One of the main challenges that small business people face—particularly solo practitioners or “solo-preneurs” in general--is the problem and the art of motivating oneself.
You are your own boss. If you have employees, then the game may be a little different for you as you have people depending on you. However, if it is just you, there are often no external forces telling you that you must do any particular “thing”. There are certainly exceptions to this—client deliverables, purchases that have been made, the general inertia of your business pulling you along at some point, but really, especially at first, it is an uphill battle for many on their own.
There are so many aspects to this problem of motivation that some never figure it out—or worse, they find solutions that compound the problem in the long-term because the “solutions” are ill-suited approaches. Ill-suited to them as individuals.
To really add fuel to the fire [or baking soda to the lack thereof] we have distractions, overwhelm, time management, prioritization, and the list goes on, and on, and on.
What works for one person in terms of motivation may or may not—and often does not—work for another. So it is with time management, goals, and the like. There is no one-size-fits-all or even a one-size-fits-most solution. Particularly for those who are more sensitive both emotionally and kinesthetically/energetically, many of the “take massive action” or “get present to the consequences if you do not” approaches create more internal dissonance, and if the tasks or milestones the individual is accountable for are not accomplished, this can lead to a build-up of that same internal dissonance, or worse, feelings of guilt or worse still, even shame, and with the principle of compound interest on the “debt” you have with yourself…well, we can see where it may and often does lead: overwhelm rather than accomplishment.
Even if it does not lead there for you, these levels of intense urgent styles of motivational techniques can cause a lack of balance at best, and at worst, hardcore burnout.
What is the solution? Custom design your own motivational strategy using a few basic principles and approaches.
Step 1: Discover Your Style
Find out what works for you at a base level. Since at least Aristotle was writing in the 300s B.C. we have known that humans are generally motivated in two basic ways or “directions” ::: away from pain or toward pleasure. Or both.
Stated in the context of goals and deliverables: away from consequences or toward a vision.
You will notice one creates leverage [and often contraction and internal dissonance] in your body—it pushes you. Compels you. Often uncomfortably. The other pulls you forward. It is expansive. It opens you and draws you toward it.
The danger is to judge one or the other. Urgency/away from/consequence driven motivation could be “bad” because it creates tension and dissonance. Vision is “good” because it is expansive. Or the reverse; vision/toward is “bad” because it does not create massive intense action, necessarily. Urgency/away from is “good” because it creates more instant [in some] results.
An additional component is style is how you like to be supported.
This is also a critical component. While I am not an "accountability coach" per se, and never have been, quite often, clients ask me to support them in getting stuff done. Before I even begin such an aspect of our relationship, and since I can assume almost any style of coaching to serve them at this point, I ask them ::: how do you like to be supported.
No this before asking for external help--or be prepared to explore that inquiry with your friend, guide, coach, or accountability partner.
The truth is, whichever style works for you, as you become more aware, even now, at how you have created results in the past for yourself—when you found yourself simply motivated to accomplish what you wanted to accomplish—is the “good” style for you.
If an “away from” strategy works best for you, then create externally supported consequences to propel you forward. Engage a coach professionally, who coaches in that style. Or have a friend be your accountability partner—and someone willing to enforce uncomfortable consequences for/on you.
If this kind of approach has you feel overwhelmed, or has you feel like running from your entire support system [missing phone calls, not emailing them when you said you would, unaccomplished tasks building up, etc.], then consider the other approach: an approach that has you moving toward a larger vision. Toward a future you are creating. An approach that has you stay constantly present to the deeper meaning in the work you are doing; what your purpose of mission is, so you stay in the game. Plainly put ::: remember why you are committed to doing what you are supposed to do, in the grand scheme of things.
As an example: you’re not simply “having a client session”. You are doing far more than that—you are helping someone have the life they have always dreamed of. And even greater or larger, you are contributing to the evolution of humanity itself—to a global vision of the Greater Good.
Mission. Vision. Life Purpose.
Whatever your style, be sure you use the one that best suits your sensibilities and produces the results for you, in your life, that you want produced.
Step 2: Make Your Tasks Bite-Sized.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” –Anonymous
It is not an "event" is an unfolding process.
Make sure your expectations are realistic, and that your goals and outcomes are in stages, and a palatable size. Often, people set these wild expectations for themselves or they have their goal of “building a business” be a one-step process, rather than what it is: a natural process of growth we see all around us.
First, we crawl. Then we walk. Then we run.
You would not expect to go to the gym for the very first time and lift 300 pounds would you? Of course not. You would go, do a little to stretch yourself—just get a little sore—and then do a little more until you are at the level—eventually—you want to be at.
Nothing happens in one step.
And make sure the chunks are an appropriate size for your sensibilities—again, not someone else’s no matter how much of a “motivational guru” they are.
Allow me to give you a personal example. Nearly a decade ago now, I used to make 200 cold calls a day. However, I did not last long when I tried to declare or commit to making that many phone calls. Too large of a chunk. So I tried blocks of 50. It was still daunting. Eventually, I got down to committing to simply doing blocks of 10. That was easy. In fact, it was so easy, I did another 10. And another. This little psychological game I played with myself made it easier and easier to consistently accomplish 200 calls a day.
Make sure your level of expectations (your workload, your milestones, and even your to-do list if you use one) are all designed to maintain balance, while consistently building and growing.
Slow, sustainable, constant growth and expansion is always preferable to short-term, over-the-top goals, as that is the sustainable, and more ecological [both emotionally and systemically] approach.
I will suggest one thing : make sure you always accomplish the most important or most pressing single task for that day. Just pick one. You know which one it is. If you want to do more, great. But commit to doing that one thing you know needs to be done today. If that “one thing” is too large a task, break it down into sub-tasks, and eat that elephant one bite at a time.
In sum, there are three major steps to “motivating” yourself.
- Discover The Style or “direction” that works for you. Are you motivated toward something larger or toward a vision? Or are you more motivated with consequences and pain?
- Set up systems and structures to support your style of motivation. Whether that is through a colleague, friend, professional, or with yourself is irrelevant until you learn what best works for you--both in terms of style and in terms of actual structures.
- Make sure your goals or milestones or “stuff” you wanna get done is not only realistic, but is also in the appropriate “chunk size” so you do not undercut or undermine the first two steps. And relax—you can always increase chunk size or workload as you gain momentum and a sense of accomplishment.
Above all, be a scientist in the laboratory of your own life. Consider the above and the choices you make at first an experiment. Test it out. If you find, after some days, or a week, or more that the style of motivation is not working, be willing to be flexible and try the other style. If you discover you are seldom—or never--accomplishing your desired “things” to do, that’s fine. It only means one thing ::: you need to adjust the size or the scope or the chunks as appropriate.
Test. Adjust. Test again. Find out what work. Build on your successes. Harvest the lessons when you miss your target. Build upon that as well. Often, those lessons are even more valuable than accomplishing what you set out to do.
If you know where and how to examine the failures they are always more valuable than the successes and will lead to exponential success in the long run.
Have fun with it. Remember, it is your life. You get to live it as you choose.
Jason The McClain