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The Innate Power of Progress

Progress is generally created and sustained by motivation. The first fact is that it’s no one else’s responsibility to motivate you. It is your job to motivate yourself. Waiting for someone else to motivate you will significantly diminish the dreams and goals you cherish. The latest research has shown that the number one personal motivator for human beings is progress.

Since progress is forward movement toward a destination, you clearly need to first have a destination. Many people are their own main obstacle to their dreams and aspirations. You have to decide where you want to go in life, and then get started doing what needs to be done to make progress. There will be challenges, bad days, bad people, and bad things that happen – awesome. Grow and learn from them – make PROGRESS – and get re-focused and continue on the journey toward your destination. You are growing and becoming stronger and better. As you move forward, ask yourself what is working, what isn’t, what did I learn from this, and what will I do differently?

As you continue to take responsibility for your motivation, and as you make progress, others will notice how you are doing, and their recognition will keep your motivation and progress going. In fact, research says the number one external factor for motivation is recognition.

Are you the person you want to be in a decade? I hope not, and I doubt it. Just as you have hopefully grown and changed over the last ten years, you have the opportunity to make progress and go forward. If we only pay attention to how much we want to grow and the road ahead of us, we can defeat ourselves with the gap between where we are now and where we want to be. All we will see is a finish line that constantly keeps changing. But if we will celebrate our progress as we go, we will stay motivated and encouraged. The celebration when we finally complete the goal should be the biggest, of course, but not the only.

When the going is tough, recall your WHY. Writing our goals down so we can check them off is motivating! Our body releases dopamine—a natural way to celebrate! Celebrating our progress at various milestones makes completion more certain.

We all desire more autonomy in our work. We want to master the skills that matter to us. And when we know that our work matters, we do better work—we have purpose. Those are powerful motivators. But perhaps our desire to make progress is greater than any other motivator.

In his book, Intrinsic Motivation at Work, Kenneth Thomas highlights how his research revealed “sense of progress” as a motivator: “You are encouraged that your efforts are really accomplishing something. You feel that your work is on track and moving in the right direction. You see convincing signs that things are working out, giving you confidence in the choices you have made and confidence in the future.”

Since progress is such an amazing incentive and motivator, here are a few ideas to consider for motivating yourself and others:

Celebrate incremental improvements. It’s common to become so focused on our big goals that we fail to recognize when small progress is made. Do you have a system for celebrating progress? How can you recognize someone for being better than they were yesterday or last week?

Make progress visual. I remember when I was a child my dad pastored a church with annual goals for missions. Back then the tool Dad used to celebrate progress was a large poster of a thermometer. It started at zero and had a bold goal at the top. Each week, the “bar” in the center of the image would be colored in to show how many more donations had come in. We all got excited about it and it encouraged us all to work hard. Seeing progress happen was extremely motivating.

Refuse “all or nothing” bonus and rewards programs. It is demotivating and demoralizing to give your all and come up a tiny bit short for nothing. You do 99% of the work and get zero reward. Design your systems to reward progress, not just the end. You may discover that valuing progress over the destination makes the trip easier, more fun, and you and your people may perform well beyond what you expect.

From now on forward, value your progress more highly, not just your destination. You’ll progress better and further and enjoy it more.

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