The 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! How do you stay motivated when progress is slow, nonexistent or backwards? 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. What matters is that you keep moving. Any progress is still good progress. Don’t let declines in progress distract you when they could just as easily motivate you. Some easy things to celebrate:
- Any improvement
- Any attempt at improvement
- Every continuous day of practice, no matter the time spent
- Trying some a new way of learning or progressing
Reframe Struggle as Success
Stop Envying Overnight Success
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. 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.
If your brakes don’t work when you’re going slow, they’re not going to work better when you’re going fast. This is the reason you need to start start saving before you make a lot.
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
I think overall, the people who love the journey will go the farthest.
What if Progress is Going Backwards?
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?
On The Art of Manliness the author of Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World) says that the first rule of being a doctor is Do No Harm. That’s my advice for when things are going backward – do no harm.
On days when you’re struggling to survive, the only rule for yourself is don’t harm your goals. If you’re working on your anger, and you 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.
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
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
We think we would rather have everything handed to us on a silver platter. But there’s this joke about a guy who died and in the afterlife, he wins every game, can get any woman he wants 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!