At some point, everyone gets tired. The top of the mountain seems too high, the road too long, the way too steep.
But inside, you know that you can’t give up, not now. If you did, all of your previous efforts will have been wasted, and you’ll miss out on that shiny trophy, that promotion, that feeling of accomplishment and deep satisfaction that makes life worth living.
Still, the temptation to quit is strong. During these times, how is a person supposed to persevere?
Find a partner
The most valuable resource you can possess is not money, or fossil fuels, or knowledge. The most valuable resource you can have is relationships. With people.
When you have a goal you want to achieve, people help encourage you, they remind you of the promises you made to them and to yourself. They provide inspiration, motivation, commiseration, and a kick in the behind when needed.
So when you find yourself flagging in your goal-pursuing efforts, choose a few trusted friends, ideally people who have similar goals, and form a team. Get on each other’s cases. Post your goals publicly and tell your people to hold you to it. It’s been said that “two are better than one because if either falls down, one can help the other up.”
Don’t chase your goals alone. Find a partner.
Find a way to make the process fun. Or weird.
Say your goal is to develop a healthier lifestyle through exercise. The only problem is, you would much rather make yourself a banana split and blast Top 40 music while watching Netflix.
So why not incorporate those things into your workout routine?
Run while listening to your favorite music. Do pushups during the latest episode of that hot new show. Make a banana-split reward chart: one hundred burpees equals one scoop of ice cream.
If you can’t think of a way to make the process fun, make it weird:
Young Mozart learned to play the piano while lying upside-down on the piano bench.
Needless to say, this is not the typical way to tickle the ivories.
No doubt Mozart came up with this party trick during a particularly yawn-inducing practice session, to help his brain stay engaged despite the interminable practice hours required to become Europe’s most lauded musical prodigy.
So when you find yourself bored or discouraged, find your own way to turn your task upside-down.
Change your process
Contrary to the popular adage, not all roads lead to Rome. (No matter how much you love Route 66, it’s not going to take you to Italy. For that, you need a plane. Or a boat. Or a submarine.
However, there is more than one road leading to Rome. Similarly, there is more than one way to achieve your goal.
Even if the goal is fairly straightforward, and you don’t really have the ability to do it while standing on your head or listening to your favorite music, you can always find another way to change the approach.
For instance, if you want to write a book, you can work on the book in the morning or at night. You can give yourself a daily word count goal or a time goal. You can write the introduction first, or the acknowledgment first. You can edit as you go, or you can write the entire thing in one shot, lock it away for a few weeks, and then come back for round two.
The brain craves novelty. If we indulge this natural desire too much, we turn into flaky, unreliable butterflies, flitting from one project to another without doing anything meaningful.
But this desire for novelty can also be harnessed for good. Even a small change, like using your non-dominant hand, or doing the task in an unfamiliar environment, can help. Other ideas include using timers, reward systems, and rest breaks.
To keep your interest and motivation high, make a list of all the different approaches you can take with your project, and try all of them until you hit on the combination that works best for you.
Dig deep to find your why
According to Benjamin Hardy, author of Willpower Doesn’t Work, if you need willpower, you haven’t fully determined what you want.
Why are you pursuing the goal that you are pursuing? Is it really worthwhile?
If not, you probably need to chuck it and get a better goal. If it is, dig deep to understand why you REALLY want it. Only a powerful “why” can overcome an exhaustion-induced “why bother?”
If your goal is to make a lot of money, why? What is important about that? Perhaps more money will give you more freedom. But more freedom to do what? What is so important that the hard work required to earn that money is worth it?
Ask yourself Why and keep asking until you find your Deepest Why. Then write it down somewhere you can see it every time you work on your goal. Keep the prize in sight, and the path will not seem so daunting.
Pass the point of no return
“Past the point of no return, no backward glances…”
For a guy who made seriously questionable real estate choices, the phantom of the opera definitely had something, here.
According to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, “keeping options open…extract[s] a psychological price.” In other words, success is more easily achieved by focusing intensely on the task at hand than the myriad other options tempting you away from your goal. But how do you achieve that laser-focus?
Part of the reason why people are tempted to give up is that they never fully committed to their goal in the first place. Think of it this way:
If a couple entered a marriage knowing that divorce was impossible, they would probably do a whole lot more before and during the marriage to ensure that their relationship would succeed.
Granted, given human fallibility, this doesn’t completely guarantee that they WILL succeed, only that the chances of them succeeding is much higher than if one or both partners kept the metaphorical back door cracked open, ready for a quick escape.
Likewise, when it comes to your goals, the level of success you achieve is positively correlated with the level of commitment you are willing to put into it.
Some of this commitment can come in the form of money–investing a significant chunk of cash in something that will further your goal helps you to mentally shut that back door and focus on your goal.
Throwing things away can also help. Uncommit or cancel things that are holding you back from your goal–draining relationships, unnecessary activities, clutter, etc. Those items are like sand ballasts, keeping the balloon of success firmly tethered to the ground. Cut it loose, and fly.
Now you are committed. Now you are all in. Now you can go forth and conquer.
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
The discouraging times will come, but they can be overcome if you remember to stay creative and committed. Keep your eye on the prize, and before you know it, the prize will be yours!