Ways to stay motivated to achieve your goals when the going gets tough
If you prefer to listen, here’s the Podcast version of this article.
To create anything at all and put it yourself out into the world is a brave and beautiful feat. It takes an amazing amount of courage and drive to even open yourself up to the opinions of others, let alone keep your motivation up if you’re not seeing instantly obvious success. If you’re in that place in your process where you’re starting to waver in your conviction, or perhaps you’re hearing the whisper of doubts in the back of your head, I invite you to take a metaphorical hike with me, to the top of Inspiration Point.
What I mean is, I want to offer a collection of tools and reflection exercises that might inspire you to forge ahead toward a goal you are passionate about. Maybe you’re creatively stuck, or your doubting your work’s value. Maybe you’re going out on a limb and you’re trying to make a project into a success, and you’re starting to think you must have been crazy to even try. It can be rough to stay confident when you’re walking a new path in your life, especially when it’s one forged by you alone.
I will use a kind of over-the-top visual metaphor in the hopes that it will be more memorable. (Apologies if it gets a bit blurry at times.) I like to think of the process of creating something and investing in a project as a long and winding trail. At the end of this path, there’s a beautiful vista point, (your metaphorical goal) and it’s a place you know exists, you can see it in your mind. You can logically deduce how to get there, because you can see it far in the distance and you’re walking toward it the best way you know how to. Just like the smart, empowered person you are, you are applying your skills and logic to navigate toward this point. You have begun taking steps down into the valley, forging a path toward your goal. The growth is dense, you’re feeling a bit lost.
Step 1: Define your goal from the highest point.
Define your goal from your highest vantage point, meaning it its most simple and pure form. It’s almost like you’re standing at the top of a ridge and you’re pointing toward exactly where you want to go. Before you start forging your trail into a dense and overgrown valley, try getting back to your mindset at this path’s starting point. What is your ultimate goal in its highest form? Summarize it in the simplest terms possible. For example, “Be paid for my art.” Or “Help people with my experiences.” Once you have that statement nailed down, record your “why.” What is the reason you are taking this journey? Why is this something you care about and where is your motivation coming from, deep down? Knowing your “why” will help give you a true measure of your success. Often it will cancel out doubts that arise if you’re getting stuck down the road. I recommend writing both of these answers down as they can serve as a guide if you begin to question yourself.
If you are having trouble believing you had a reason or a conviction at all when you began your goal, know that you didn’t choose it by accident. There was a pull inside you that was based in something real, and not just some arbitrary thought. There was an instinct in you that chose to pursue this goal; almost like you had been looking across a vast ravine and known there was something worth seeing at the top of a mountain, way across the way. There is a lot of information that has been gathered in your life experience to give you that instinct, so do not dismiss it as trivial or unfounded.
Once you write your goal statement and your “why,” check yourself against them whenever you get upset at a lack of success or progress. Let your why be your motivation alone; not fear, unhappiness or frustration. When you’re upset, you’re also less productive. Happiness means more productivity, so let positivity and inspiration lead your charge. All it takes is a simple decision to do so, then a conscious effort to maintain it.
Have these two statements handy and use them as a measure for your success. When it comes to things that are a reflection of ourselves, it can be hard not to hate on our wins. As your own harshest critic, your immediate reaction might be, “It’s not that good. It’d be better if I did…” etc. If you have made any progress against your “why,” be grateful and happy of your achievement regardless of other measures of success. This is a dream forged by you alone, and that is a success in itself.
2. Take juice breaks.
This is a long trail and therefore it requires endurance. The process should be something you do on a regular basis and not a torment, so make an effort to seek a balance. This is not about torturing yourself and becoming a martyr for your work. Remember that happiness means productivity, so allow yourself to feed your passion and make this pursuit a sustainable part of your life. If you’re like me, you are impatient, so be nice to yourself and don’t get down on yourself for not going fast enough. Focus on what you enjoy about the middle of this process, as today is one day in your life and you best enjoy the scenery while you’re here. You are the only person who knows what you want to make of this project, so be sure to fill your cup with external inspiration. Take in the opinions of others, take in cultural experiences, and don’t isolate your vision. The more you take in from the world around you, the more you can apply toward your work.
3. Ignore the people on the tour bus.
You might hear them calling down at you, telling you why you’re wasting your time on a muddy trail when you could have taken a guided tour bus on the main road, but ignore them. They are not on your path. (I know it’s a colorful metaphor— bear with me.) It’s easy to be discouraged by the opinions of others and begin to second guess your instincts. What has merit is subjective and no one else can make the decision for you. What your success ultimately comes down to is your faith in yourself. Trust that you are smart and there’s a reason you wanted to do this— it’s not a trivial one.
If you find yourself starting to believe negative feedback or you’re confused about who to trust, the most important question you need to answer is, “Do I like it?”
Your vision is what created this and therefore you can dictate the true value of your goal, whether it’s been achieved yet or not. Your voice has weight and merit because there are others out there who think just like you, and they would like this goal just as much as you.
4. I’m tired and these weeds are itchy.
When you have no fireworks or awards to measure success, it’s tough to feel confident about your work or enthused about the process of doing more of it. Not to mention, a lack of measurable success can be a catalyst for self-doubt. Thoughts like, “Maybe it’s not good enough… I shouldn’t keep doing this.” If doubts start to happen, go back to your purpose statement and reread your “why.” Your purpose is not cancelled out by thoughts like, “I might not be good enough.” Regardless of how mean they are, negative thoughts cannot undo the truth of your goal. This goal means something to you and therefore you should go for it. You’re on this path for a good reason so don’t mistrust yourself out of nowhere. Continue to focus on actions and the path ahead. You’re slowing yourself down!
