting me to do great things. With a peaceful mind, I would usually approach initiatives assuming that even a little success would happen only because I chose to work on it. Trust me, being the cause of something good which few cared about is an amazing feeling.

There is nothing to lose, let’s see what can be done best! - Lossless motivation

However, there are people who need to be reinforced by some expectations such as salary benefits or publishing papers or some word of thanks in a team or just words like I know you can do it. Moreover, they cannot comprehend the thought that I work with a contrasting assumption, to begin with. They would get demotivated that there is no one to appreciate little signs of progress in their work.

I’ll definitely get a promotion if I finish this project - Reinforced motivation

So, which approach is better? The first one works for me, but not sure whether it works for everyone. I see obvious flaws in both though. For example, apart from demotivating, my approach can be exhaustive and very solo at times. It takes a really big effort to reach out to people and call out for help or guidance - mostly because I am already working on something which I feel is discarded onto me. However, there is no pressure to perform and that is super important to me. One more thing, I get to see things that are often neglected but are important to do in the long run. For example, if I am coding on something then I would assume I am doing it because there is no one else to take it up. So, I would think of low priority but important and high impact features. Most of the times this makes my overall work attractive and impactful.

On the other hand, the second approach is more like a carrot reinforcement to rabbits. We would convince ourselves that we would get a carrot if we perform this one little thing. Notwithstanding what could be the “side-effects” of doing that in the long run - coding on redundant things or low impact work. Although I think people can be wired differently compared to me to perform well with little reinforcements to keep their motivations levels high in the present moment. But it can also cause exhaustion or an ugly rat race to outcompete others when several people have a common goal. One thing, I observed is those small reinforcements are a good tool to bind the team together - managers use this for setting subordinates’ incremental goals. For example, employees strive for higher competitive work in want of a salary hike or a boost in their work profiles say promotions. But they do not realize that they would have to ultimately settle down with their competitive journey with just a few successes that they can proudly boast of. I feel the category of people who like little reinforcement from others are the ones who develop the nasty fear of log kya kahenge!, somewhat unrelated to our context of though.

Coming to my conclusion, I think this topic could well stretch on parenting kids and teens. Overall, we could try different approaches with different people. I don’t know whether there is a way to know what works with whom. What matters, in the end, is everyone’s happiness.

personality motivation management

Dialogue & Discussion