So you’ve decided to improve your life – congratulations! They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. But when you’re on step 752, you see how much farther you have to go and you’re already tired. You’re not even close to your destination! And there are obstacles that knock you back! And there is boredom!
Everyone loves a beginner but no one loves an intermediate. How do you stay motivated when progress is slow, nonexistent or backwards? Especially while we are in lockdown, it seems like nothing is changing, and everything is stagnant. But this is not the time to give up. If anything, we need to be fired up all the more.
Celebrate Even the Smallest Wins
The problem with being an intermediate learner is that you don’t get as many obvious wins. If you start learning a language, you can learn a few words pretty quickly. That feels great! But then you start speaking with other people in that language, and it’s so hard.
Whatever progress you’re making, it’s ok if you celebrate the smallest increments – percentage or absolute. There is no one on high judging you for celebrating too early. It only matters whatever keeps you motivated to keep moving. Any progress is still good progress. Don’t let declines in progress distract you when they could just as easily motivate you.
Reframe Struggle as Success
Stop Envying Overnight Success
If we are still at the bunny slope stage, we should be happy that we aren’t going down the black diamond slopes because we aren’t prepared to have black diamond-level problems yet. We learn how to deal with those problems while working through the bunny slopes.
We see people who achieve success at a young age and then think nothing of watching them crash and burn. We think, we would do better if given the chance. But we have no idea. The problem with lotto winners or pro athletes is not that they’re dumber at finances; much of the problem is that that they get all the money in one go.
The problem with overnight success is that you have all sorts of difficult situations and problems and you never had to figure more basic versions of the problems out when it didn’t matter. You can face a new obstacle on the bunny slopes and trip and fall and learn; it’s much harder to fall and recover on the black diamonds with people watching and criticizing your every move.
The Struggle Teaches You Strategies for Success
If you can’t stop yourself from spending when you’re on a low income, it doesn’t become easier when you have money. It may take longer for you to get into trouble, but having more money doesn’t mean you have better control; it just means you have more to lose. This is the reason you need to start start saving before you make a lot. If your brakes don’t work when you’re going slow, they’re not going to work better when you’re going fast.
In this way, you can be happy with your beginner awkward phases because they teach you and prepare you for the big stakes games.
- Be happy for your awkward relationships because they taught you to be better when you meet your future spouse.
- Invite gratitude for entry-level jobs, because you wouldn’t want to play around when you have the chance to prove yourself at your dream job.
- Be thankful for beginner poker games, because when a million dollars is on the line, you will have developed a great poker face from playing for a nickel.
Chances are you will make more money later in life. We can be grateful that we are struggling when we have struggles now, because when we get more successful, we’ll know exactly what to do. When we are trustworthy with less, we can be trusted with more. It just takes time and trial and error.
Struggle Teaches You to Love the Journey
You have to love the process. The people that become great musicians, usually loved learning how to be better musicians. You can chase fame and money and you might be successful. But you have to LOVE fame and money. Most people people will flame out first because they only somewhat like music, fame, or money. It’s like someone who loves crossing finish lines but doesn’t love to run. How far is that person going to go?
I think overall, the people who love the journey will go the farthest.
What if Progress is Going Backwards?
Ok, but what if it’s not just that you’re moving slowly – but you’re actively on the decline. How do you stay motivated when you’re putting one foot in front of the other and you’re moving backwards?
The thing is, progress is not all in one direction. Two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, two steps back. It happens.
I heard this great line in a podcast The Art of Manliness by the Author of Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World), that the first rule of being a doctor is Do No Harm. So if you’re not having a great day, if you know you’re not making progress, that’s ok. You’ll have days like that. You can’t win them all, you can’t make progress on every day. Some days you’re just fighting not to drown.
The only rule for yourself that day is don’t harm your goals. If you’re trying to mind your anger, and everything is going wrong and you just don’t think you can be a GREAT person today, that’s fine. Just don’t cause any irreparable harm. Don’t yell at your family. Don’t send out mean emails. You don’t have to beat yourself up for not getting ahead; just try to contain the level of harm done.
Or if you need major car repairs while paying down debt – that’s going to slow down your progress and it sucks! But don’t give up the whole game just because you hit a pothole. Ok you’re not going to pay down as much debt this month because of this unexpected expense – but try to keep levelheaded and stay the course as much as possible otherwise. You can be on triage mode and just congratulate yourself for not digging yourself further into a hole. That’s a terrific win, even though it doesn’t feel like it. It’s overcoming these obstacles that will get you to the end. You’re a champion even if it doesn’t feel like it.
How to Stay Motivated when Progress is Slow, Nonexistent or Backwards
In conclusion, you won’t always be improving by leaps or bounds. That’s A-OK. Remember that you’ve made the first step toward your path of self-improvement and that it’s this vast middle area where it really starts to get fun. You learn to overcome obstacles, learn to love your craft and get better prepared for success. As long as you continue to celebrate your wins and keep the big obstacles from deterring you completely, you’re well on your way for your inevitable success.
I’d like to leave you with the following quote I read in Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World:
I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking ‘if only that hadn’t happened life would be so good.’ Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path. – Janna Levin
It can be easy to be caught up in pitying ourselves and the obstacles we go through. We think we would rather have everything handed to us on a silver platter. But we actually don’t. There’s the old joke about the guy who died and in the afterlife, he wins every game, can get any woman he wanted and owns everything. He gets frustrated and asks to see “the other place” thinking that he was in Heaven. Then he’s told, nope, the place where you get everything you want, is a kind of hell.
You are in the middle of your magnificent journey. Why would you want to skip ahead to the end? This is when it’s about to get really good. Good luck!