Sustaining hope on the road of life can be extremely challenging. When life presents curves, obstacles and road-blocks, it can be tempting to stop and give up hope. Sometimes the way ahead seems mostly up hill and we’re not sure if we can continue the climb. Who among us hasn’t taken a detour, short-cut or turned around completely rather than carry on? And yet, we can move forward if we protect hope by maintaining our motivation.
Okay, one last road metaphor…What drives us when life gets challenging? Here are a few effective tools for fostering confidence, a sense of purpose, and motivation:
1. Stop for a moment and consider your vision. What do you really want to accomplish? What is your over-riding goal? Write it down clearly and succinctly. This step fits with the philosophy of Dr. Stephen Covey, “If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.” Begin with the end in mind. What’s your vision?
2. Make a plan with SMART objectives. To reap large rewards we often have to delay our gratification by taking small steps in the right direction. For instance, if your vision is to obtain a master’s degree by 2022, you will need to accomplish a multitude of lesser objectives in order to accomplish the main goal. This is where SMART objectives can be really effective. SMART objectives are:
• Specific – the objective is written in clear language and fully defines what you are going to do (who, what, where, how)
• Measurable – the outcome is quantifiable, observable and defines how you will know you have achieved what you set out to accomplish
• Attainable – the objective is challenging, but also practical and achievable
• Relevant – the objective aligns well with your overall vision
• Time limited – provides a reasonable target date for completion to create accountability
Using the master’s degree example above, some SMART objectives might be:
• “Research relevant master’s programs available at 8 local colleges by December 31st.”
• “Select 3 colleges and apply by February 28th.”
• “Study for GRE exam 3 nights a week for the next month, utilizing Kaplan GRE Prep.”
For extra motivation, it can help to post your objectives where you can see them and/or share them with others for increased accountability.
3. Remember to Ask for Help. For some, asking for help can be difficult, but perhaps we can shift our perspective a bit? Although we like to appear that we have everything entirely under control – parenting, relationships, career, etc., the truth is we need other people. Asking for help often means reaching goals faster and can sometimes be the decisive factor in realizing a vision.
According to Krista Rizzo of Forbes, changing our mindset means understanding that doing everything without help is an attempt to control and leads to frustration and burnout. Allowing others to help fosters trust, appreciation, hope – and sanity for you!
4. Be Flexible – Remember that while you may have set a brilliant plan in motion, the road of life is full of other drivers and unexpected turns (sorry, I couldn’t resist). There are times when circumstances outside your control may delay or frustrate your progress. In times like these, it can be helpful to sit down with your objective, consider what you can and can not control and revise accordingly. One of the most important principles for success is persistence, you can change your approach without giving up your vision.
5. Consider how you define failure. Nelson Mandela said it well, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Failure is refusing to get up and keep striving, to give up. While we may be thwarted in our objectives, often our vision is still entirely possible. We have only to stop, regroup, learn and chart a new path.
6. Reward yourself. This is the best part! Celebrate your accomplishments, even the small steps! Why? Rewarding yourself in the moment, elicits powerfully positive emotions in the brain. This is a simple tenet of conditioned response. We do more of what we find rewarding. According to Tony Robbins, rewarding yourself for victories, even small ones, leads to increased productivity and success. You can also increase motivation by simply acknowledging your hard work, dedication and for doing your best. Additionally, having something to look forward to can also drive you to stick with an objective when motivation lags.
What are the best ways to reward yourself? The best rewards bring you a sense of joy, fulfillment, connection or relaxation. Visit www.developinggoodhabits.com for a list of “155 Ways to Reward Yourself for Completing a Goal or Task.” Examples include: Visit a museum or art gallery, enjoy a night out with friends, get a massage, take a cooking/pottery/photography class, buy yourself a sweet treat, or perhaps take a break on the porch with a glass of iced tea.
No matter where you’re headed on the road of life, there are likely to be unexpected surprises. Just yesterday it rained all the way home during my rush hour commute, but the four rainbows that lit up the sky lifted my spirit and motivated me to keep going. There will be obstacles, sunshine, bumps, and wide open spaces, we have little control over many aspects of the journey. We can set our vision in motion with reasonable objectives, be flexible, persist and stop at Buckee’s for a $.79 Sweet Tea along the way. Your vision gives you purpose, and these tools can develop motivation and foster hope. Happy Trails!