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The 1 Paradoxical Trick to Staying Motivated (That Most People Are Afraid to Try)

You can be healthy and successful, I guarantee it.

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BY Matthew Jones - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Everyone knows that motivation and productivity are vital to success. People read empowering articles, uplifting quotes, and self-help books all in the name of finding inspiration to power through long days and difficult weeks. Because without something extra--be it metaphorical sugar or literal caffeine--it feels almost impossible to stay focused on achieving your long-term goals.

I'm right there with you. As someone who wants to build a successful, multidimensional psychological practice, but is still stuck in the existential dread of graduate school--a never-ending tunnel of darkness that engulfs the soul and endlessly stimulates the mind--I've looked to thought leaders in entrepreneurship for motivation. I've read the books. Watched the videos. And spent weeks hyped up on Gary Vaynerchuk.

What I've learned, though, is that the popular narratives within entrepreneurship and business publications are wrong. They're created by unhealthy people for unhealthy people. And that's the truth: A study by the University of California found that 49% of entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues and 23% of entrepreneurs have family members with mental health challenges. This means that 72% of entrepreneurs are impacted by mental health conditions.

Not only are entrepreneurs suffering from these mental health challenges, but their businesses are too. One study found that 13% of startups fail due to the founders losing focus, 9% fail because of the founders losing passion, and 8% fail due to emotional burnout. This means that 30% of startups fail due to the emotional and psychological struggles of their founders.

As you can see, mental health issues are prevalent within the entrepreneurship world. And while many individuals think that the only way to become successful is to suppress your feelings, ignore loved ones, forget work-life balance, keep your head down and work yourself into the ground while somehow maintaining a singular focus on building your business--that's just not sustainable.

What makes this unhealthy and unsustainable mindset even worse than it's impact on individuals, their loved ones, and society at large--is that it works. If you survive the battle with your mental health, the truth is that adopting the black leather blinkers of race horses and galloping straight ahead will take you to the promised land. You'll likely acquire the material success you desire. But it will be empty.

By the time you cross the finish line, you'll realize that you've missed out on the magnificent awe of the sunrise and overlooked the precious moments shared by loved ones outside of the race. Your blinders prevented you from enjoying each small success. And no matter how hard you've tried to enjoy your victory, it's never enough to quench your thirst. There's always more work to be done--more wealth to earn, more people to impress, and more competitors to chase. It's the race that never ends.

So, as someone passionate about leading others through this difficult terrain and someone entrenched within it, I've decided to change my approach. While I continue to confront the angst of my seven years of graduate school, thousands of hours of free labor, and million dollars I owe the federal government, I also maintain a sense of optimism that I will achieve my goals. And I will do it in a better and healthier way than the stories told above.

Most people are afraid to try something new. They are afraid to practice self-compassion--forgiving themselves for their unproductive days and weeks of low motivation. Because that type of compassion--of being okay with these ups and downs--requires immense self-trust--a deep belief in your own ability to overcome adversity and achieve your goals without the need to cut yourself off from other aspects of life.

To develop this self-compassion and self-trust, you need self-understanding--knowing that motivation and productivity will wax and wane with the moons. That sudden life events will shake you to your core. That outside events will prevent you from completing your to-do list. And to be honest, this the most surprising and paradoxical trick to maintaining motivation and productivity: giving yourself permission to not.

When you release yourself from the false belief that you must always be productive and motivated, it allows you to breathe easier. To move with the flow of life rather than fighting it. And to improve your connection with the people you love and the moments you cherish. Then, when you finally obtain the success you desire, you'll be able to enjoy it.

Do you remember the last time you drove home after a long day of work?

Were you grasping the steering wheel with white knuckles, holding your breath, grinding your molars, and yelling curse words each time your "unproductive" thoughts took you away from the task of driving?

Imagine how much better it would feel to put on soothing music, lesson the intensity of your grip, breathe, and trust that you know where you're going.

That shift in mindset doesn't change your destination--it only improves the quality of your ride. I believe that I can enjoy the journey and the destination. And even though it's much easier said than done, I hope that you can do the same.