Progress and Loss

Illustrating both progress and loss are two twin techniques of effort manipulation where you both:

  • Make something seem as if it’s already in progress, which makes it sound less effortful;
  • Illustrate negatively how it would be to actively stop this now, which makes it seem more effortful to stop;

In short, if the person is in the process of buying, for example, you don’t make the purchase seem like a big step that comes out of nowhere. You make this seem like a progress that is mostly done, and the purchase is just the natural continuation, requiring no effort.

The Persuasion Psychology Behind the Technique

This works because you are changing the perceived effort of both continuing and stopping:

  • You are making a purchase/doing your ask seem like less effort, because it’s not a manual action, starting, out of nowhere, it’s just a natural continuation, which is less effort;
  • You make stopping seem like something big, active, manual that the person must do, versus being something natural;

There are two types of biases that empower these principles:

  • Availability bias is the bias triggered by illustrating progress.
    • When you make it seem like the person has already progressed, it seems the purchase is more available. It’s closer to them. It’s just the next step, versus something big;
    • There’s also a small element of streamlining here. When you make a process more structured, it does seem simpler, so the person is more likely to buy (you’re reducing uncertainty – it’s 3 steps versus ??? steps);
  • Loss aversion is the bias triggered by illustrating loss (the person will be afraid to lose all they’ve achieved so far);
    • And to some extent, the sunk cost fallacy (“I started it, so I may as well finish it”) as well as the endowment effect (the person likes this relationship/progress more because they’ve already put effort into it);

You leverage this technique by simply illustrating both the progress already made and the consequences of losing this progress at this stage. Both work to guide the person towards doing your ask.


(2 in Total)


"You'll lose progress"

Every time that you try to quit a videogame or document without saving, it will ask, “Are you sure you want to quit? You’ll lose progress”. It’s an example of both illustrating loss and removing exits.

"We're almost there"

What parents say to children to (hopefully) get them to calm down. Illustrating the progress done so far and the little that remains.

"Are you sure?"

Asking if the person wants to quit or leave using an accusatory tone is a great technique, known as inquisitorial confirmation.

Use Cases For the Four Quadrants

Key Takeaways
(7 Total)

How to Stack This Technique