How to Stay Motivated when Progress is Slow, Nonexistent, or Backwards

how to stay motivated when progress is slow, nonexistent, or backwards

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

Many quit through the slow trudge and struggle of hard work because we think success is overnight and easy. We picture gliding down the bunny slopes with fanfare and paparazzi while wearing a mink coat, instead of sustained rote repetition, embarrassment, and failure.
There comes a time when you hit a wall. And every successful person hits this wall. But obstacles mean you’re challenging yourself beyond what you could do. This is the only way to get really good at something.
In the same way that you should celebrate wins, you need to celebrate failure and struggle – because that means you’re trying! Check out another tool to remind yourself that failure can be fun.

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

You have to love the process. The people that become great musicians, usually loved learning how to be better musicians. Chasing fame and money CAN lean to success, but you have to LOVE fame and money. MIt’s like someone who loves crossing finish lines but doesn’t love to run. How far is that person going to go?
Once I made a joke about a blogger complaining about their page views. And I got a surprising amount of pushback. Of course people can complain about anything they want, but it’s like being angry that no one appreciates  your karaoke.
If you want to make money, there are easier ways. If you want to have fun, there are easier ways. Maybe you should try one of those. Because the journey and the obstacles are definitely going to happen – “success” might not. If you hate the journey, will you ever be “successful?”

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!

Author: Lisa

A Washington, DC attorney discusses the financial struggles facing women lawyers.

One thought on “How to Stay Motivated when Progress is Slow, Nonexistent, or Backwards”

  1. At first I thought to myself….”What can she really tell me about this?” but it was refreshing and practical advice. A big part of my reason for starting my blog was because I had seen young(er) people, having “fun with it.”. Topics that I thought were strongly in my wheelhouse. As my enthusiasm has waned over the years of doing it, it gave me pause for reflection on other aspects of my life: “career choice, relationships, hobbies” to name a few. You’re right about the “hell” thing too… when I’ve experienced true “growth”, I’ve always felt “ambivalent” and think… “Awww, man…you’re going to FORCE me to learn this and be great”. I said to a friend one time that I’m a “reluctant superstar”. I think that’s true with a lot of people. Sometimes we tie too much of our efforts to “monetary rewards” and that can be a BIG hurdle to overcome for making progress. Anyway…all good tips here. Something that needs to be revisited as often as necessary.

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