zenhabits : breathe

Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation

By Leo Babauta

My son, who is officially an adult in a matter of days, is facing a small crisis: the project he’s working on is not going well, and he’s ready to give up not only on the project but the career he was excited about not too long ago.

I can feel the horrible mixture of discouragement, disappointment, difficulty, despair he must be feeling, because I’ve felt it too.

I’ve felt this punch in the gut whenever projects or new ventures didn’t go well.

I’ve given up, and felt the disappointment in myself.

And I’ve pushed through this discouragement, and felt so much better. Pushing through was always better.

So I’m here to talk about how I push past what Seth Godin calls The Dip — that slump that we all hit when things get hard, which is (sometimes) before the place where things get great.

How do we know if we’re in a slump or if we should just quit? We don’t. There’s no way to know the future. There are times when there are a bunch of good indicators that you should quit — customers aren’t responding, the market doesn’t support your work, there are better opportunities. But the feeling you have when you’re in a dip is not a good indicator that it’s time to quit.

The feeling wants you to quit, but often you shouldn’t. Because if you do, you’ll never get great at anything.

How to Push Through

What do you do if you’re demotivated and disappointed? If things aren’t going well and you want to give up because they’re so hard? When you’re confused and overwhelmed?

Push through.

This is the time when you can show yourself what you’re made of: you can brace yourself for a heavy load, put your head down, and push, like you’re trying to lift the barbell at the bottom of a heavy squat.

How do you push through when you don’t feel motivated?

You start moving. Take just one step, any step, a tiny step. Movement begets movement. Once you start moving, even a little, you feel better, you see that you’re capable, you want to move more.

You embrace the uncertainty and discomfort. Lots of people avoid these two things, but without them, you never get good at anything. You never learn anything worthwhile. Embrace these things and grow.

You do it not for success or some end goal, but for the sake of learning.

You do it because you’re tired of being in the pain of disappointment and regret. You want to get out of this dark hole, because staying in it sucks.

You start moving because you don’t want to let your life be ruled by fear. You don’t want to give up every time you face resistance.

You let yourself be moved by curiosity: wanting to know what it’s like to get past this, to push through discomfort. You want to find out how this chapter ends. You want to learn more about yourself.

You do it because you want to build trust in yourself, and you realize that there’s nothing more important right now than that.

You pause and remind yourself of the reason you started in the first place: it’s not for personal success but to help people, to strengthen yourself, to inspire others, to make someone’s life a little better, to put a smile on your face. And then you ask yourself: which is more important, this reason for doing this project, or your personal comfort? And you realize that your personal comfort matters little in this case.

You push through because every time you face uncertainty and discomfort in the future, you want to know you’re good enough to push through.

Take the first step right now, without thought, without hesitation. You have it in you.


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