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HCI Webinar: The Science Behind Why We Don’t Finish What We Start, with Tim Vandehey

In the latest HCI Webinar, Dr. Jonathan H. Westover talks with Tim Vandehey about his book, Swipe: The Science Behind Why We Don't Finish What We Start. Below is a summary of the main points from their conversation! Check out the full episode and let us know what you think!


Watch the episode here:



Quick Recap


Tim and Jonathan discussed Tim's recent book, "Swiped," which explores employee engagement from the employer's perspective. They delved into the psychology, neurobiology, and behavior of people who repeatedly start projects but don't finish them, attributing the concept of "swipe title" to the ease of changing virtual realities on smart devices. The conversation focused on the causes behind procrastination and the abandonment of goals, with Tim arguing that the myth of willpower is not sustainable and successful individuals achieve their goals by changing their approach, the rules, the system, and the environment.


Employee Engagement Book Discussion


Jonathan and Tim discuss Tim's recent book, "Swing the science behind Why, We Don't Finish What We Start," which explores employee engagement from the employer's perspective. Tim and their co-author, Tracy Melet, are based in Kansas City, Missouri. They have written two previous books about employee engagement and decided to write a third one in 2020, focusing on employee engagement in Tracy's milieu. Jonathan shares their background as a New York Times bestselling ghost writer who has written over 60 books in various genres, including business advice, parenting, true crime, and business advice.


Swipe Title: The Psychology of Unfinished Projects


Tim and Jonathan discussed their research on the psychology, neurobiology, and behavior of people who repeatedly start projects but don't finish them. They attributed the concept of "swipe title" to the ease of changing virtual realities on smart devices, which they believed was conditioning people to expect immediate change and consequences. They highlighted the negative consequences of this behavior, such as a "debris field of unfinished stuff" that leaves people frustrated and filled with remorse. The conversation also focused on the causes behind procrastination and the abandonment of goals. Tim argued that the myth of willpower is not sustainable, and successful individuals who have failed in the past achieve their goals by changing their approach, the rules, the system, and the environment.


Managing Expectations and Motivation for Success


Tim and Jonathan discussed the importance of managing expectations and motivation in achieving goals. Tim emphasized that unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and lack of motivation. They also pointed out that motivation is key to overcoming challenges and sticking to goals. Both agreed that understanding and being honest about one's motivation is crucial for success, and that even the most disciplined individuals have ups and downs. They concluded with the idea of planning for one's worst day to ensure consistent progress, even during difficult times.


Swipe: Understanding Motivation Decline


Tim and Jonathan discussed the idea of "the swipe," a term used to describe the feeling of giving up on a task or goal. They examined how this feeling can occur gradually due to a decline in motivation and productivity, rather than from a single instance. They emphasized the importance of having a plan for when this feeling arises, such as taking a prescribed break or seeking support from friends. They also highlighted that this plan should be structured and depend on motivation, rather than enthusiasm, to ensure a successful return to the task at hand.


Consistency and Success: Athlete and Artist Examples


Jonathan and Tim discussed the importance of consistency and structure in achieving success, using examples of top athletes and artists. Jonathan highlighted the importance of showing up and doing the work even when inspiration isn't present, citing a local artist who is highly productive due to their system and structure. Tim brought up the routine of top athletes in team sports, noting that they often arrive early and go through extensive psychological and physical preparation. The conversation emphasized the significance of routine and consistency in achieving success.


Motivation, Accountability, and Engagement in Work


Tim and Jonathan discussed the importance of motivation and accountability in professional settings. Tim shared their personal experience as a freelance writer, emphasizing that having tangible stakes such as paying bills and providing for their family greatly motivates them to keep working. They also touched upon the concept of "swipe", or the tendency of people to disengage from their tasks. Tim suggested that stakes and accountability alone are not enough to ensure quality work, and highlighted the importance of factors like meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in keeping people engaged. They proposed that these elements, when present in a job, can help people overcome the desire to disengage and complete their tasks effectively.


Tapping Out: Empowerment Through Conscious Quitting


Tim and Jonathan engaged in a conversation about Tim's book, 'Swipe', and the concept of 'tapping out'. Tim defined 'tapping out' as a conscious and intentional decision to quit a situation that is not beneficial, as opposed to a 'swipe', which is a reflex reaction to discomfort or embarrassment. They emphasized the positive aspects of 'tapping out', stating that it often leads to feelings of empowerment. Jonathan encouraged the audience to connect with Tim and learn more about their work.


Listen to the webinar here:




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