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How to Use Milestones to Stay Motivated

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A month ago I completed the Coast-to-Coast cycle route from Workington to Tynemouth. Along with a couple of friends, I covered the 150 miles through the Lake District and across the Pennines in three days.

It was a new and exhilarating experience. One lesson in particular sticks with me -- the power and motivation of milestones.

The weather, particularly on the first day, was horrible -- wet, windy (I was blown off my bike twice) and cold. On a glorious summer's day it's easy enjoy the view and be in the moment. When it's lashing down with rain the thought that you are making real progress is essential for your psychological wellbeing.

In today's torrential business conditions using milestones to remind you and your organisation that you are still moving forward will be critical to improving your collective momentum and commitment.

Here are six lessons from our bike ride that will help:

  1. Have a crystal clear, ultimate goal. We benefited significantly from knowing our overall objective (reach Tynemouth). Without such a specific goal we would have given up a lot earlier -- we probably wouldn't have set off in the first place.
  2. Milestones must be celebrated (but not always publicly). I made sure that I celebrated all the milestones in some way. Some were private -- opening my next chocolate bar -- or a small group reward (stopping for a cup of tea). Others were big enough to share more widely (calling my wife after completing the first day's route and texting friends when we finally reached Tynemouth).
  3. Beginning the endeavour is a milestone in itself. Goethe, Germany's giant of literature, once wrote, "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." Such magic should be celebrated in some way and we made sure we took group photos at the start as well as at the end of our journey.
  4. Don't have too many milestones too early. I soon learnt that in the first couple of hours it was important not to think too much about milestones. Far from being motivational, they simply reminded me of how much more there was to do. This was the time to simply get my head down and get on with it.
  5. Group dynamics are strengthened through achievement. Sharing our feelings of success, however insignificant to those outside our small group, helped give us the belief to tackle our future challenges with greater confidence.
  6. Learn to love the climbs. There are always gaps between milestones and some of them can be tough and unforgiving. I learnt that if I took my mind off the next milestone and focused on maintaining my rhythm and pace I began to enjoy the climbs much more. At times they gave me my most exhilarating moments ("Yes, I can do this!")
(Photo: pl_jakub, CC2.0)
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