When you first get the big idea, you're excited. Maybe you're going to finally run that marathon, or write the Great American Novel, or spend the summer in France.
Yay you! That excitement gets you through the early phase, whether it's running a couple miles a day, creating a detailed plot outline, or putting yourself on a strict budget and researching house-sitting opportunities in Paris.
But somewhere around the time you can't seem to run ten miles without stopping, or you're struggling with chapter seven, or you've spent so many nights home watching free shows on the Internet and eating Tuna Surprise you think you might poke your eyes out with a fork, you start having second thoughts.
You wonder if it wouldn't be easier to give up your big idea and go back to your old life. One where your knees don't hurt, you don't care that your novel's characters aren't doing anything interesting, and you can afford to go out for dinner and a movie.
How do you keep going when your goal seems as far off as another universe?
You've hit what everyone hits – the motivation drain of the middle.
Beginnings and endings are where the energy is. When you start something new you're pumped up, excited to get going. All the things you need to do to make your goal happen are new, and you take them on with joy and enthusiasm.
Endings have their own energy surges. You're close to the finish line and can practically feel the relief at being done, plus the pride and happiness of getting the thing you've been aiming for all that time.
Middles are tough. They're where your enthusiasm flags, and you may be tired and lose sight of why you went after your big idea in the first place. The middle is where most people give up.
You don't have to. You just need to a) know you'll hit a slowdown, and b) give yourself strategies to get through it.
Here are six you can use to keep going when your goal seems out of reach:
1. Imagine yourself achieving your goal using all the senses. Smell the cool morning air the day of the marathon; feel your strong, toned muscles; picture yourself crossing the finish line; hear your friends and family cheering from the sidelines; taste the celebratory meal you'll have after. Visualization works.
2. Remind yourself daily of the why of your goal. How will you or your life be better after you've achieved it? Maybe you'll be healthier, more disciplined, a published author, or fluent in French – whatever the benefits are, keep them at the front of your mind.
3. Get support, especially from those who've done what you're attempting. Join a runners or writers group, or get a friend to keep you accountable. Interview someone who's lived in a foreign country and offer to send her a small gift for her time. Share your doubts and ask for advice or help.
4. Act as if you haven't lost momentum. Sure, you're cranky or tired, so fake it. Keep going anyway, knowing that each step gets you closer, even if it's hard or doesn't seem to be moving you forward. The bonus? Discipline is great for self-esteem. Taking on something big and making it happen is huge, and when your next big idea comes along you'll have this success to look back on.
5. Take a day off. Rest, goof around, refresh and reenergize, and don't worry about your goal. One day won't slow you down, and it'll let you restart tomorrow with better energy and clearer perspective.
6. Celebrate milestones along the way. You shouldn't have to wait until the very end for the big payoff, so build in mini-achievements and reward yourself when you hit them. Make a decadent dinner, buy that new book you've been wanting, or spend a night in that sweet B&B one town over.
Remember – middles are hard for everyone, so keep going. You can do this. Now get out there and be awesome!
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Oh, and one more thing – what tips do you have for staying motivated? Let us know in the comments!
DEONNE KAHLER writes at Life on the High Wire. She's also mom to Sam the Wonder Pup and is obsessed with road tripping, national parks, and quirk.