There’s a saying in the running community: “A marathon begins at mile 20.” Now, you don’t have to be a math genius to understand that we’re not talking about actual mileage here. What this means is that the real work of a marathon starts when things get tough. Sure, everyone is excited at the starting line—but how in the world do you stay motivated when the muscle cramps set in and you feel like your body is about to collapse?
Whether you’re working toward a fitness goal, or you’re writing a book, or you’re launching a business, we all need help staying motivated when we’re working on our long-term goals and dreams. These 10 tips will help you keep going when you feel like quitting.
1. Remember why you started in the first place.
There was a reason that you set that goal or made that plan to begin with. What was it? Why was it important? Sometimes, just remembering your why can reset your focus and give you the boost you need to get back on track. If it was a priority to you then, it’s probably still important now.
2. Connect with people who will encourage you.
Pick a friend who’s a natural encourager and give them a call or set up a time to hang out. When you talk to friends about your goals and projects, several things happen:
- Usually, you’ll get energy simply from having the conversation.
- That friend can encourage you to keep going.
- You might learn something new from your friend that you can apply to the thing you’re working on.
Along with talking to friends, you might want to join a group that’s focused on the same things you are. Let’s say you’re getting your photography business off the ground. Find a local group of photographers to meet with. It doesn’t have to be formal—in fact, just getting together to share a meal and hang out can end up giving you tons of motivation!
3. Get into a state of flow.
This one is especially important if you’re working to create something—like a business plan, a song or a blog post. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, make sure you’re actually focusing on what you want to accomplish. Too often, we try to multitask when we’re “working” on something else. We juggle several things at once, or we check our phone every five minutes, or we allow our kids to interrupt us with things that can wait.
But getting in the zone—what experts describe as “flow”—is a motivating experience because it’s actually really enjoyable. When you’re totally focused on something like writing or painting or analyzing data, you’ll get a lot more done and feel motivated to keep working.
4. Take a break and do something fun.
Sometimes taking a mini break to do something creative, interesting or different can be just what you need to have energy to finish the job you’re working on. When I’m experiencing writer’s block, I’ll step away from the computer to take a walk outside, work on a house project, or paint my nails.
Also—this might sound simple—but a good song can change my mood and give me energy in an instant. If you need a little extra push to do that workout, clean the house, or just tackle that project, put on some of your favorite jams first.
5. Listen to a podcast.
Podcasts are a great way to boost motivation. You can listen to an expert talk about the subject you’re working on and learn practical tips from them. Also, podcasts can be a daily or weekly reminder to stay engaged with a topic you love. I listen to podcasts in the morning when I’m getting ready for work—I love getting two things done at once and starting my day out feeling motivated!
6. Read Scripture and pray.
I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged recently, and I instinctively went straight to my Bible for comfort. You just can’t go wrong here. Scripture is full of encouragement, truth and wisdom about every aspect of life.
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Also, when you’re discouraged or feeling like a failure, God wants to hear about it. Go to Him in prayer. He’s not waiting for you to clean up your act before you pray—He wants to connect with you just as you are.
7. Evaluate your habits.
Motivation is a long-term game (remember, you’re running a marathon, not a sprint). The most important decisions you make are the habits you form, because that’s what you’re doing every single day. And when you form habits that are aligned with your goals, you’ll see how motivating it is to make daily progress!
For example, if you want to lose weight but you start every day with a sugary bowl of cereal, you’ve got a mismatch between your goal and your daily habits. What if you decided to have a veggie omelet instead? Making small tweaks will help you gain momentum, which fuels motivation.
8. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished.
It’s easy to feel discouraged and unmotivated when you look ahead to all the work you have yet to accomplish. So take a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve already done. Celebrating your progress will remind you that you have what it takes, and you’ll feel confident about moving forward.
9. Set deadlines for yourself.
The best type of motivation is intrinsic—meaning that it comes from inside you. But it also helps to have some external motivations. And I don’t know about you, but I find deadlines incredibly motivating! At work, we almost always have deadlines for our projects, but it gets tricky when you’re doing your own thing. Take your personal goals and projects just as seriously as you do your work and learn to manage your time.
Whether you’re building a website or learning to play an instrument, set a deadline for yourself of where you want to be in a few weeks or months, or by the end of the year. Tell a few friends about it so you’ve got some accountability, and then work backwards from that date to set smaller benchmarks along the way.
10. Dream about the outcome of your goal.
When I’m in the middle of a long race, fighting muscle cramps and feeling completely exhausted, one of the ways I stay motivated is to picture myself crossing the finish line. I know this might sound cheesy, but it really works! I imagine the sense of accomplishment and relief I’ll feel when I turn that last corner, see my friends and family cheering, and finish strong.
What’s the outcome of your goal? Whatever it is, visualize it. Maybe you’re saving up money for a down payment on a house. Get a picture of a dream home and put it on your bathroom mirror. Or maybe you want to write a book. Get a notebook from the dollar store, put a working title on it, and keep it on your nightstand (if you keep at it, one day it will be an actual book!).
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If you're tired of feeling like you never have enough time, I want you to read my book, Take Back Your Time. It will help you prioritize and say no to what doesn't matter, walk you through each of the things you do want to accomplish, and schedule everything perfectly into place. It's like having me as your personal time management coach.