5. Make Peace with the Wild Monkeys.
By this I mean the wild monkey howls of doubts and insecurity. I know you can’t just block them, so familiarize yourself with them, observe them, and keep walking on by. Know that they won’t hurt you, they’ll just stay up there in the trees and yell. To take the sting out of it, you can examine their patterns. What are they repeatedly saying? Write it down on a “Monkey Howls” list. It helps to see what will come up again and again because then the worries and doubts tend to lose their power.
6. Follow the Brightness.
Your best fuel is inspiration and positivity; that’s when things come quick and easy. When things aren’t flowing, they’re likely being forced by impatience or stress. Take a step back and take some time to enrich yourself. Gaze up to the bright sun peaking through the tree tops and follow your path toward what is beautiful and inspiring. Happiness maintains your greatest path to success.
7. When you’ve hit a Dead End.
If you hit a dead end in your path, try looking from opposite kinds of things to climb up – things you wouldn’t normally try. A tree. A rock wall. A vine! What I mean is, if you get stuck and you don’t know where to go with your project, it helps to take a look at it from opposite schools of thought. Basically, try on other peoples heads: imagine them and think to yourself, “What would she do with my problem?” Picture that person going through your process and picture what they would do in your exact position. Even if they’re in an unrelated discipline, thinking as another person you know can often lead you to an answer you wouldn’t arrive at on your own. This process also works as a nice form of inspiration juice. When you look at your creation from the vantage point of other people who are different than you, you adapt your lens to see things in a new way.
Another way to gain perspective is to study smart, successful people and how they attack their work process. Any kind of problem solver’s methods can be applied to yours as it’s more about being resourceful and finding ways to forge paths. Try searching through interviews and autobiographies of people you admire and try to discern their methods. Examine how others have solved similar problems and borrow their exact processes. When we resist letting go of one answer we shut off awareness of other possible ways in. They are not always where you’re looking.
8. Lost, Tired and Losing Hope.
No sun and feeling this is worthless. Haven’t had a measure of success in a while and you’re feeling like giving up, this is a mantra I use quite a bit. How bad do you want it? This process is achievable, the only question you have to ask yourself is how bad do you want it. Commit to it and you will have it, because that is the end result of this path. If you are obsessing about the need for external items that you don’t have, you are focusing on the wrong thing. It’s all about you moving your body up that trail ahead and not throwing your hands up like you’re helpless. You’re still alive, you didn’t “run out of options” – those options are infinite. If you get into that “nothing is happening for me mode,” remind yourself – you are the catalyst for your success. The only question you have to ask yourself is, “How bad do you want it?” It should put your complainer mind, back in check.
9. Sometimes you need Rain to Clear the Brush.
Imagine you’ve finally made it the top of your vista but there’s a wall of dense brush that is blocking your view. Meaning, you’ve reached a milestone with your project or maybe it’s technically “finished” but you’re not feeling like it’s a success. Sometimes there are outside forces that affect your success and you must wait for them to arrive before you can reach success. If you’re doing everything you can, be patient, and stick it out. Sometimes you have to wait for the universe to align other elements around you before you completely obtain your goal. There are facets of your future-success that are still arranging themselves around you and some of them just take a bit more time. Trust your instincts, have faith and embrace the process. Keep doing what you’re doing to allow your project to flourish and grow. All you have to do is make it the best it can be and rest assured, the rain will come.
10. 3 Feet from the Top.
That moment when you’re about to give up is usually the moment RIGHT before you reach success. I call it “three feet to the top.” It’s that moment of exhaustion and hopelessness when you’ve worked so hard for so long and you’re feeling like you’re never going to get a breakthrough. That is the very moment right before you reach the solution you seek. Don’t give up yet. Your view is obscured by mud and overgrowth, so you can’t tell how close you are, but whatever you do, don’t give up. You are so close to breaking through. The closer you are to the end of your rope, the closer you likely are to achieving success.
11. How good is this Vista Point?
This goal, just by being achieved by you, is by default, a success. Every creation has value just by being allowed to exist. Be happy with it regardless of anyone else’s terms for what defines success. It is a feat to create anything at all and you are brave and powerful to have pursued it. Know that it has merit by the nature of the part of you that has been invested in it. Let go of judging it’s value as the greatest form of an idea is allowing it to exist. You gave it great value by giving it form. That act is beautiful and brave and something you achieved that many do not. Own that success and wear it well; let the “it should be” criticisms go.
This is a passion and the reason you pursued it was something deep inside you needed to be fulfilled. It was something greater than the normal, everyday pull of obligation and job success. Know that this thing you decided to take on didn’t come out of nowhere. Trust it’s value as a reflection of something deep inside you.
You might still crave “the truth” about your work– an external answer telling you where you stand in the world. It’s like you need to have the merit of your creation defined in “conventional” terms in order to know yourself, if it’s good. I know it’s tough to have no feedback from anyone but friends and loved ones, as they are legitimately biased, so I will instead offer this.
Your “product” is you. It’s your voice. If you like something and you think has value, others will too. Quite simply, don’t worry about being the best, just focus on making something you love, and if you love it, others will too.
In case it isn’t self evident, know that these topics are coming from the things I need to tell myself on a daily basis, and since they are helping me, my hope is that they also help you. That said, if you have any requests for specific topics, please send them my way! You can Tweet me or Email me. Check out TeaspoonOfHappy.com for more of my writing and a couple of my books.
I would like to dedicate this post to Adam, for always helping me stay on my inspired path. And as always, happy Sunday friends! I hope you enjoyed this, thanks for reading and I will see you at the top! xox Sarah May B.
Featured image via Flickr