Following on from the previous post on having the courage in your potential to succeed, today’s topic is all about how to maintain the momentum and excitement that you feel at the beginning of a project, right until the end.
I am really good at starting projects. I love the excitement of beginning something new. But I have a confession to make – I am not so good at seeing the projects I start all the way till the end. Too soon into the process I start having doubts, I start questioning if there is any point to what I’m doing anymore. Is this really going to succeed? Of course, all this does is diminish the motivation that I previously had when I was starting the project.
After a great deal of self-analysis, I realised that I could summarise my problems into 2 main points:
Problem 1: Impatience – not waiting long enough for the results to show.
I want to see results and I want to see them now! I am excited at the beginning when I can picture a perfect end result in my head. But after a few days or weeks, that picture begins to blur, and I start feeling like what I’m doing isn’t bringing me any closer to my goal. I start to lose hope when the results after the first day aren’t as amazing as I had imagined.
Problem 2: Burnout– this is when the difficulty of the task ahead sets in and I begin to realise that the road to achieving my goal is longer and more twisting than I expected.
Usually, the first day is relatively easy, because you are fuelled by a high surge of motivation. On the second or third day however, the reality of the hard work and time ahead of you becomes apparent. If you’re anything like me, it’s at this stage that the laziness sets in. I want the results, but I don’t necessarily want the process that gets me there.
ِِThese two factors, especially when paired together, are the perfect recipe for failure and disappointment.
To get over these problems requires a lot lot of hard work and determination. Here are some tips that I have found useful:
Tip 1: Take small and consistent steps to achieving your goal
Nothing is more demotivating than setting yourself unrealistic targets that are impossible to achieve. Be honest with yourself when planning your day – don’t give yourself 5 hours of work to finish by the day if you know that realistically, you only have 2 hours of free time.
There is a lot of truth in the saying: ‘slow and steady wins the race’. I would however, put more focus on the word ‘steady’ than ‘slow’. The key to success is consistency. Give yourself realistic tasks that you know you can do well every single day. Before you know it, you’ll have achieved your goal. It may seem small at the time, but you’ll be amazed how much greatness can be achieved through small, consistent actions.
Our beloved prophet Muhammad pbuh said:
“قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: “أَحَبُّ الأَعْمَالِ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى أَدْوَمُهَا وَإِنْ قَل”
“The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously, even if they are small.”
These actions are most beloved to Allah because they are consistent. There is no doubt that the person who remembers Allah a little bit every single day, is better than the one who spends one day reading the entire Qur’an every few months and in between this time, barely remembers Allah at all. This principle is so simple and yet amazingly effective SubhanAllah. It applies to absolutely everything in life that you want to achieve, the top of this being the goal of entering Jannah inshaAllah.
Tip 2: Enjoy the process. See the value of what you’re doing, not just where you’re going
People who are successful are addicted to the process, not just the outcome. They thrive off the high they get from learning. The success they obtain is the icing on top. Ironically (or not), it is these people who end up achieving great things. For them, every situation is win-win; if they end up accomplishing what they set out to do, great! If not, they still feel accomplished because they see the value of what they have learned along the way.
For example, let’s say that you have a goal to lose weight.
There is a simple equation for weight loss: make sure that the number of calories you burn is higher than the number of calories you consume every day. So you see, theoretically it is very easy to lose weight. Theoretically. In practise, you need to make sure that you’re eating healthily and regularly exercising every single day for a prolonged period of time to actually see the results of your hard work.
If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, then change your mindset by telling yourself that you love to eat healthily and work out. Tell yourself that you love it because it makes you feel good, and because it’s improving your health and fitness levels. What you will find is that workouts stop being a chore, but something that you look forward to, because you know that you are stronger today than you were yesterday. You may not have dropped a dress size yet, but you have more energy, sleep better and have better stamina than you did a week ago. Eventually, without even noticing, you’ll have dropped 2 dress sizes, not 1!
There’s another great thing about focussing on the process rather than the end result: it protects you from the disappointment and sense of failure that you will feel if you don’t reach your goal. By seeing the value of the learning process, you can guarantee feeling like you’ve accomplished something no matter what. This positive feeling will in turn fuel your motivation for the next goal. The worst thing about feeling like you’ve failed is the subsequent feeling of “what’s the point in trying to do anything anymore? I’m just going to fail as usual.” You can beat this unproductive and miserable mindset by seeing the value of what you’re doing, not where you’re going.
Of course, this principle applies to far more than just losing weight. It applies to anything and everything that you want to achieve, no matter how big or small.
