Finding Your Internal Motivation during Difficult Times

Updated on August 20, 2014

Today’s guest post is by Mike Figliuolo, the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. Here’s Mike:

As leaders, we’re always going to go through difficult times. When we were more junior we had other people to pick us up when we fell down. As a kid it was a parent or a coach who would dust us off and say “Get back out there.” We’ve had bosses who have been helpful when we faced crises.

But now, the higher you are in terms of leadership roles in your organization and the more people you’re leading, the fewer people there are to pick you up and dust you off. You need to be in a position where you can lead yourself out of those difficult situations.

Your team is watching you to see how you behave when you face adversity. Having a leadership maxim to help you motivate yourself and lead yourself through that difficult situation to get to the other side can be a very powerful tool to have.

I’d like to ask: when you fall down, how do you pick yourself back up?

I like to use phrases and triggers called “leadership maxims” to remind me of what’s important when I face a difficult situation.  That maxim can quickly reorient my thinking and my focus and get me moving in the right direction.  For me my leadership maxim for getting through difficult times is “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”

That quote is from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I read that book when I was in eighth grade. You’re not exactly the most cerebral kind of guy as a 15 or 16-year old boy but I remember reading those words “Man is not made for defeat.” To me, defeat is about giving up. It’s about surrendering. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” That maxim has served me very, very well through some very difficult times in my life.

I’ve relied on it to say “I can’t give up. I can’t be defeated. I need to pick myself up and get back out there.” That maxim drives my behavior.

As you think about motivating and inspiring yourself, what’s your anchor going to be? What’s that situation where you overcame a huge obstacle on your own? Or where you watched somebody else overcome something that was hugely challenging and you really respect the way they got themselves through it?

Do you have a phrase that you always think about when times get tough? That reminder of getting yourself out of that situation is what you need to have now so when you run into the next difficult situation, you can reach out, grab that maxim, find that source of strength, and reorient yourself to moving forward. Your ability to do so is what the members of your team are going to look at and say “Wow! The boss got back up! This was a really tough place to be and look at what they did! That inspires me as member of their team. I’m going to trust that the boss will always get back up and get back out there.”

Finding that maxim that can be that touchstone you can rely upon during difficult situations is going to be a critical aspect of leading yourself. Hopefully, you won’t need it very often, but when you do, you know it’s going to be there for you.

Mike Figliuolo is the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.  He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development firm.  An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro.  He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.

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