What is it about?

Effectively managing to-do lists and getting things done is not only a desirable competence but also the foundation of professional, private, and economic success. However, specifically when tasks get difficult or demanding, there are many people who tend to procrastinate and struggle to put their intentions into subsequent actions. So how do we improve our skill to achieve our goals despite present demands? To help find an answer to this question we designed and evaluated a novel method (affective shifting), that supports individuals to successfully close the gap between intention and action. Affective shifting is a seven-day audio-based visualization exercise that is grounded in profound and established scientific insights of personality, emotion, and self-regulation research. A variety of findings have shown that, in particular, the ability to regulate emotions is crucial for successful goal enactment. More specifically, we propose that changes in positive emotions are a vital key to get going when the going gets tough. Therefore, affective shifting aims to practice this decisive shift between high and low positive emotions. Affective shifting is evaluated against two control groups (affective boosting, neutral). In contrast to the affective shifting exercise, affective boosting focused on solely increasing positive emotions for goal enactment. The neutral exercise aimed to elicit no emotional experience. Results show that affective shifting especially supports individuals with impaired self-regulatory abilities (e.g., pro¬cras¬ti¬na¬tors) to efficiently bridge the gap between intention and action. Not only did they perform substantially faster compared to the control groups but also showed significantly less errors in a non-reactive self-regulation task testing intention enactment ability. In sum, the present study shows that affective shifting effectively supports individuals with reduced self-regulatory ability to overcome their self-regulation deficit and perform despite present demand. Moreover, our investigation further illustrates that affective shifting indeed fosters the necessary self-regulation of positive affect and that this acquired ability is positively correlated with personal goal enactment three weeks after the intervention. Lastly, results also reveal that affective shifting leads to more self-coherent goal enactment, meaning that individuals who practiced affective shifting implemented more intentions that they expected to be able to achieve and that had higher personal meaning to them (expectation x value). In contrast, this connection was absent in the control groups. Overall, with affective shifting we introduce an effective intervention that supports the underlying functional mechanism of self-re¬gu¬lation and helps individuals to master the art of getting things done.

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Why is it important?

In a rapidly changing and complex world, there is a great need for successful methods that support people to get better into action, as many people falter in the implementation of their intentions with increasing demands. However, there are few methods so far that include emotional regulation skills. Our approach reinforces that the self-regulation of emotion is a decisive mechanism that helps to effectively bridge the gap between intention and action. With affective shifting we bring forward a novel, effective, and easy to apply intervention to fill the current gap of theory- and evidence-based methods in this area. Further, the present approach differs from other approaches that solely focus on maximizing positive emotions to improve psychological functioning by highlighting the dynamics of affect in intention enactment. We argue that it takes more than providing positive emotional cues (e.g., task attraction) or encouraging communication (e.g., “You can do it”) to help people advance. The presence of positive affect alone is insufficient and can even be harmful. Instead, our research shows that practicing changes in levels of positive emotions (low vs. high) are crucial for improved intention enactment.

Perspectives

We hope with the present article we contribute to a better understanding on how crucial the self-regulation of emotions is for successful intention enactment. We hope you find our ideas thought-provoking, and it encourage researchers to include the dynamic perspective in their research endeavors as well as practitioners to gain a greater insight on how to help individuals to bridge the gap between intention and action. Not the least we hope this paper brings you as a reader a little step closer to master the art of getting things done.

Dr. Katja M. Friederichs
Universitat Trier

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This page is a summary of: The art of getting things done: Training affective shifting improves intention enactment., Emotion, August 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/emo0001128.
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