In this post you’ll find a few strategies on how to create and keep momentum.
In life and business there is this tendency to overvalue the importance of starting things. We hear that we can’t win the lotto if we don’t buy the ticket, and so we fall for the idea that all it takes to succeed in life is to start things, and so we start and quit, and start and quit, and each time we fight to be just as enthusiastic as before.
How to create and keep momentum?
At the essence of the momentum is the idea of movement. When we start something, we start movement towards a certain direction. Creating this movement in general easier than we think, what’s really difficult is to keep it. Below are a few ideas on how to start and keep your forward momentum.
Identify the set of actions which will aid on your forward momentum
When we think of momentum what we mean is more specifically “forward momentum”, meaning the kind of momentum that eventually propels us forward towards the direction we want to go, as opposed to backwards to the places we’ve been, and that we want to keep in the past.
We often fail to start and keep this forward momentum for the same reasons why most of us fail to achieve personal goals:
- 1) Not having a clear idea of what the goal is
Here we don’t have a clear idea of what the direction is, but unluckily for us we think we do. One very common sign of this problem is when asked about where you want to go, you have difficulty explaining it in two sentences or less.
You know you have a clear idea of where you want to go when there is not vagueness. No room for interpretation about your destination. If you were to tell the whole planet about your journey, every one of us would have the exact same picture in mind, regardless of whether some are theoretical physicists, priests, or philosophers.
- 2) Not knowing/finding out what things will make the goal/dream more likely to come true
The second problem is not knowing or bothering to know what things will create and feed your momentum.
Momentum is fed by action. We’re quick to forget this, and the worst thing about it is that often all it is required is a handful of well thought actions to create and keep your momentum alive. The longer momentum is kept alive, meaning the longer you keep these actions that add to your momentum, no matter how small the addition, the more resilient and powerful the forward momentum becomes.
Some actions slow us down, and some actions move us forward depending on the goal. If the goal is to lose weight, each healthy meal is one point added to our weight loss forward momentum, and each unhealthy meal one/more points are removed from your forward momentum. Eventually the loss outweighs the gains, and we find ourselves regressing over time as opposed to progressing over time. So, it’s important to know, and even make a list of the set of things that will add to your momentum, as well as the set of things which will take from it.
Reduce your expectations
In the last decades the society has taught us to have as sky high expectations as possible. We’re now taught to dream big, and having little/low expectations in virtually anything is looked down upon. This form of thinking has spread so far, and so wide that now it’s almost a sin to have less than super stellar expectations. The thing is that just like anything perceived in a black/white manner, this way of looking at things is great as a mindset, and also just as bad as a mindset. The reason for this is context.
If what we’re planning at the moment is something as grandiose as our life and big picture goals, having high expectations/desires/dreams is the way to go. The reason for this being that life is only one(as far as we know), and living a less and amazing life is just a waste of a life. So with high expectations we amount the kind of energy and motivation that allows us to pursue and bring amazing things to our lives, making them as a result, more worth living.
If the place we find ourselves at is on the other hand the bottom of a mountain preparing ourselves to take the first step, this same sky high expectations can be detrimental to our motivation at best, and dream killing at worse. Because with big dreams it’s not only inspiration the thing that takes space in our minds, but also the fear and doubts that make us wonder if we’re not setting out to bite more than we can chew. These same fears and insecurities are what make up most of if not all of the voices that bother us when we decide to start on our quest. These fears and insecurities make up the voices that urge us to stop doing the things that aid on our momentum.
We all know that depending on the case different activities will add different amounts to our forward momentum, and usually the things that add the most although appealing for their impact tend to be the hardest to sustain. So the goal here is to reduce your expectations not about the big picture goal, but about your own will power, and ability to sustain difficult and time consuming activities for long. Most people will disagree with this, but the thing is that what prevents us from thinking this way is our egos. When we plan a goal we ignore the fact that the state of mind we’re at, at the moment will hardly be the same when we’re out there, and we’re facing failure after failure.
