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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 October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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