What Successful People Do To Stay Motivated

A stack of productivity notepads filled in with tasks

Create the opportunities that keep you going.

There are a lot of ways that motivation manifests. For some, it's finally reaching a goal. For others, it’s the passion of the work itself. But what compels us to do something isn’t always what pushes us along day in and day out.

If you’ve ever struggled with motivation (even in work you love!), you’re not alone. Industry leaders and highly successful people know the same struggle. The only difference is they know the best ways to overcome it.

The truth is that we can lose motivation for a bunch of reasons. Maybe burnout has got you beat, or you feel like you’ve hit a wall on a project. Motivation isn’t something that’s constant, not even for people who seem to always be at the top of their game. It’s best to first recognize that. Give yourself permission to flow through periods of low motivation and know that when you’re there you can look to these tips to find a way through and end up in an ever better place.

Ask questions

It’s easy to lose motivation when we’re going through the motions. An easy solution to that is to keep asking questions. That can be of the work, the process or even of yourself. Not only does this keep you engaged, it can lead to better systems. 

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.” He knew better than most that questioning can lead to new discoveries. And even if you’re not a physicist, his advice can bode well for you, especially if you do it the right way.

“The first step in becoming a better questioner is simply to ask more questions,” Harvard business professors say. “Of course, the sheer number of questions is not the only factor that influences the quality of a conversation: The type, tone, sequence, and framing also matter.”

Consider asking more clarifying questions throughout your day or make a point to ask follow up questions in meetings. Remember, tone matters. So asking genuine questions is important. When you’re asking questions because you want to grow, you’ll find that it’s a big motivator. There’s always something new to learn and work toward, even if the discovery is within yourself!

Find the right group

The people you surround yourself with can make a big difference. Just look to those who have shaped history.

In the 1920s, a group of writers in Paris known as The Lost Generation altered literature forever. Writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerad, Ernest Hemingway, their editor Gertrude Stein and others ran in similar circles and famously worked alongside each other. Sometimes they considered each other competition, but mostly they inspired each other to reach farther and push boundaries with their writings. 

Similarly, in the 1930s photographer Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke created Group f/64, which consisted of photographers who shared a similar style. By grouping themselves together, the 11 artists helped culture embrace a medium that showed the world exactly as it is. Together they changed the photographer's role from printmaker to image selector, which is largely how it’s seen today. 

It’s difficult to say what these two worlds would look like today if writers and artists didn’t find the right group of people. Would we know their work as intimately as we do today? Would they have ever found the success that they did? 

No matter your work, you can apply this same principle. Successful people find inspiration and motivation from the people around them. Whether it’s a few co-workers, a networking group or a trade organization, there are easy ways to find like-minded people who can listen, share ideas and, most importantly, motivate you.

Investigate your failures 

We often feel unmotivated when we haven’t succeeded at a task. Quitting instead of investigating our failure often seems a better use of time and effort. But for successful people, failing is the motivator. 

Consider all of the examples of beloved figures who didn’t let failures stop them. Before being elected president, Abraham Lincoln lost six different bids for office, the first time being almost 30 years prior. If he wouldn’t have kept trying, he would have never reached the highest elected office in the country. The same goes for basketball player Michael Jordan who in a famous Nike commercial proclaimed that even as a sports icon, he’d missed more than 9,000 shots and 300 games in his career. 

“I failed over and over and over again in my life,” he says. “And that is why I succeed.”

At each failure, Lincoln and Jordan learned something new about their next move and creating a new path forward. 

Help others

Helping others can actually help you help yourself. We can lose motivation in all sorts of ways in our life, not just at work. That’s what makes this advice particularly useful to everybody, no matter your job, industry or passion. 

“There is a lot of evidence that one of the best anti-anxiety medications available is generosity,” Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton and author told the New York Times. “The great thing about showing up for other people is that it doesn’t have to cost a whole lot or anything at all, and it ends up being beneficial to the giver.”

Some researchers call it “the helper’s high,” and it basically explains that when we do something helpful, such as donating money or offering an extra hand, the brain releases feel-good chemicals. Some studies even show that people show lower levels of stress hormones on days that they volunteer. 

If you need a boost at work, offer to help out a colleague or get a group together to volunteer as an act of team building. Your act of kindness doesn’t have to be major to make a difference. It’s the thought that counts, and you may find that you benefit just as much as the people you’re helping.

Written by Kara Mason.

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