Today, I went to the gym — not because I had to or because I felt guilty about not working out, but because I wanted to. And that’s a new thing for me. Which, oddly, taught me a lesson about motivation and writing.
Most people set goals. Maybe to write a book or lose a few pounds or even launch a business. We all understand what it means to dream for a better life. But the follow-through is often the hardest part.
How do you stay inspired when life gets hard?
This is a question I get a lot and one that’s tough to answer. But the way we answer it will determine our success in so many areas of life, from the art we create to the way we treat our bodies and our loved ones. In particular, this is a question writers often ask themselves.
So, here are four methods to stay motivated when it’s hard to get your best work out into the world.
1. Copy someone else
In my case, I wasn’t feeling motivated to eat right until I was at the gym and saw an overweight man giving it his all, staying late after the class was over, and then telling the instructor, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
That motivated me to take my health a little more seriously — not because he was obese, but because he was motivated. As Donald Miller wrote, “Sometimes, you have to watch someone else love something before you can love it yourself.”
This is also the reason I didn’t hire a personal trainer and instead took a weight training class — so that I could be surrounded by a half dozen other guys who are stronger than me and further along in this journey than I am. It’s motivating to see how they do it.
In order to write better, you need to surround yourself with good writers. Read the classics. Pay attention to the masters. Follow in the footsteps of greatness, and you too will soon be great.
In order to write better, surround yourself with good writers.
Exercise: Reach out to five people whose success you want to mimic and ask them how they did it. You might be surprised at who responds and what they say.
2. Set small goals
We all get motivated to reach higher once we’ve met certain minimum goals.
Once you start losing weight, it’s easier to continue losing weight. You motivate yourself. This is true in business, too. Once you make your first $1, it’s easier to make your next $10 or even $1000. But that initial hump between 0 and 1 is the most difficult.
Setting small targets and achieving them is one way we create consistency in our routines to help us hit our most desired goals. The secret to this is to not make that first goal too big, but just beyond your current reach.
In my case, setting a personal record for deadlift last week without even meaning to was what made me want to race back to the gym this week.
Next, find a way to get a personal breakthrough. Set small goals and accomplish them. Start with 500 words a day, not the goal to write a book. After you’ve done that for two months and it’s officially a habit (studies say it takes 66 days on average, not 21, to create a habit), then you can start thinking bigger.
While writing my most recent book, I started losing motivation to finish it once I was about two-thirds done. I would block out an hour or two to write and then I would just waste that time. So I took a tip from Neil Fiore, expert on the psychology of procrastination and author of The Now Habit, and gave myself small rewards every time I sat down to write. For me, this was a $10 coffee smoothie at the end of each writing time. It got me through that final hump by rewiring my brain to embrace the thing I was avoiding as something to actually look forward to.
Exercise: Set a tiny goal, like writing 10 minutes a day, and celebrate every time you hit that goal. After a week of consistency, increase to 15 minutes. And so on. Remember to reward yourself.
3. Ask for help
When in doubt, ask someone who’s done what you want to do. Hire a coach. Ask a friend. Read a blog. Listen to a podcast. Find teachers and mentors. Invite them to coffee or lunch. Ask them smart questions that you can’t read the answers to on their blog or in their books.
I’ve done this in almost every area of my life, including health and fitness, as well as business and even writing. In some cases, I pay these people. In others, we swap services. And in others, it’s just an informal mentoring relationship.
The point is if you want to achieve greatness, you have to surround yourself with great people. When you can’t talk with them personally, become a student from afar. Copy what they do and become their case study, giving them all the credit for your success.
If you want to achieve greatness, you have to surround yourself with great people.
Exercise: Take someone’s advice (from a book, podcast, or blog post) and email them about it, telling them how they helped you. This is the secret to getting influencers to pay attention to you. Make them look good by doing what they say. Demonstrate that it works.
4. Remember your “why”
I used to work out because I didn’t like the way I looked. It was a shame-based approach to getting into shape. I’d take up running or a new diet, do it religiously for a few months, and then move on.
What was happening?
A good friend of mine recently gave me some tough feedback on the way I was running my business, saying, “It feels like you’re looking for an easy button.”
Ouch. He was right, though. I wanted a hack, a shortcut, some easy route to success. But the truth is there isn’t one. In my experience, there are no big breaks. There is only the work, and either you love it or you don’t.
There are no big breaks. There is only the work. You either love it, or you don’t.
If shortcuts to success do exist, they typically don’t last. As my friend David once told me after getting $70,000 in an insurance settlement, which he then proceeded to turn into $150,000 in debt on some bad real estate investments, “Any success you did not earn, you will inevitably waste.”
In our context, this means that you must embrace the process. And in order to do that, you have to connect with your why, with the reason you want to do this in the first place.
For me, my health is important to me because it means having more energy to share with my family and friends, as well as feeling more confident about myself. With writing, it’s ultimately about impact. I want to write words that move people’s souls and change culture. That’s what gets me up in the morning and helps me work through the dips.
Your situation will never change until you get clear about your real goals and honest about the process it will take to get there.
Exercise: Write down five reasons why you want to change. Do you want to be a famous author? Finally finish a book? Make a little money off your words or art? Then, do the opposite. What are five reasons to stay the same? Consider the cost of both doing the work and not doing the work. What do you ultimately want, and what are you willing to give?
Grab a club
So, that’s how inspiration works when you’re not feeling inspired. You don’t wait to feel motivated. In the words of Jack London, you go after it with a club.
Your situation will never change until you tap into your true motivation for change. Dig deep. It’s in there. Once you find it, nearly anything is possible.
What’s one unlikely place you can find some inspiration today? Share in the comments.