The ex-navy seal David Goggins drives this point home in many of his Youtube videos and interviews, when he mentions the fact that when we plan to run a marathon, we’re often in a room with a warm cup of coffee, never when we are midway in another marathon state of mind. In other words, we make difficult decisions easily when we’re comfortable, and it’s only when we’re facing the dragon that we start wonder where our common sense was at when we made the decision in the first place.
On our forward momentum list, pick the set of activities that you can perform even when the conditions are suboptimal, that will still move you a step forward towards your destination, no matter how small the step. So that way, when the time comes and your stressed, or demotivated, you can lean back on those small, and not time consuming actions that keep your pace one level above neutral.
Make the actions that add to momentum habits
Still on the same line of thought is to turn the small actions that allow you to move forward without a lot of effort habits. The reason for this is that when we’re on edge, the hardest thing to do is to keep a clear mind, and without a clear mind, it’s almost impossible to stay on track, and keep moving forward. Habits on the other hand, carry with them the advantage that we don’t have to monitor them as much as any other kind of activity. It’s as if our body is able to execute them without our intervention, and so, when the time comes that our rational selves go offline, our “irrational” selves knows exactly what to do.
The thing about habits is that they have to be established first through conscious action for long enough until they become engrained. This is a challenge by itself, but according to recent research the time they take is not that much (67 days according to the universe College London). One trick to make them stick that I not only use very often but that is also effective is to perform these actions you want to turn into habits every day, at the same time. When we do it randomly we give ourselves the extra chore of deciding when to do what we have to do, and us being the procrastinating animals that we are, push that decision away until there is no more time left. When we schedule the things we have to do we have one less challenge, and all we have to do is to make sure we keep the string of successes. Meaning keeping the string of days where we do what we have to do for long enough, until they become habits.
Protect your momentum
The last and probably one of the most important things to do when we create momentum is to protect it. We hear about taking action, but rare are the cases when someone ever talks about protecting progress. Below are a few things to watch out for, when you start moving forward.
The self-sabotaging animal within
We all have this second person within us that often sabotages any good thing we create for ourselves. The reason why this second being even exists is a matter for psychologists to discuss about, but the important thing is that it does exist. We can choose to ignore it to our own detriment, or acknowledge it. It’s by acknowledging this inner self sabotaging animal that we can do anything about it. It’s only then that we can design strategies to minimize or invalidate its influence.
Doubts and insecurities
One way the self-saboteur works is by raising doubts about the effect of our actions or even the existence of our momentum altogether. One way to solve this problem is by 1) making sure from start that the actions we think as positive really are as positive as we think, and when the doubts arise we remind ourselves that we were smart enough when we thought about these actions, and 2) to from day one be sure of our destination. If we do 1) and 2) we can be sure that any doubt that comes after we start taking action is nothing more than just the self-saboteur trying to sway us away from the right path.
The It’s fine to not do it today syndrome
One common thing that happens when we finally start getting the forward momentum we seek is to fall for the belief/idea that since we’re on a good roll, that it’s a good idea to take the foot off the pedal for a moment. In the end of the day we did earn, and we do deserve that break, and we all know that we shouldn’t do anything for too long without a break, at least that’s what we tell ourselves. The problem with such breaks is that, they not only bring our momentum to a halt, but also make it difficult to go back to work when the time/date comes that we set to go back at it. This is a particularly dangerous thing to do if we’ve only been in that so called “roll” for a little while, since our new habits might not be old enough to survive the break we think we deserve. Just like a recovering drug addict, we should think 10 times before we consider taking our hands off the wheel, no matter how OK we think we feel.
When is it ok to take such breaks? Well, that’s up to you and it changes from situation to situation, but my approach is to first go way past the point where the new behaviour has become a habit. This is that place where not doing what you’re supposed to do at the time you usually do it creates a mental itch, which can only be scratched by doing what your habit craves to do. You definitely know you’re there when you don’t have to think about doing whatever you have to do, and you often find yourself midway of doing it when you become aware that you’re doing it in the first place.
The point is that it will take a considerable amount of time before you can allow yourself to take these breaks you think you deserve/don’t matter.
It is all about knowledge and experience;)
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