Motivating Yourself - How Do You
Look at Challenges?

by Cindy Ventrice

If you are feeling unmotivated lately, you're not alone. Many people are having a harder time being self-motivated. Managers and team leaders have less time to motivate the people who work with them. Anxiety levels are high, tempers are short, and few people are as focused and productive as they want to be.

There are many reasons to feel unmotivated right now. Economic uncertainty is high on the list. Layoffs, overstated earnings reports, industries in crisis, every day there are stories in the news that cause us worry. Most of us relate to news about the economy based on our perspective as someone who is:

  • Employed, but uncertain about future job security.
  • Secure in your job, but feeling overworked.
  • Un-employed or under-employed.

Regardless of which category you fall in to, the current economic climate creates a very challenging time in which to try to stay motivated, but staying motivated is crucial to our personal job security. The employed can't afford to succumb to malaise. Most have to stay ahead of an ever-increasing workload in order to prove their value to their organizations. The un-employed and under-employed need to keep motivated in order to find steady work.

There are many things you can do to keep yourself motivated during uncertain times. One of the most important is to reframe your perceptions of the challenges we face.

Challenges as Opportunities

How many times have you heard this statement?: "Let's not think of this as a challenge. Let's consider it an opportunity." Sometimes you should view challenges as opportunities, but, if you are like me, you probably feel like you have had more "opportunities" in the past couple of years than you can stand. Most of the time, when you are right in the middle of it, a challenge feels like well a challenge, a pain in the neck, something to get through.

When this is the case, then go ahead and simply get through it. Don't listen to the excuses of that procrastinating (or critical) little voice in your head. Break the challenge into manageable pieces, find little ways to reward yourself as you complete each piece, and keep your perspective throughout.

When the challenge has passed look for two things: lessons learned and successes achieved.

Lessons Learned

When you don't meet a particular challenge in a way that makes you proud, ask yourself, "What can I learn from this that will help me grow?" For myself, I'm in a position of leadership in my professional association. Although I try to do my best, my performance isn't always stellar. My leadership gaffes, on occasion, have included dumping projects on people instead of delegating them, praising one person and inadvertently upsetting another, and failing to use all the resources available to me.

While I've tried to look at each of these situations to see what I can do to correct the problem, I've also tried to find the management lesson in each. Look for the lesson. It's a more motivating perspective than focusing on your short-comings and can help you rise to similar challenges more effectively in the future.

Successes Achieved

Sometimes you come through a challenge with a huge success. Other times the success seems insignificant, but it's a success nonetheless. When you achieve a success of any size, what do you do? If you are like most people, you ignore it. Big mistake!

To motivate yourself, you have to be willing to recognize yourself. In my book, Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works, an entire chapter is devoted to self-recognition. Self-recognition is a very powerful but under-used tool.

A few organizations, such as Graniterock in Watsonville, California, do an excellent job of encouraging self-recognition. Every year, Graniterock People do formal presentations showing off their successes. It's just one of the ways they are encouraged to recognize themselves.

If you are like most people, you don't have many formal opportunities for self-recognition. That doesn't mean you can't recognize yourself anyway. Tell others about your accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with announcing in your team meeting, "I'm happy to report I have finished my certification training," or telling a friend, "Wow, that was a difficult job interview, but I think I presented myself well."

Look for other, more subtle ways to recognize yourself. For instance, you can recognize your value and potential by providing yourself with opportunities to learn and grow. When your employer provides the training you want, don't you feel they are recognizing your value to the organization? You do the same thing when you invest in your own training.

Keep a journal of your accomplishments. If you are feeling particularly unmotivated, force yourself to note at least one success every day. It doesn't have to be huge. Every success is noteworthy. It might be nothing more than connecting with two people in your network or cleaning off your desk.

The important thing is that you note something. At the end of the week, go back and review what you have written. Forcing yourself to identify your successes is motivating. So is rereading past successes. They can build up your confidence when you need it most.

When reviewing a challenge that you have just completed, resist the urge to focus on what went wrong. Instead, look for the lessons learned and the successes achieved. You'll feel better prepared to take on the next "opportunity" that comes your way.

Tips for Motivating Yourself

Get a friend or colleague who will hold you accountable. If you know someone will be asking you about your progress, it can motivate you to have something to report.

Break tasks into manageable pieces. Big challenges can appear less daunting when you separate them into smaller tasks.

Do a little analysis. If there is a particular challenge that you are avoiding, see if you can't figure out what is holding you back. It might give you greater perspective on how to proceed. Just don't get caught by analysis paralysis!

Look for the lessons. When things don't go exactly as you planned, don't beat yourself up thinking what you should have done differently. Ask yourself what can learn from the experience, but remember to look forward, not backwards as you review your performance.

Reward yourself. As you complete each task, reward yourself. When you meet the challenge, think big! Find some way to celebrate your success.


Cindy Ventrice is a management consultant, speaker, and workshop leader with nearly 20 years of experience. She focuses exclusively on helping organizations improve operations, products, and services by improving workplace relationships and employee morale. Her new book, Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works, is available through any bookseller. You can contact Cindy at cventrice@maketheirday.com.

Make Their Day!
Employee Recognition That Works

by Cindy Ventrice,
Berrett-Koehler Publishers,
April 2003

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Copyright 2003 by Cindy Ventrice. All rights reserved.

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