We can also seek comfort from the knowledge that Allah cares about our actions more than the result. This is beautifully described in the Qur’an when Allah tells Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) to make the call for Hajj:
And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and in every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass…
It was said that Ibrahim said: “O Lord, how can I convey this to people when my voice will not reach them” It was said: “Call them and We will convey it.” So Ibrahim stood up and said, “O mankind! Your Lord has established a House so come on pilgrimage to it.” It is said that the mountains lowered themselves so that his voice would reach all the regions of the earth, and those who were still in their mothers’ wombs and their fathers’ loins would hear the call. The response came from everyone in the cities, deserts and countryside, and those whom Allah has decreed will make the pilgrimage, until the Day of Resurrection: “At Your service, O Allah, at Your service.”
It is upon us to do the work – the result is in Allah’s hands alone.
Tip 3: The path may not be easy, but it is beautiful
When you set yourself a goal, accept that the path that leads to it may not be exactly as you imagined it to be. It’s important to be flexible and agile. Don’t view challenges as roadblocks, but rather as stepping stones to reaching your goal.
I am reminded of an extract from one of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables. At the end of the story, Anne realises that she must give up on her aspiration of studying at the university of her dreams in order to look after her adoptive mother after the death of her adoptive father. She does not however, give up on her end goal of becoming a teacher; instead she changes her perspective on the path that she will take to get there eventually.
Anne’s horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen’s; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams. And there was always the bend in the road!
[Anne of Green Gables]
Anne saw the beauty in the narrow, twisting path ahead of her, because it was leading her to her destination. I think in life, we all need to be like this. We need to realise that the path may not be easy, but if it takes us to where we want to go, then it is beautiful. If it’s worth achieving, if you want it as much as you say that you do, then you will not be put off when the path inevitably becomes rocky or twisted.
As a Muslim, I feel like this principle is so important. Our main goal is to please Allah and to enter Jannah by His Mercy inshaAllah. Without a doubt, we will be tested throughout our life countless times. But the difference between the winner (the one who gains Allah’s Mercy) and the loser (the one who enters the hellfire) is their focus, or lack of focus, on their ultimate goal. Knowledge is power. It is empowering to know and understand that you WILL face challenges in order to get to where you need to go. It is empowering because it means that when you do come across a boulder in the road, you won’t see it as a huge setback, but rather as one less obstacle on your path to success.
The believer sees positivity in all of their affairs. This is articulated beautifully in this Prophetic hadith:
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: عجبا لأمر المؤمن إن أمره كله له خير، وليس ذلك لأحد إلا للمؤمن : إن أصابته سراء شكر فكان خيراً له، وإن أصابته ضراء صبر فكان خيراً له
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.”
Tip 4: Drop the victim mentality
Possibly one of the worst characteristics that makes a person unsuccessful and bitter in life is having a permanent victim mentality. This is when you blame others for your failure and feel like their success is preventing you from succeeding. There are so many problems with this mindset:
1. Constantly thinking that there is an evil force in the world that wants everyone to succeed except you does nothing but suck the motivation out of you, and put you in a bad mood. It is so unproductive! After all, why would you even try when you are so certain that you’ll fail?
2. It takes away from the effort that people around you have put in to achieve the things that they have achieved. As a general rule, if you see someone who has accomplished the same thing that you want to achieve, you should assume that they have put in a lot of effort to get there. You can and will achieve the same and better if you put in the effort!
3. Other people’s accomplishments don’t take away from yours. Success and opportunities to do good are not finite. Success is not like a glass of water, where every sip taken means that there’s less water remaining. It’s more like rain from the sky – it will never run out, no matter how much it pours!
Tip 5: Stick with it beyond the initial motivation; stick with it long enough to actually discover its value.
The goals that you have will take time and a lot of effort to achieve. You won’t be able to see the true potential of the work you are doing after a few days. It may take weeks, months or years to see. If you give up before then, you are robbing yourself of seeing what you could have achieved, if only you had kept going for longer.
Tip 6: Don’t be a perfectionist!
For as long as I can remember, my mother has always told me that it’s better to completely finish something well, than to complete only half of it perfectly. A completed essay that covers 70% of the points you are supposed to cover will get you better grades than if you only submit a fabulous introduction. A good blog post that’s published is more beneficial to people than a great one that never left your notepad. There is always room for improvement, but you have to start somewhere! If you aim to go from zero to perfection, you’ll probably find that you end up doing nothing at all.
What’s worked for you?
These are all tips that I have been trying to implement in my life, to become a more productive person. I would love to hear how you overcome roadblocks and maintain motivation. Please let me know in the comments below, and we can help each other!