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Published on June 1, 2020

Not Making Progress? 3 Ways to Get Moving Again

Not Making Progress? 3 Ways to Get Moving Again

The best things in life never come easily. And it’s discouraging to work on a personal or career goal for a long time without seeming to get closer to the desired outcome.

My work requires me to stay on top of things 24/7. It seems like I’ve had things figured out since day one, but that is far from the truth. More often than not, I spend my day reading online articles, watching YouTube videos, and doing everything except the things I need to get done.

Sound familiar? Everyone has days like this.

With time, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making progress — losing track of the big picture and your ultimate vision, being busy without meaningful results to show, and feeling overwhelmed and distracted all the time.

After studying a number of research articles and experimenting with a long list of life hacks, here are three ways to get moving again if you’re feeling stuck and not making progress.

Extrinsic Motivation Vs Intrinsic Motivation

First, it’s important to understand motivation as that is often what drives us forward (or what we’re lacking). Most people feel stuck when they lose motivation. When that happens, you start to feel uncertain of your vision and goals. It’s easy to start doubting yourself and wondering if your goals are even achievable. Some might even take it personally and start seeing themselves as less than what they’re capable of.

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Without motivation, it’s challenging for you to charge forward, let alone to get moving again when you feel that enormous stress and resistance upon you. But when people talk about motivation, they think about external rewards, like more money and greater pleasures to push themselves forward.

Extrinsic motivation doesn’t last. Instead, you need to cultivate intrinsic motivation if you want to make progress again. The big question is: How do you do that?

How to Start Making Progress

Getting stuck is normal. Some people feel stuck for a day, a week, or months, but we can always start marking progress again with a few tweaks to our routine. Try the following tips to get yourself motivated and moving forward.

1. Reconnect With Your Why

David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL, an extreme endurance athlete, and now a successful author of the book Can’t Hurt Me[1]. He came from a tough background of poverty, domestic violence, learning challenges, and obesity issues. However, he then moved on to complete not one but two Hell Weeks — the toughest military training in the world — and finish multiple ultra marathons and ultra triathlons.

To him, we all have limitless potential, and all of that is in our minds. When asked how he was able to become mentally tough and pull off those unbelievable feats, it came down to a simple question he asks himself: “Why am I doing this?” When the pain was too much to handle during the SEAL Hell Week or the 100-mile ultra marathon where his mind and body were telling him to give up, all he did was ask: “Why am I doing this?”

It wasn’t easy. For most people, the why question might lead to the answer of giving up. But if it’s something that matters to you, there will always be a strong, fundamental reason that makes giving up not an option. Some examples of times when you may need to ask “why” include:

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  • When you’re having trouble getting your client’s work done.
  • When you’re not making progress at your business.
  • When things get difficult in your relationship.

You don’t get into these career and personal goals for no reason. You commit yourself to them because there’s something bigger than your needs of instant gratification, your fears, and probably yourself. It’s crucial for you to reconnect with the why when things look less optimistic than you want them to be.

2. Create a Sense of Control

In 1998, Professor Carol Dweck from Columbia University and her student, Claudia Mueller, presented two groups of fifth graders with a simple test to carry out a study on how a compliment affects a student’s performance[2].

After the test, both groups of students were told that they had scored well. The variants were what came after that. They acknowledged the first group of students for their intelligence: “You’ve done very well. You must be smart.” They then praised the second group of students for their effort: “You’ve done very well. You must have worked hard on these problems.”

The key difference between intelligence and effort is the locus of control. Intelligence, to most people, comes naturally and falls under something outside of our control. On the flip side, hard work is considered as the internal locus of control because it’s something we choose to do.

After that, they gave both groups of students a different test that was so hard that only a few students were able to solve it. But the interesting finding was not how well the students scored on the test, but how they responded to the challenge. Professor Dweck found that the first group of students who were praised for their intelligence spent less time trying to solve the harder test. The second group of students, who were praised for their effort, were more willing to invest time in solving it.

