building momentumDo you ever have those days when it feels like you are “spinning your wheels”? For whatever reason, you’re just not getting any forward motion. Profession doesn’t matter, this happens to everyone. Momentum is a curious the thing. You see it in sports events all the time. Two teams meet in competition and for some reason, one of them seems to get all of the breaks, all of the calls, all of the momentum – when this is happening, the converse seems to be true for the opposing team. The world seems to work in bursts of momentum; periods of strong forward motion interrupted by periods of soul-crushing stasis.

Though the phenomenon is quite real, much of the cause comes from our own state of mind. I’m not here to psychoanalyze why our worlds sometimes come to a dead stop – there are way too many variables. However, there are some concrete things you can do to seize the initiative and get momentum back on your side.

  1. Break it down to its smallest parts. “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch, yard by yard, life is hard.” I’m not sure of the source of this expression but it rings true. By identifying our biggest challenges by their component parts, we begin to disassemble the complexity. This approach can work when tackling a specific problem or when simply trying to find direction. Breaking it down almost always makes it seem less overwhelming.
  2. Do something. Sometimes we just get stuck in a rut. It’s OK, it happens to everyone. When in doubt, take action. Focus on tasks to get in the mode of movement. Even simple things like data entry can serve to break up your slump. Go out in the warehouse and pack boxes, file some documents, vacuum your office, move around, grab a cup of coffee etc. If you’re in a momentum funk, it might not be the best time to tackle that proposal or send an important email – sometimes your state of mind will show through. However, a bit of physical activity might serve to get you in gear.
  3. Get out of the office. Depending on your job and company, this may or not be a good option. I find that changing my venue can be very helpful when I’m in a rut. Sometimes a walk in the park is a perfect mind-clearing activity. For me, there are certain realities attached to the physical office and there are times when I have to step away from it to reconnect with a sense of forward motion.
  4. Talk to customers. This is a great habit even when momentum is strong. However, when you are struggling in a rut, talking with customers can bring focus very quickly. You may uncover issues but even the issues serve as a focal point for momentum – they are an opportunity to solve a problem. Customers are also a great source of ideas. Sometimes the best way to build momentum is to stop focusing internally and look for external possibilities.
  5. Focus on small successes. Momentum is a fickle thing. The smallest setbacks can derail you and the smallest successes can cause explosive positive movement. If you are at a standstill, look for places to earn small wins. Start with small tasks that you can control: I’m going to make five phone calls to customers or I’m going to do a cube-walk and check-in on five of my employees or teammates. Then move on to more challenging items: I’m going to set five appointments with new prospects or I’m going to complete five regulatory submissions before lunch time etc. The idea is to create a momentum road-map by giving yourself some milestones confirming forward motion. Like breaking problems down into their smallest parts, focusing on small successes segments your progress into manageable components.
  6. Give of yourself. Really feeling down? Then give. There is nothing like selflessness to get you beyond yourself. Find someone to help. A coworker, your mom, your favorite charity. If the wind has died and there are no prospects for getting your boat sailing in the right direction, find somewhere to give of yourself. In the office, this can be a simple trip down the hall to see who you can help – even a few minutes can shift your mindset. If you need something more profound, take the afternoon and invest yourself somewhere external – it will clear your head and lighten your heart. NOTE: Rut or no rut, giving of yourself is always encouraged!

It is easy to become bogged-down in our own challenges. They are many. In these cases, your feelings are the enemy. They foster negative energy and doubt. The good news is that your feelings can be changed by investing yourself productively in small ways and into things that may not even be in your direct line of priorities. No, we can’t run away for the afternoon every time we feel stuck. However, we can recognize the symptoms and take action to build momentum intentionally.

What else would you add to the list? Are there any specific techniques that have helped you overcome ruts and build momentum?

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