How Do I Keep Positive and Motivated?

August 04, 2016

How Do I Keep Positive and Motivated?

Someone once described consulting to me as “throwing balls up in the air one at a time and waiting for them to come down.” No, he hadn’t lost the plot entirely (although he went on to do exactly that later in his career, but that’s another story). What he meant was that you keep on contacting potential clients, submitting proposals, and chasing leads until you get some work. On balance, that’s a valid description of the sales process of consulting.

What Ted (for that was his name, and still is I believe) didn’t include in his description was how to deal with the situation when all the balls are floating out of reach, and it seems like none of them will ever drop back down to you. At that point, it’s very easy to become negative and demotivated, especially if you’re working alone. As we all know, when you’re feeling miserable, it’s very hard to do anything and extremely easy to put things off until you feel better, whenever that is. In the meantime, you look at your cash flow and forward workload and get even more depressed.

If you’ve ever been mired in problems, you’re all too familiar with what those little voices in your ear are whispering. Actually they’re not whispering; they’re shouting. “It’s all going wrong! Get out before it’s too late! You didn’t really think you could make this work in the long-run, did you? Why are you putting yourself through this? You could just get a job; in fact, you should never have left your job in the first place.” And so on and so on. And it’s Monday morning, and you wonder if you look as depressed as you feel. If only you could get your mojo back, maybe you could get out of this mess.

Winston Churchill once said that success is “walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Obviously, staying motivated wasn’t a problem for him, although apparently even he suffered from what he termed “the black dog of depression” from time to time. But how do we mere mortals keep motivated when things are going wrong and the voices are yelling negative thoughts in our ears. I guess that depends on who you are, because we all deal with this stuff differently. Perhaps one way to start coping a little better is understanding where those voices are coming from.

Our brains’ overriding function is to keep us safe, and that includes a multitude of amazing capabilities, such as the ability to close our eyes before something hits them, even when we don’t even register seeing anything. The brain reacts to any form of perceived danger, including stress because you’re worried about your business. So your brain tries to get you back to a state of safety. Perhaps you stepped away from that safe place when you launched your business, and while things were ticking along, it was okay. Now things are much harder, and your brain wants you back in that safe place. Hence the voices.

Now, this may sound a little hokey, but you could argue that just ignoring these voices is being disrespectful to yourself. After all, they’re part of your built-in wiring, and they’re coming from a good place: they’re trying to keep you safe. Crazy as it may sound, having a reasoned conversation with them may help. Instead of letting them get you down, in which case they tend to get louder, debate the issues with yourself. You may feel better.

For example, if your inner voice is telling you to pack it all in and go back to your old job, you may gently remind yourself that you were very unhappy in your old job, because you were bored and unfulfilled. Also, recall how exciting it was when you started your business and how great you felt when things were going well. After all, it was a reasoned, thought-out choice you made when you decided to start your business.

You know what you need to do to get things back on track, and it’s all stuff that you’ve done successfully before. So throwing everything away and finding a job isn’t going to make you happy; it’s going to make you more stressed. So you can thank your inner voice for its input, but inform it that you’ve decided not to take that option.

Aside from telling your inner voice that you know better, what else can you do? Here are a few things that have helped me over the years.

  • Do your very best not to fall off a cliff. Falling off a cliff is what happens when you work full time on a project or projects for a period of time, and when they end, you suddenly haven’t got anything to do. The solution to this is to make sure that however busy you are, you devote at least 20 percent of your time to bringing in more business.
  • Try to find a mentor, business coach, or confidant. This can be anyone you like, who has a good understanding of consulting, and who you can talk openly and honestly with you about your business. Finding that person can be critical for a whole variety of reasons, not just helping you when things aren’t working out.
  • It’s easier said than done, but concentrate on not stressing about your lack of work or whatever is depressing you. Here’s a phenomenon that’s hard to explain: at the times you most want to get work, you’re least likely to get it. When you’re so busy that you’d be relieved if you didn’t get that extra work, you’re guaranteed to get it. Don’t ask me why; that’s just the way it is. So if you can force your mind into an “I don’t really care if I get this project or not” attitude, your chances of getting it are much better.
  • Go and exercise—hard. Do whatever works for you: walk, run, swim, bungee jump, pothole, climb frozen waterfalls. Whatever it is, come back exhausted, and I promise you’ll feel a little better. I get all my best ideas when I’m running. For you, inspiration and positivity may come in the middle of a bungee fall or halfway up the ice cliff. Just get out there and give it a go.
  • Review the work you’ve done. You got that work; you can get more. How did you get that work? Did you ask for referrals? It’s not too late; try it now.
  • Cultivate a group of consultants. Go for coffee with them individually to talk about business in general. Ask them what they do in your situation. At worst, just have someone to chat with over coffee. That’s better than gazing miserably at your laptop or phone and not doing anything.
  • Take a day off. Go on, give yourself permission, and take the whole day off. And try not to think about work. When you catch your mind going back to your problems, tell yourself not to do it.
  • And above all, remember that this negativity, this set of problems is temporary. It will pass. It will! 

As a highly experienced consultant and author of “Consulting Made Easy”, Adrian assists consultants, or would be consultants, to achieve success on their terms in their own consulting businesses.  Adrian helps consultants increase their fee rates, find more clients, have more free time and have more fun.
Contact Adrian at to learn more.

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