What can you do to stay motivated as a solo founder?

  • Walt 

It can be really hard to stay motivated when you work for yourself… this is particularly true if you’re working on a product that hasn’t yet found product-market fit.

When I started out building my own products I would often find staying motivated difficult.

Sometimes I would set aside time to work on a project but when the time came to finally sit down and begin I would think: “I can’t work on my project right now because I don’t feel like it… I’ll do something else for a bit and then get to work.” 

I really didn’t get much done. Working on projects can be stressful and I rarely felt like working.

Other times I would be approaching the launch of a project I had worked really hard on only to find myself thinking, “This will never work. Nobody will be interested in what I’m working on.”

These thoughts were not helpful. Several projects of mine never got launched because I convinced myself finishing them was pointless. From time to time I think back and wonder what could have been had I only had the grit to finish what I started.

I eventually found ways to use a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy to change thoughts like these. These days I have a much easier time keeping motivated and staying on task… even when the going gets tough.

I hope these techniques are helpful to you as well.

Stay motivated. Keep working on your projects and dreams.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“I can’t work on my project right now because I don’t feel like it…”

Do you ever feel like you JUST CAN’T GET STARTED working?

Maybe the initial excitement of the project has worn off and now you’re faced with reality; making your dream come true will require a lot of hard work and there’s no guarantee you succeed.

At times like these can you persevere?

I know I usually didn’t. I would find something else to do… or take a knap… or go for a walk. Anything but work on my project.

What was going on? I was telling myself, “I can’t work now. I don’t feel like it… I’ll do something else and work later.” 

That belief was giving me permission not to work.

There is a branch of psychology called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that helped me change my belief. The basic idea is that our beliefs often have errors. Resolving these errors changes how we feel and how we behave. Let’s apply some CBT here to see how it works.

What is the error I am making when I say “I can’t work now because I don’t feel like it”? Is this statement a fact? I would say it is not.

Sometimes I have to wake up early and don’t feel like it… but I do it.

I’d rather not have to pay my bills and taxes… but I do pay them.

I sometimes don’t feel like exercising… but I get started anyway. Actually I usually end up exercise after I get started.

I would say that it is not true that “I can’t do things when I don’t feel like doing them.” Actually I am fully capable of doing things regardless of whether or not I feeling like doing them.

I want to make an important point. You can choose what you believe and your thoughts can empower or disempower you.

I have chosen to believe this:

“When I don’t feel like working I can still get started… and I will probably feel more motivated after I start working.”

This thought is very useful. It gets me into action and I have found that once I have started working my lack of motivation usually disappears.

“This will never work. Nobody will be interested in what I’m working on.”

Have you ever lost motivation to work on a project you’ve been working on for a long time? I know I have.

Maybe you’re getting close to launch and suddenly you’re feeling unsure. You’re about to show your work to the world. What if they don’t like it?

Situations like this would send thoughts like these through my head: “this will never work” and “nobody will be interested in what I’m working on.”

It’s natural to feel nervous about releasing our projects to the world. We really want things we work hard on to succeed and when we launch we face the prospect of failure.

These thoughts are quite natural but they’re not helpful. They don’t encourage us to complete our projects… and they are also not true.

Let me ask you… before you launch a project is it possible to know with certainty that it will or won’t work? Put another way… can you tell the future? I know I can’t.

If you don’t know the future then how can you say with certainty that “this will never work”?

As for the other part, “nobody will be interested in what I’m working on!”? Nobody? Really? Have you talked to everybody in the world? Do you know what all the people in the world are thinking? Can you read their minds?

I choose to believe this.

“It’s true that my project may not be useful to people but I won’t know for sure until I launch it.”

And…

“I hope my project will be useful to other people. I can’t read minds so I need to get out there and ask them what they think.”

These new thoughts are more realistic than the previous thoughts. They don’t imply that I somehow know the future or that I know what other people are thinking. Also, they are more optimistic and focused on ways I can move forward.

When I launch I will know if people like what I have built. If I ask people I will know what they think. There’s no point in discouraging myself until I take these proactive actions.

What can you do to change your own thoughts?

Changing your thoughts requires a bit of work. You have to identify automatic thoughts that are discouraging you.

When I sit down to work I often start my work session by writing out any worries I have about my work.

The next step involves identifying errors in my thoughts.

In the thoughts we looked at today I highlighted 3 common kinds of errors.

All or nothing thinking – terms like “always”, “never” and “can’t” that are unrealistically polarizing.

Fortune telling – making claims about the future (which by definition you can’t know since it hasn’t happened yet).

Mind reading – where you imagine you know what other people must be thinking.

After identifying the errors in my thoughts I try to write new, more realistic versions of those thoughts that don’t contain the errors.

I usually feel much better and more motivated after working through this process and over time these new thoughts become automatic at which point I no longer struggle with my old limiting beliefs.

Conclusion

I hope these mental tools and techniques are helpful to you. I personally find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be very valuable to my startup work. If you’d like to learn more about these kinds of mental tools I recommend checking out David Burns’ work.

Also, if you are interested in more articles like this then let me know in the comments below. I love this stuff and there are many more mental techniques that I use.

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