When Celebrating Demotivates

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Teams who don’t celebrate wins don’t appreciate gains, respect progress, or honor effort. But…

Teams who celebrate half-wins end up not winning at all.

I’m a huge fan of celebrating progress. But celebrate too soon, too frequently, or too much, and you end up not finishing.

Think how far you have to go – NOT
how far you’ve come – when projects are half done.

University of Chicago psychologists Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach studied the impact of focusing on how far you’ve come (to-date thinking) versus how far you have to go (to-go thinking)?

To-go thinking motivates finishing.

“Great Finishers force themselves to stay focused on the goal, and never congratulate themselves on a job half-done.” Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson in HBR: How to Become a Great Finisher. I asked Dr. Halvorson about her observation and she told me the story of Mr. 85%.

“I sometimes tell this story about my husband because it drives me crazy – I call him “Mr. 85%” because that’s about how much he does of any project around the house before he stops, pats himself on the back for getting that far, and wanders off to do something else.  He is a little too pleased with himself for doing most of it, and he stops looking at the finish line.” (Shared with permission)


  1. Encourage to-go thinking. The next time you pat someone on the back for progress toward an incomplete goal, end with, “What’s next, or, How long before you’re done.”
  2. Ask, “How far do you have to go?”
  3. Don’t ask, “How much is done?”
  4. Define wins clearly so you know when to celebrate. Life is a journey but projects get done.
  5. Celebrate done-jobs.

I love encouraging people for their progress. But, to-go thinking helps people finish strong.

How can leaders motivate teams when projects are half done?

I asked for input on to-date vs. to-go thinking on Facebook. (5/7/2013)

Dr. Halvorson is co-author of the new book, “Focus.”