Our news feeds are filled with announcements about massive funding rounds, surpassed revenue goals, and entrepreneurs exiting with enough money to sail off into the sunset. But what if that’s just not happening for you?
We’ve been there many times at Interact: the months, quarters, or years when growth isn’t happening. The outlook looks bleak, and everything is shrouded in a cloud of negativity. Honestly, not reaching expectations is rough—that’s just part of the game—but there are practices you can put in place to build self-motivation through good times and bad.
Why does staying motivated matter? Because businesses take a long time to build, and if we’re constantly being tossed around by the ups and downs, we won’t make progress on what really matters or enjoy the work.
1. Work on what is in your control
Most things are not in our control as entrepreneurs. The more we try to strong-arm our businesses into going how we want them to, the more exasperated we get. We end up self-sabotaging by having a poor attitude, getting upset, and becoming exhausted and anxious.
Instead, stay motivated by focusing on what you can control. I was reminded of this while chatting with Kyle Goldie, a business photography coach and entrepreneur. He mentioned that he can always rely on connecting with his customers. When times are hard, or he’s lacking motivation, he takes the time to get on the phone and talk with his customers, hear their stories, and understand their worlds.
For Kyle, connecting with customers is re-centering and gets him back on track. For others, it could be through writing, working on a product, or whatever else brings energy. Doing this will bring joy back to your work and improve your focus.
2. Learn about entrepreneurs who have built businesses
There’s a reason why successful entrepreneurs are voracious readers. Of course, reading will give you tons of knowledge, but reading about others who have struggled and persevered can be motivating.
Here is a shortlist of books and podcasts of entrepreneurial stories from people who have motivated themselves through tough times.
- How I Built This
- Shoe Dog
- Sam Walton: Made in America
- Lost and Founder
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things
In Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), she talks about how debilitating it can be to feel isolated in your struggle, and the shame associated with feeling that way. And while there’s inner work to be done in feeling like you’re enough, it’s also comforting to know that other people have been in your shoes, struggling with the same problems you have now.
Being aware of this has a few key benefits: knowing you’re not stupid for struggling, not feeling like it’s taking too long for your business to grow, and not thinking you’re crazy for how hard everything is.
3. Measure more than just the outcome
When I get overwhelmed and want to give up, my coach reminds me that there’s more to Interact than topline revenue growth. Only looking at growth or revenue is debilitating, especially when most businesses take a few years to start turning a profit. There’s no guarantee that you’ll grow in a nice, smooth fashion over time.
Being obsessed with one metric is a great way to have massive swings in energy and burnout. Instead, take stock of everything you have going on, paying particular attention to the things that are going well.
- Write down all the areas where you see improvement.
- Don’t avoid negative areas. Write those down, too.
- Focus for a few minutes on one or two of the things that are going well.
Does that change your perspective on the day? Of course, there will be times when nothing feels good, and that’s okay. Letting yourself see what’s going right will get you out of your negative bias. It’s much easier to notice what’s going poorly as opposed to what’s going right.
4. Build a network of diffusion for hard times
In Kobe Bryant’s farewell speech, after one of the greatest professional basketball careers of all time, he said, “I’m most proud of the down years, when we weren’t winning a championship, but we didn’t run away.” (Watch it here.)
That, of course, is easier said than done. People don’t feel good during tough times. No one likes feeling this way, so we want things to change. However, to persist means to live through all feelings, good and bad.
Alone, that is insurmountable. People can’t thrive while suffering alone. We need to be “in it” with other humans who can support us, listen when we’re feeling frustrated, and just be there without trying to fix our problems.
I recommend the below outlets for healthily diffusing difficult emotions.
- A business coach
- A support group of entrepreneurial peers in the same stage as you
- Mentors who are a few steps ahead of you in their businesses
It might not always seem like a good investment to spend time building these connections. The natural tendency is to focus on tasks that solve the problem at hand, to make the business feel good again. But, from decades of observing entrepreneurs, I can confidently tell you that running a business will not always feel good. Sometimes it won’t feel good for a long time.
The investment in fostering deep connections with people who you can trust to be there for you when times are tough is always worth it.
5. Keep an enjoyment journal
This idea comes from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last, two of the best business books out there. He has to constantly balance his creative writing time with other responsibilities and engagements as a writer. If he spends too much time outside of writing, it hurts his business overall, but it’s also not enjoyable.
So his method for staying focused is to keep an enjoyment journal, which means he logs his “creative hours” at the end of each day and sets a goal for how many creative hours to have each year.
For Jim, his creative hours correlate to his enjoyment of work. He knows that if he’s feeling bogged down and work hasn’t been as fulfilling, it’s probably because he’s lacking creative time.
It’s important to know what brings you joy in your work so you can dial it up during tough times.
Conclusion: motivation is a moving target but practice can help
If staying motivated was easy, everyone would do it. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs have an especially difficult time staying motivated because so much of our work is done in isolation, without true peers to turn to.
Work the above practices into your day to become more resilient to fluctuations, to create a throughline to your life, so the natural ups and downs of running a business don’t sap your motivation.