Staying Motivated by Keeping a Success Log

We need motivation to be able to pursue the things that are important to us in the long run. While it’s quite easy to get motivated to start something, it’s much harder to stay motivated throughout the entire process. Ideally, we’d like to have a consistently high level of motivation, but let’s face it, for most people motivation fluctuates. One practical tool that can help you to stay motivated is a Success Log.

What is a Success Log?

The idea of a Success Log is to write down your successes, no matter how big or small on a regular, ideally daily basis. Both the process of making these entries, as well as the outcome, which is a record of the positive and insightful events in your life, will help you to stay motivated. How is this connected? 

An important part of motivation is the belief that what you do, no matter how minuscule an effort or achievement may seem at one point in time, contributes to your overall success. Keeping a success log will help you realize how closely your efforts and results are connected and will likely increase your motivation to keep up the good work.

How to keep a Success Log?

It is very simple to keep a success log. You don’t need to be a skilled writer, and it should not take you more than 2 minutes each day. The crucial thing is for the entries in the success log to be generous, short, structured, and daily.

1. Generous

Don’t limit yourself to bigger achievements, such as ‘I’ve got a promotion’, or ‘I’ve finished my thesis’. Let’s face it, how often do these things happen? Right after we’ve achieved something we consider substantial, we often feel on top of the world for a short time, after which we quickly get into a slump. The euphoria of one big victory can only sustain us for that long. For the purpose of motivation, record every little success, achievement, and progress that is linked to your effort. If you are currently job-hunting, an entry could be as simple as ‘Applied to 2 job ads today’, ‘Browsed 3 job platforms for new openings’. If you are starting a new business, this could be ‘Brainstormed a new product idea’, ‘Figured out the legalities of starting a company’. If you are writing your thesis, it could be ‘Brainstormed several possible outlines’, or ‘Compiled a list of 10 research papers to read’. See how much these entries resemble a To-Do list? Except that the entries in the Success Log are written in past tense – meaning you’ve already got all these things done.

2. Short

Whatever tool you use for your success log, make sure that you limit the amount of content that you can write. The reason is that you want to make this exercise take up so little time – 2 minutes or less – that you won’t have a reason to skip it. You want to avoid turning this into an essay, writing for pages on one day, only to feel like it’s too much of a burden the next day and then drop it entirely. An easy way to limit the time you spend on your success log is to print out individual sheets of paper with a simple table that leaves limited space to write for every day. A success log that is short and very focused will be easy for you to read in the future, and can serve as a useful review tool.

3. Structured

By applying a structure for your Success Log, it will be easier to create continuity in your entries. Simply pick several areas or ‘themes’ that currently takes center stage in your life. These could, for example, be ‘Career’, ‘Workout’, ‘Playing the Guitar’, or other things. Keep the end goal in mind – define your themes based on what you think will help you stay motivated. Try to stick to 2-3 areas, especially in the beginning. Imagine making entries related to work out and cooking on one day, about your finances and family the next day, and about your programming skills and love life the following day. Although this may be highly interesting, it will be more difficult to connect the dots in retrospect and to establish links between your smaller and larger successes. The purpose here is to solidify the existence of a link, as well as to gain insights and learnings about your process. If you are at a stage in your career where you know exactly what you want the next step to be, you can define your theme as a goal, e.g. ‘Job Promotion’. But if you are starting something new, e.g. you want to become an Entrepreneur but are still in the early stages of exploring this, you can define your theme in broader terms, such as ‘Becoming an Entrepreneur’. After keeping a success log for a few weeks, you will have a better sense of how to define your themes in a useful way.

4. Daily entries

As the purpose of the Success Log is to provide you with a constant stream of motivation, it is necessary to make daily entries. Imagine it as a water faucet. In order for water to be coming out of it, water needs to be pumped through the pipes. If you want to maintain a higher level of motivation, you need to feed your success log constantly. Once you stop making entries for a longer time, the motivation effect may dwindle (unless you’ve already found other, even better ways to keep up your motivation).

How can a Success Log help you to get or stay motivated?

1. Instead of counting on a one-time motivational effect that you may get from a video, or as a result of a major success, you get daily boosts of motivation from the process of acknowledging your smaller achievements and efforts. By keeping a success log, we build a pipeline containing small units of successes on a daily basis, which nourishes our need for accomplishment, constantly. When you are feeling less motivated, read your success log and realize how much effort you’ve put into something and how far you’ve come from where you started.

2. Recording your small and big successes, achievements, and efforts give you invaluable material for reviewing your progress. Learning from your past will help you to extrapolate possible future results. If you have clarity about where and when you started, what effort you put into, what results you reaped over what time, you can more easily identify what next steps to take.

3. A success log is in a way the reverse of a checklist. With a checklist or ‘to do’ list you would normally write down all the things that you want to do but haven’t done, and then check them off once they’re completed. In a success log, we consciously take account of all the achievements, efforts – things that we have already done. Things we’ve managed to do correctly, better, or faster. With each thing we write down, we give a nod to ourselves, say ‘good job’. Don’t be afraid that you will become complacent by doing this. Noticing that you are making constant progress is likely to spur you to keep moving and improving.

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