Motivate by Looking Back

Progress is important. Whether it’s in your work, fitness, or leading a team, huge motivation can be found in the feeling of moving forward. When we can see our growth or improvement, we’re energized to keeping going.

This is why we love before/after photos and checklists.

This is also why we get depressed when it feels like we’re just spinning our wheels.

When Teresa Amabile studied the inner work lives of 238 professionals, she found that people had their best days when they were “able to move forward in their work, even if it was just an incremental step forward. That had a huge positive impact on their motivation.”

The problem is, when you’re in the middle of the journey, it’s often difficult to see that forward movement. You’re moving your feet, but it’s hard to tell whether you’re actually moving.

How can you gauge whether you’re actually making progress?

The best way to see your progress is by looking back.

When I lived in Colorado, I had the chance to climb a couple 14,000ft mountains (called “14ers”). Let me tell you, if there’s any time you need motivation, it’s when you’re hiking up a mountain!

It’s windy.
It’s cold (even though the sun is scorching).
Your legs are screaming.
The thin mountain air makes it feel like you’re breathing through a straw.
(I may have said things like “I’m never doing this again!” on every one of these hikes).

To make matters worse, the peak is usually hidden from view and it’s nearly impossible to get a sense that you’re making any progress.

Until you look back.

That’s when you realize just how far you’ve come. You notice that the river you passed an hour ago has suddenly become just a silver thread. The treeline is now far below you. And you can actually see over and beyond many of the other mountain peaks that’d you’d recently been looking up to.

When you stop to look back and realize how much the scenery has changed, the journey ahead doesn’t seem quite as daunting.

If you or your team are struggling for motivation, take a moment to look back. You might be surprised at how far you’ve come.