What is it? We all have an inborn need to master skills and track progress towards goals. Life in lockdown can make obtaining a sense of achievement harder, given many ways in which we usually seek challenge are now inaccessible, and typical assessments of progression have been transformed. Even as controls are eased, the ongoing restrictions provide frustrating constraints on our behaviour. Making achievements is a key psychological need that has to be fulfilled regulary for positive mental health and wellbeing.
However, continuing to find sources of success is more important than ever, in order to facilitate coping with the kind of negative emotions that are likely to pose a risk to mental health durin the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, research from isolated, confined and extreme environments suggests that explicitly acknowledging even small achievements can help people tackle boredom, stress and low motivation. It can also help individuals in better tolerating being in close proximity to a small number of other people for long periods of time1,2.
Keeping a sense of achievement also reinforces our sense of self-efficacy3: the feeling that one is able cope with demands presented to them. A stronger sense of self-efficacy reduces stress4, and promotes the kind of tenacity which will enable us to respond positively to Covid-19 as a society.
How to use it:
- Pursuing Projects – completing tasks and learning skills is a way of staying motivated and focused5. Selecting a series of goals to be pursued over several weeks can enhance the extent to which this is effective, and also provides structure6. As such, it may be useful to signpost or develop relevant challenging initiatives, which people can enjoy whilst keeping apart.
- Celebrate the small stuff – many conventional celebrations are out of the question, but it’s still possible and important to acknowledge success. A creative example of this is celebratory meals held over video link platforms, which can maintain morale, motivation, and foster a sense of togetherness1,2.
- Keeping track – an essential part of acknowledging achievements is witnessing progress over time. Explicitly recording this via a journal or app can deliver a strong sense of satisfaction, and enhance awareness of how we have improved7. Journalling is also a way of providing additional satisfaction through self-reflection, and offers a cathartic route to express feelings and process thoughts8.
1.Barrett, E. C. & Martin, P. Extreme : why some people thrive at the limits. (Oxford University Press, 2014).
2.Šolcová, I., Stuchlíková, I. & Mazehóová, Y. The story of 520 days on a simulated flight to Mars. Acta Astronaut. 126, 178–189 (2016).
3.Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C. P. & Soenens, B. The Development Of The Five Mini-Theories Of Self-Determination Theory: A Historical Overview, Emerging Trends, and Future Directions. (2008). doi:10.1108/S0749-7423(2010)000016A007
4.Mimiaga, M. J. et al. A randomized clinical efficacy trial of a psychosocial intervention to strengthen self-acceptance and reduce HIV risk for MSM in India: study protocol. BMC Public Health 18, N.PAG-N.PAG (2018).
5.Botella, C., Baños, R. M., Etchemendy, E., García-Palacios, A. & Alcañiz, M. Psychological countermeasures in manned space missions: ‘EARTH’ system for the Mars-500 project. Comput. Human Behav. 55, 898–908 (2016).
6.Kanas, N. & Kanas, N. Countermeasures for Space Travel. in Humans in Space 83–95 (Springer International Publishing, 2015). doi:10.1007/978-3-319-18869-0_8
7.Koestner, R. et al. Autonomous Motivation, Controlled Motivation, and Goal Progress. J. Pers. 76, (2008).
8.King, L. A. & Miner, K. N. Writing About the Perceived Benefits of Traumatic Events: Implications for Physical Health. Pennebaker, (1992).