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How to Keep Your Motivation in Challenging Times

By Peter Shankman

Ever notice how some things are really easy to find? “Now where did I put my car keys? Ah yes, in my coat pocket.” “Honey, where’s the dog?” “He’s in the backyard!”  Other things, as well! “Officer, can you tell me how to get to the freeway?” “Sure, pal. Take this road one mile, make a left, you’ll see the sign.”  Easy, right? Some things, though, really aren’t so easy. In fact, in my opinion, the hardest thing to find once you lose it, is your motivation.

Weird, right? You can’t go up to someone on the street, or a fellow employee, and ask if they’ve seen your motivation. “Bob, I’ve been slacking of late. Any idea where my motivation went?” “Why yes, Peter! You left it in the conference room last Thursday. We put it in the filing cabinet for safe-keeping.”

Wish it was that easy, huh? Truth is, when times are challenging, motivation is, as well. It’s even worse if you have a job, and are getting by – there’s no proverbial “wolf at your door” to kick-start you into a new idea phase. So you go, day in, day out. And you become complacent, which leads to stagnation, which leads to eventual failure. Bet you never thought you could blame your lack of ideas on the NASDAQ, did you?

That said, read on for a few ideas on ways to avoid stagnation. Ways to avoid falling into the world of mediocrity – ways to jump start your imagination, your creative idea process, and your brain back into high gear. They don’t cost a lot of money, don’t involve a swami or a really big mountain, and can usually be done in an afternoon, if not an hour or so.

Get up, stand up; (then jump around): Sitting in front of your computer and staring at the screen is not the way to get new ideas. Put your Instant Messenger on “Away mode,” shut off the monitor, and walk away from the computer. Then, put on a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and some running shoes. Go for a walk or a run.

It’s been proven that upping endorphins opens up the blood vessels, which leads to clearer thinking. Bad day? Go for a run. Need a change but don’t know what it needs to be? Stairmaster. Can’t figure out how to get a client to understand that you’re right and they’re wrong? Bench press. The key is to get your heart pumping, get moving, motivated, and head back into the office with a fresh start from your brain.

N-E-W I-D-E-A-S: I keep a bunch of board games in the office. Scrabble, Chutes and Ladders, you name it. Brain-freeze? Play a game. Grab a co-worker who doesn’t look busy, and make the challenge. Once it’s on, it’s on. Play a timed game – one hour – whoever loses buys lunch for the rest of the week.

Weight a second: I keep a few weights and a Yoga mat by the door. Can’t get out of the office? Drop for 20, 30, 50 pushups. Or sit ups. Stretch. Do something physical. 20 seconds or more, and you’ll note a full chemical change in your brain. It really works. I also drop for pushups every hour on International flights. Forget about “airplane germs.” Pushups kill them.

Overcome a fear, and stagnation goes out the window:  What scares you? Really scares you? What wouldn’t you do? Perhaps it’s skydiving. Perhaps it’s bungee jumping, or even going to a nightclub wearing something that will land you in purgatory for eight years.

Whatever it is, do it. One idea is to keep a “fear tip jar” in the office, and every day, dump excess change, a single or two, whatever you have around, into that jar. When it gets to the point where you feel like you’re dragging or starting to stagnate, grab all that money, and do something scary. Like skydiving, SCUBA diving, rock climbing, or Bungee jumping. The incredible rush you get from that, which makes your mother wince, is sometimes exactly what you need to pull your creativity back from the brink of doom.

Talk to a child, think like a child. Did it ever occur to you that a six-year-old doesn’t worry about the stock market? Or whether or not the Fed is going to raise interest rates, or whether another 20,000 layoffs are coming? Ever try to figure out why?

Children live in the moment. Children don’t understand the worry of anticipation, or the trauma of the “potential.” Children know what’s going on because they’re seeing it happen in front of their eyes and nowhere else. Talk to a child, think like a child.

How to do it: Find a child. A neighbor’s kid, a brother’s kid, they’re all around you. Find one. Explain to the parents that you’re more than willing to watch the kid for a few hours, giving the parent a well-deserved chance to relax and enjoy pampering themselves at the local mall.

Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the pager. Turn off the computer. Get down on the floor with your little charge and play with them. Do what they want, whether it’s having imaginary tea or taking the Matchbox cars through the imaginary car wash. Ask questions! Ask them why the purple car is going before the red car – the answers will amaze you! Remember them – they work in real life, too.

These are simple solutions – but they all have a common theme – the theme of doing something different. The fact is, everyone gets “rutted” into a formal daily grind. It takes it’s toll, whether you know it or not. Add in a bad economy or a mass layoff, and you’re looking doom and depression in the face. The only way to beat it is to do something out of the ordinary. Something unexpected. Something that wakes you up with a violent shake and says “Yo! Time to get off your butt!”.

Read other articles and learn more about Peter Shankman.

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