You are more effective than you think you are!

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]


Remember the little boy and the starfish story from the last Language Lab?

That story is largely about how we humans (irrationally) discount the good we do when faced with other problems we can’t solve.

While we were researching this phenomenon, we learned a new word: pseudoinefficacy.  Oooooooh. Aaaaaaaah. #ShinyNewWord

If you’ve been following Claxon for any time at all, you know how much we love discovering new words. Gets us all giddy. This one is no exception. Not that pseudoinefficacy is a good thing. (It isn’t.) But it is super great to find a new word that sums up such a big problem.

Okay, so, what does pseudoinefficacy mean? Thought you’d never ask.

It is the false (pseudo) belief that you are ineffective when, in fact, you are effective.

We’ve been looking at why it is so extra special important to focus on the Story of One (here and here). Pseudoinefficacy explains why stories of one make a difference in your donations. If supporters feel like the problem is so big that it can’t be solved, they may stop paying attention to the good they can do.

Using our starfish example: if donors start looking at all the starfish on the shore rather than the one starfish they can save, pseudoinefficacy can kick in and drain their motivation to donate. #SadStarfish

Guess what? Your supporters aren’t the only ones susceptible to the scourge of pseudoinefficacy. You may be suffering from it as well.

Yeah, let’s talk about you for a minute, shall we?

The work you do is hard. The problems you are trying to solve are BIG. Your to-do list is looooooooooooooooooong. If you focus on all the things you haven’t done – all of the things you may never get done – you’re likely to stop celebrating all of the ways in which you have kicked ass and taken names.

This is so sad. You deserve to be celebrated. And yet, rather than feeling joyful, you feel like a deflated balloon after a birthday blowout. Sad and droopy and all alone in the corner. Like Baby. Forlornly watching from a distance.

But no one puts Baby in the corner. Nope, no one.

How do you pick yourself up and do your equivalent of the Big Final Leap with everyone looking on in celebratory awe, i.e. how do you kick pseudoinefficacy to the curb?

Good news: the things that work on your donors can also work on you.

  1.  Remind yourself that you are being irrational. Simply remembering that it is silly to not value the good you do can be enough to snap you out of it. (Warning: Donors don’t really like to be told that they’re being irrational. So tread lightly.)
  2. Take time to focus on the ways you, and/or your organization, are effective. Find a Story of One and meditate on it. (Or better yet, meet a beneficiary in person. In one study, this increased donations by 171%.) Then share the story with your supporters. Doesn’t need to be a big ol’ spread in the annual report (although those are super fab). Post it on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or wherever. Sharing it will reinvigorate you.
  3. Celebrate your effectiveness to boost your motivation so you can get back to feeling awesome. Because you–and your donors–are exactly that. A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

Deeper Dive
Want more on how to snap out of sad starfish mode, and turn on Super Star Mode at full force? Here you go.


Countdown to Fall Quarter at Claxon University is on: only 67 days left. Unleash your awesome this fall! (These fine folks did. You can, too.)


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?