The Secret to Keeping Motivated (Even When No One Acknowledges You)
Don’t tell anyone
I once spent a year out of work. I spent some of my mandatory extra free time training for the Dublin City Marathon. I ran in the evenings or sometimes in the mornings after the kids went to school.
My motivation came from within, as I wanted to do something worthwhile with my extra free time without falling into a pit of depression.
Then I started training for the marathon with other local runners.
They were all faster and stronger than I was and ran longer and harder. My motivation became external because their athleticism encouraged me to run longer and harder and to get up earlier.
Behold the positive effects of peer pressure!
So how can you keep motivated?
Establish Your Why
If you’re setting a goal or you’re about to embark on a challenging project that will take several months to accomplish, write down five to seven reasons why success is important.
Are you seeking a promotion? What would winning new customers mean for your business? Is this a life-long personal ambition?
Keep your reasons in a file alongside the goal or details of the project itself and document what success looks like. It’s good practice to combine internal and external reasons.
For example, “I want to write a book because it’s a life-long ambition” is an internal reason. And “I want to find coaching clients because it will help us increase revenues” is an external reason.
If you feel unmotivated by your lack of progress, go back and read your five to seven reasons why the goal or project is important.
Invest In More Than One Project
Top investors like Warren Buffett recommend developing multiple sources of income. He famously said,
“Never depend on a single income. Make investment to create a second source.”
In other words, if one source of income fails, you won’t go broke because you’ll have other sources to rely on. Having multiple sources of income increases your margin of safety.
The same principle applies to motivation. If you invest in multiple projects, you’re less likely to feel unmotivated because a single project fails.
For example, let’s say you want to write a nonfiction book and find 10 new coaching clients for your business.
On a given week, you might find two new clients but get distracted from writing and produce only 500 words.
The working week was disappointing from the point of writing a book, but you’re ahead when it comes to finding coaching clients. That should sustain you to keep going.
Keep a Running List of Your Past Successes
Painful truth alert! Not every project you work on will succeed, and you might invest hours in something that proves to be a waste of time.
Remember Parkinson’s Law. It states, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”.
If the prospects of wasting time induce apathy, write down a list of your key accomplishments and magic moments. Then add to this list once a week, once a fortnight, once a month.
When you feel unmotivated, review this list. It’s easy to forget your progress and focus instead on blockers ahead, but a list like this will help you reflect on how far you’ve come.
The start of a new project often feels exciting. It’s hard to complain about lacking motivation when you’re about to start a new job, learn a skill like speaking Spanish or even run your first marathon.
That said, it’s natural to encounter bland or boring moments in the middle of a long project. In fact, you could expect these moments. In Mastery, George Leonard wrote,
“You have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau to be keep practising even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”[sic]
So if you’re feeling unmotivated or frustrated by a lack of apparent progress, don’t abandon your work. Ask yourself if this is simply a plateau, and then push on until you achieve another milestone.
While training for a marathon, I spent many grey and wet Sunday mornings running for hours without feeling like I was getting stronger and faster. Yet when race day came, I used my training to persevere and reach the finish line.