The research demonstrates how different types of praise affects our performance, but more importantly, how having the external or internal locus of control affects our motivation to keep going when things get tough. In simpler terms, in order to get motivated, you need to feel that you’re in control of your current situation.

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Instead of staying in the state of helplessness when you feel stuck, do something — anything, however small it is — to regain the sense of control. It could be:

  • Feeling stuck with your fitness goal and don’t feel like working out? Stop overthinking and go do one single push-up.
  • Too many emails to reply to and not sure where to start? Type a five-word sentence to every reply you need to make, save it, and go back to them later.
  • Not getting new clients or sales for your business? Reach out to help someone with tips for free.

Remember, one small obstacle is never the thing that ruins your life. It’s the inaction that lets obstacles and setbacks stack on top of each other. Making progress isn’t about doing something perfectly, it’s about taking back the control and moving forward one step at a time.

3. Focus on Tiny Actions

Four years ago, I attended a Tony Robbins event. He said, “In order to change your life, you need to take massive action, massive action, massive action!” Yes, Tony repeated “massive action” three times. I disagreed with that.

You see, every action we take requires effort and energy. Talking about massive action might make you sound smarter in conversations, but it’s not as practical as it seems in real life. The bigger the action is, the higher the resistance pulling us away from getting started, staying focused, and being consistent. Instead of focusing on massive action, try starting small if you want to start making progress again. Here’s why:

  • Tiny action takes less willpower — most of the time, it takes little to no effort and energy. It means you can get started and stay consistent easily.
  • Tiny tilt in degrees (in any area: mindset, habits, vocabulary, etc.) can lead to monumental differences in trajectory.
  • The compounding effect of consistent, small action will eventually get you where you want to be.

We can also see massive action as a combination of many small actions — often, it means nothing without unpacking it. For example, big goals like “I want to lose weight,” “I want to become an author,” or “I want to start a successful business,” don’t mean much without the steps to get there.

Clearly, these goals are massive plans made up one step at a time. The solution is to break them down into smaller, manageable chunks of tiny actions. It may seem insignificant at first until they add up into something so big that it changes your life completely.

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How I Did It

To give you a real-life example, I got stuck writing this guest post. I received an email from LifeHack about the topic, spent hours researching and outlining it, and then got stuck at making it flow. Weeks passed, and I was far from making any meaningful progress.

One day I spent the time going through my personal blog — full of articles on motivation, psychology, and productivity — as an escape to writing this blog post. And then it struck me that I’ve learned how to get out from the rut all along. So here’s what I did:

  • Reconnect with my why. Why am I writing this guest post? Or better yet, why am I even writing? My vision is to build a successful blog and become an author — and writing is what I do.
  • Create a sense of control. To regain the sense of control, I scrapped the original outline and started dumping words onto the Google Doc. With words on the paper, my confidence and motivation to complete this guest post increased significantly.
  • Focus on tiny action. Instead of thinking about completing the entire article at one-go, I commited to 30 minutes of writing per day. I spent these daily sessions to edit and re-edit what I had from my brain-dumping session.

And that’s how I got what you’ve been reading here..

In fact, this doesn’t only apply to smaller projects like writing a blog post. You can implement the same principles on improving your health, career, and relationships whenever you feel stuck.

Final Thoughts

Often, it’s not that you’re not making progress. We’re wired for instant gratification, so it’s usually hard for us to see things over the long run. That’s also why investors fail to invest for the long-term and people don’t give themselves enough time to succeed.

If you’ve been focusing on becoming better every day, it’s inevitable that you’re making some kind of progress in one way or another. Unfortunately, you just don’t realize it. The solution is simple: keep track of every small win and celebrate it.

The best way to do this is to keep a daily journal and review what you’ve done and accomplished at the end of a day. Ask yourself what have you accomplished today and how you can do better tomorrow. If you got something meaningful done for the day, don’t forget to celebrate it, however small it is.

More Tips on Making Progress

Featured photo credit: Lindsay Henwood via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] David Goggins: Can’t Hurt Me
[2] The New York Times: Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says

More by this author

Dean Yeong

Self-improvement writer and performance coach

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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