One of the greatest pieces of advice I think I’ve ever gotten in life was to “know the difference between a rut and a cul-de-sac.” A rut is something you can get out of and keep moving forward on your way to achieving whatever it is that you are after. A cul-de-sac will just keep bringing you around to the same point, never moving you forward. As I got older and was faced with more “cul-de-sac/rut” type decisions, I eventually learned that the two can be interchangeable based on one thing: attitude. If you want something bad enough and work hard enough, you can break out of a cul-de-sac. You can also make a simple rut an inescapable loop based on poor motivation and attitude. Maintaining a steady level of motivation can be one of the biggest challenges we face. There isn’t always going to be someone there to pat us on the back and tell us to keep going. We have to do that for ourselves. Here are 6 tips that you can use to keep yourself motivated, and keep yourself from slipping into those cul-de-sacs that bog us down.
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Mistakes are Going to Happen, Expect Them
If you are seeking perfection in facing a challenge, you’re already focusing on the wrong thing. By definition, a challenge that you’re facing is difficult. It is difficult because it is going to test your strengths, and make your weaknesses apparent. You have to know that at some point, you are going to slip up. It might just be something minor. Something you could have done better. It could be a catastrophic failure that sends you back to the starting line. Either way, you’ve got to know that mistakes will eventually be made. Learn from them and let them shape your success, not derail it.
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Celebrate Baby Steps
I think one of the most important things you can do in any challenge is to keep track of any and all progress. No matter how small. Even the most ambitious endeavours are measured in all of the little accomplishments that come along the way. I’ve talked about ways to make success tangible, like making to-do lists. If your goal is to climb mount Everest, you’ve got to keep track of how far you’ve come to know how close to the top you are.
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Clock In, Clock Out
One thing I’ve been working on lately is actually paying attention to how long certain things take me to do. This goes hand-in-hand with the notion of celebrating baby steps. I wrote an article not too long ago about the Kaizen effect, where I talked about setting a timer when doing a task you may not be thrilled about doing. For instance, if you’ve got to read through mundane, boring text – set a 1-minute timer and track how far you get in that 1-minute period of time. It makes the entire task more tangible. Keeping track of time makes any task more realistic.
Remember the Shark
Another saying I’ve heard people use (and not just in an Eminem song) is that it is hard to “drown a shark”. In reality, it can happen. Some people think that a shark drowns from not moving forward, but that’s not true. Sharks drown from being drug backwards. Sometimes sitting still isn’t the worst thing in life, but allowing anyone to drag you backwards is a sure-fire path to failure.
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Consider the Cost of Failure
Facing any challenge in life and thinking that the potential for failure doesn’t exist is like walking around the grasslands of Africa dressed as a gazelle and thinking that lions don’t exist. Failure isn’t some looming, oppressive threat – but, it is there. You have to be realistic about failure. Not only the potential for it, but the cost of it. If you go back to the grassland analogy, being dressed as a gazelle is probably going to greatly increase your chances of seeing the business end of an alpha predator. The really important to keep in mind when it comes to failure is to think about the effect of that failure. This doesn’t mean you need to focus on it, ruminate about it, and obsess over it. It just means you need to know that the potential for it exists and that there are consequences.
Find your Groove
Another big thing for me personally lately has been the notion of finding my “groove” when it comes to my work day. My brain works in different ways throughout the day. I’m more creative early in the morning and late at night. I’m better at technical stuff in the middle of the day when my brain has naturally changed gears. Your workflow is naturally unique to you. We don’t all work at the same pace or in the same rhythms. Finding your body and brain’s natural flow is as important to maintaining motivation as tracking your success is.