How To Stay Motivated When You’re Not Seeing Progress (4 tips to try today!)

I got it for free, in an effort to use up an about-to-expire gift card.

It’s a framed print that says “Some things take time” and I chose it because the colors worked with my gallery wall.

But it hangs above my desk now because – as much as my Type A brain hates it – I truly need that reminder every day.


Can you relate? Struggling to stay motivated when you’re not seeing progress? That feeling of “I’m trying so hard but I’m not getting anywhere?”

If that’s you, welcome to the club! This is exactly what I teach in my Get What You Want Club goal-setting program (enrollment open now!) and here are 4 of my best tips to push through that “why am I not seeing results??” malaise. 

4 ways to stay motivated when you’re not seeing progress

Track your proCESS, not your proGRESS

A very unfortunate truth is that progress is usually muuuuuuuuch slower than we’d like it to be.

Honestly, it’s pretty rude that my body hasn’t figured out how to run a six-minute mile when I’ve jogged for 20 minutes three times this week!!! And I should clearly have doubled my Instagram followers by now because I started putting hashtags in my Stories!!!

When we expect to see fast progress and we don’t, it’s very, very easy to give up.

So rather than tracking your progress – how many more pounds you can lift, how many interviews you got – track your process.

Examples of tracking your process:

  • How many resumes you sent out
  • How many emails you sent to cuties on that online dating platform
  • How many hours you spent working on your novel
  • How many times you did yoga this week
  • How many calls you made to elected officials
  • How many Instagram posts you published

I am not joking, using a paper chart that you fill with stickers every time you keep your promises to yourself is hilariously motivating. 

Make that process as enjoyable as possible

Oh what’s that? It’s not enjoyable to work on your nursing school applications at 10 pm on Friday, from a cluttered dining room table, while your partner plays video games loudly in the background? WEIRD.

We’ll probably never confuse pursuing big goals with a day at the spa, but we can make pretty much any process significantly more enjoyable.

Goal: run marathon

Ways to make it more enjoyable: Find the loveliest training route possible, assemble an impeccable playlist, train with your funniest + most motivating friend, fill your closet with running gear that feels good and makes you feel cute.

You’re smart. You get the idea!

Reward efforts, not just outcomes

This is a hill I will die on! It is extremely difficult to stay motivated when we deny ourselves rewards and celebration till we achieve our goal.

Think about training your dog: It takes several weeks of consistent training to teach a dog to sit.

As your training your pup, you give her kibble or treats or pets every time you work together.

These rewards motivate her to enjoy the experience, to trust you, and to pay attention to you during future training sessions. You make the process enjoyable so she’ll want to keep doing it because you know it’s going to take a minute for her to achieve this goal.

But so many of us don’t extend the same grace to ourselves that we extend to …a dog. We do something a few times, deny ourselves any celebration or treats for making the effort, and then berate ourselves for not being great immediately.

So when you’re pursuing a big goal, plan ahead and think of how + when you’ll reward yourself for your efforts.

Sending 10 resumes = pedicure. 

Meditating every morning for a month = dinner at your favorite restaurant

Listing your spare bedroom on Airbnb = hardcover edition of your favorite author’s new book

Did you see how we didn’t mention getting the interview, achieving enlightenment, or booking Airbnb guests? That’s because we’re celebrating 👏 efforts 👏 not 👏 outcomes. 

Release the belief that you can control every aspect your progress 

Three years ago, Kenny and I set a goal to buy a duplex so my mother-in-law could be our tenant, age in place, and we could all enjoy a low cost of living.

It took us two years to save up a 20% down payment, find a place that met our incredibly specific needs, and move across town.

Why? Because we couldn’t control:

  • The Twin Cities’ housing market
  • The Federal Reserve
  • The personalities + preferences of sellers
  • How many professional, full-time landlords we were bidding against
  • Etc. etc. etc. x 1,000

And this is true for any goal any of us are pursuing! Knowing that we’re all going to encounter forks in the road and unexpected bumps will make us MUCH less likely to give up.

Things you can control Things you CAN’T control
How many houses you look at + which neighborhoods you’re looking in + how much you offer How many homes are for sale + how much money other sellers are offering + which neighborhoods are getting trendy 
Which dating apps you use + how many emails you send + how narrow or broad your dating criteria is Who’s on the dating market + what they’re looking for in a partner + how they react to your dating profile
How you format your resume + the sort of cover letter you send + how many people you reach out to in your professional network + how many jobs you apply for   Who else is applying for the same job + the hiring manager’s personality/mood + the employer’s hiring budget

And a final pep talk:

NONE OF THIS IS MAGIC. If you keep doing the things you said you were going to do – sending applications, going on dates, looking at houses, lifting weights – something is going to happen.

It’s very unlikely that you are the very rare human who could apply for 300 jobs and not get any job offers. Or look at 200 houses and not have your bid ever accepted.

Photo by Matéo Burles on Unsplash

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2 Comments

  1. Ellie

    love this! always lots of wisdom on your blog! I was also thinking that in some areas it really pays to be selective and maximise your effort where it will have the most impact. For example, if your goal is to apply to x number of jobs but you don’t have unlimited time/energy, I find it works better for me to think: I have [six] hours to devote to job applications this week, and I’d rather do [three] fantastic applications than [eight] rushed ones, so I will choose the ones that are best suited to me/my goals and focus on those. The goal becomes doing six hours on the task instead of submitting a certain number.

    That said, sometimes doing an application or going to a house viewing has value in and of itself, because it helps you get further along the road – you get better at writing cover letters with practice, or you learn more about your local rental market and what is available. So it’s not always a ‘waste of time’ putting effort into things that you aren’t 100% sure about!

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! So smart, Ellie!

      Reply

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