2021: giddy up, together

Welcome to Quarantine 15: a spot of joy in your inbox on work, life, and navigating the start of 2021. In case we haven’t met, I’m Nikki Gusz, a co-founder of Lloyd, a career GPS for young professionals. You can follow me on Twitter @nkgusz or subscribe to this email newsletter here.


Today, around here you’ll find:

(1) An introduction about what we’re doing here

(2) A conversation with Dr. Hengchen Dai, an expert on motivation and the “fresh start effect” (think: help for your New Year’s Resolutions)

(3) An intention to help with goal setting

(4) A question for you

(5) A treat from me

(1) An introduction

Greetings, and thanks for letting me join your journey for the next 15 weeks, which we’re calling Quarantine 15. Instead of a focus on losing parts of ourselves, I’ll focus on what we can gain in the next 15 weeks, together. While encouraged by the vaccine news, I’m looking for ways to navigate during these “dark days” of the pandemic. I think it’s more important than ever to share perspectives (and hopefully, joy) in inboxes, everywhere. I’ll be talking about work, life, and how we can collectively remain optimistic during the next 15 weeks.

(2) A conversation

This week, I’m chatting with Dr. Hengchen Dai. When Dr. Dai was in elementary school, her teacher asked for her career goals. At eight years old, she listed three ambitions: scientist, teacher, and diplomat. Now she combines all three — as a scholar of judgment and decision-making whose research has implications for companies using data analytics to increase employee and customer engagement, and as an Assistant Professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, a business school with an extremely diverse and international student population. She was ranked one of the best 40 under 40 business school professors by Poets & Quants in 2020.

One of the topics you’ve researched is the “fresh start effect.” Considering it’s the start of a new year, what are 1-2 practical tips you’d give to someone considering a new intention, approach--or even, dare I say--resolution?

I think it is important to carefully set a goal that stretches you a bit but is still realistic. At the start of a new year, people may be so excited about pursuing new goals and become overoptimistic about what they could do in the new year. If they set too high a goal due to their overoptimism, they may fail too soon and are not motivated to try again. So I would recommend that while taking advantage of your enthusiasm and motivation at the beginning of a new year, be realistic at the same time! 

What is a topic you see people commonly getting wrong about goals and motivation?

Actually what I said previously about overoptimism and setting unrealistic goals is one common reason people fail to pursue their goals. People may set the goal of exercising 7 days a week, but if they do not get time to exercise on Monday, they may feel “what the hell” and give up that week since they are not able to maintain the perfect attendance anyway. One tactic for addressing this issue is to set up goals with emergency reserves, based on research done by Professors Marissa Sharif and Suzanne Shu. For example, instead of saying that I will exercise 7 days a week, it is better to say “I will exercise 7 days a week but if I really have something unexpected come up, I can skip at most 2 days”. With 7 days as the high goal and 2 days as an “emergency reserve”, people will not only be motivated by a high goal but also won’t easily give up if they have to miss exercising one day. 

If you had to pick one well-known person or organization you find intriguing from the perspective of your research (judgment, decision making, incentives, goals, motivation, etc.), who would you pick and why?

StickK.com! It was founded by Yale Behavioral Economist Dean Karlan, Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres, and Yale MBA Jordan Goldberg. StickK allows people to create commitment contracts for their personal and professional goals. That is, people can put money (or their reputation!) on the line and have their friends and family to be the referee and / or supporter. If people fail to reach their goals, they will forfeit the money, and the money can go to their favorite charity, their friends, or an organization they hate!

I heard you’ve been taking funny videos of your daughter to help pass time during the pandemic. What happened in one of your favorites?

Ha! That is a fun question. Recently we went to San Diego for Thanksgiving, and we asked her to wear the mask outside since she is already 2. We told her that if she did not wear a mask, she would not be able to see the animals in the zoo. I was shocked by how determined and strong willed she was at only the age of 2. She would rather sit behind a large picnic blanket in the stroller for 3+ hours and not see anything in the zoo, rather than wearing the mask. So we have the video of her hiding behind the blanket and looking determined for the “fight” with us. 

During the pandemic, what from your research has been top of mind to make this time more bearable? 

While perhaps a bit indirect at first glance, some of my recent research looks at how feeling appreciated or underappreciated by customers affect service employees’ motivation and labor supply. Considering essential workers’ hard work in the pandemic, I would encourage you to express your genuine appreciation for them whenever you have time and opportunities. Not just frontline healthcare workers but also grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and other essential workers that may be overlooked by us. This may not only boost essential workers’ morale and mood but also enhance your own well-being, as expressing gratitude is one way to increase your own happiness

Since you’re an expert in judgment--what question should I have asked but didn’t? (a.k.a., I made a poor decision, please help!)

You asked smart and fun questions! 

Since it’s a new year, I’ll express gratitude for your kindness! 

(3) An intention

A quick 15 minute activity to help you set a goal for 2021.

0-3 min: think of one career enhancement you want to make in 2021 (i.e., meet 1 new person / month, find a new job, etc.)

3-7 min: Now, break it down to something you can commit to each day or week. Fill in the following statement: I commit to [action] at [when / where].

7-11 min: Write down your goal in a place you’ll remember it / see it regularly (we help with goal tracking at Lloyd, feel free to reach out to me or see below). 

11-15 min: Anticipate 1-2 challenges you might have to reaching this goal and how to minimize those challenges

(4) A question

What goal did you set? Share with us here and I’ll remind you of it.

(5) A treat

If you’re looking to make working towards your career goals easier this year, sign up for Lloyd, and you’ll get two weeks on me.