When working on their startups or personal projects, some entrepreneurs believe that their limitless passion and endless enthusiasm will be able to carry them through the dark days and buoy them in times of doubt.
But successful entrepreneurs realize that this is a naïve hope.
In actual fact, our motivation is a finite resource.
There are only so many days we can withstand the brutal hours, the thankless little tasks that pile up, the feeling of loneliness, and the disappointment of failure. In the end, many entrepreneurs will throw in the towel when their motivation runs dry, not necessarily when their projects deserve to be shelved.
To be clear, there is no shame in stepping aside from a project and shutting down a venture if you think it’s not worth your precious attention, but it would be a shame if you let go of something valuable and worthy of your time for lack of encouragement and motivation.
In a very real sense, our motivation may be our our most vital resource as entrepreneurs. Without it, we lose hope even when working on our best ideas.
Luckily, there are many things we can do to ensure that our motivation won’t burn out as we pursue our dreams. Here, I’ll be focusing on three in particular.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
If you don’t already do this, it is one of the single easiest avenues to sustained motivation.
Gratitude journals have been scientifically demonstrated to improve our physical and mental well-being, but the more relevant benefit for our sake’s is the increase in self-esteem. As an entrepreneur, you need to trust your judgment above all else, and it’s hard to trust people we hold in low esteem. If you’re working on a solo project, there’s no boss to keep you on track or employees to share your burdens — you are the company, and as such, you need to like yourself, otherwise things are going to get real unpleasant real fast.
Gratitude journaling can keep us grounded and anchor us to the positives in our lives. It creates tangible evidence of our good feelings, and the added benefit is that we often see momentum in our journals over time, which can be extremely encouraging. For example, in the early days of your project, you might journal that you got 1 new client this week, but later on, you may be journaling about how you got 1 new client every day this week.
Little things like that can be inordinately helpful to see, and gratitude is a crucial ingredient in the fuel that feeds the flames of our motivation.
2. Surround yourself with inspiration.
They seem trite, but those “Hang in there!” posters and “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” refrigerator magnets have a purpose, and they’re surprisingly instrumental.
We know that hearing affirmations and words of empowerment can have a real and immediate impact on our feelings of encouragement. A well-timed kind word or inspirational quote can be the impetus we need to keep going.
One thing I’ve noticed, though, is a tendency in some entrepreneurs towards apathy or frigidity vis a vis their inspiration. There’s a feeling (especially prevalent among younger entrepreneurs) of being “too cool for school” when it comes to things like quotes or encouraging TED talks or motivational speakers. I think the campiness is a turn-off for them, but in reality, it’s their loss. People who are inspired by their work and by themselves are more enthusiastic, productive, happy people. And while it may be difficult to preserve our inspiration, it’s worthwhile. Maintaining our inspiration should be seen as a necessary ritual, like brushing our teeth or calling our mothers.
I recommend that entrepreneurs start compiling a list of the most inspirational quotes they see (like this guy did). The quotes you admire start to seep into your consciousness and adjust your worldview.
For me, I always come back to the Chinese proverb that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is right now — whenever I think that it’s too late for me to learn something difficult or start something new, I think of that quote and my doubts melt away.
Yes, I know it sounds sappy, but I can promise that it works. It’s better to lean in and be earnest with our need for inspiration than to risk having too little, depriving the flames of motivation from the oxygen they need.
3. Keep a list of the compliments you receive.
This one may seem egoistic, and it’s the weirdest one so far, but it’s effective.
I’ve been keeping a journal on my Evernote of the compliments I’ve received since 2018, and I honestly think it’s the single greatest thing I’ve done for my motivation. It’s like a gratitude journal on steroids.
I don’t know of any scientific backing for a compliments journal, but I can say from anecdotal experience that having a record of the kind, genuine things that others have said to me or about me has made me feel so much better about myself, and that directly translates into my motivation and enthusiasm for my work.
Once, my good friend Jonathan said to me, “Aaron, if you were a vegetable, you’d be a sunny organic pumpkin.” Sounds silly, but that compliment made my month. I thought it was such a cute thing to say! Now I smile whenever I see pumpkins, thinking about my friendship with Jonathan and remembering that I am loved.
In our entrepreneurial ventures, we’ll all hopefully encounter customers or clients who have benefitted from our work, and they often will have very kind things to say. Ask them for testimonials and write them down (bonus: add them to your website!), then look back on them from time to time and remember that your work has positively impacted someone else’s life.
Seeing their bright words as they were once spoken can be a reminder in the darker, less rosy times that your work was greatly appreciated. Let that light radiate and dazzle you, and may it be an inspiration to continue fanning the flames of your motivation.
Now, it’s time to let you in on a little secret.
These practices aren’t just for entrepreneurs: they’re for everyone.
In all of our lives, whether working on a venture or not, we will face moments of doubt, uncertainty, despair, anguish, and disillusionment. Our motivation to persevere can seem tenuous to the point of nonexistence in these times, and yet it is precisely in those moments when we need it most.
Our motivation is extremely powerful, but it can also be extremely fragile. It is a precious resource, and it can help us through the most difficult challenges we face, but it can also be fickle and fleeting if we don’t nurture it.
Each of us needs to cultivate a strong, resilient foundation of faith in ourselves so that when we face the unending onslaught of difficulties in life, we can carry on and thrive despite the obstacles on our life paths.
The flames of motivation light the way on those paths, and it is incumbent on each of us to ensure that those flames are never extinguished.