Remember the opening scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Harrison Ford steals an artifact and puts into motion a series of events including releasing a giant boulder that rolled down the mountain threatening to crush the lead character at any time.
When I was running acquisitions, I often had this image of the giant boulder coming at me. In an acquisition, there are so many moving parts. And when you are managing the process, most of those moving parts are out of your control. And just like the giant rolling boulder, if you stand still or try to over-control the process, you will get crushed.
Instead, I realized that the boulder was going to roll downhill. I couldn’t stop it even if I wanted to do. It was going to roll on its own. I just needed to get it started and then use small taps to keep the ball rolling generally in the direction I wanted.
When Moving Forward Momentum is a Great Benefit
It’s August 1st. The start of another new month. Unbelievably, summer is nearing its end. The kids will be back in school before month’s end.
When I was younger and still in school myself, of course I looked forward to summer. But I also found the start of a new school year exhilarating. The great thing about school is there’s a beginning, middle, and end. The timeline is defined. The activities are structured. I like structure.
In school, you know what you’re working towards.
And just like the Indiana Jones’ boulder, school was coming whether you wanted it to or not. So you might as well get on board.
But the working world generally doesn’t operate the same way. At least I never felt the same structure when working.
I saw working as an endless cycle. Deal after deal would come and go. New people, new projects, new goals. There wasn’t an end. When (or sometimes if) you finished one thing, the next was already overdue.
Momentum Goes Backward Too
When things got fun was when you started building momentum. Maybe it was the landing of a new client. Or maybe it was the launch of a new product or business unit. Even just starting a new job created that same sense of excitement as you learned everything there was about your new role, new company, and the new people around you.
But eventually, the momentum starts to dissipate. The ground flattens out and the boulder slows down. Now instead of trying to stay out of the way, you need to get behind and push. And often you’ll find you’re pushing uphill. And that means if you stop pushing, the boulder starts rolling backwards. Now, you’re losing ground and if you don’t keep pushing, you’ll get crushed again.
This is not a fun place to be. But this is exactly where many find themselves after a few years in the workforce.
How Do You Keep Momentum Moving Forward?
Set goals not tasks. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities. And maybe you’re even good at creating daily to-do lists and crossing things off as you go. But often these lists don’t address long-term goals. Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? Are the things you’re doing helping you reach those goals? Put together a plan and check off the accomplishments as you go.
Start new things. I really hate the expression, “jack of all trades, master of none.” While it’s fine to become a master in one or more areas, don’t be afraid to try new things. Unless there’s just one thing you do and you could do it all day long, learning new skills can be rewarding. At the same time, it can be frustrating stepping back as a novice, but that’s where we all start. For a first song, the concert pianist learned to play hot cross buns (or something similar). The difference is that concert pianist was 5 years old, not 45.
Focus on the future, not the past. We all like to go back and evaluate our progress. What have we accomplished? How did we perform? And a certain amount of retrospective assessment can be helpful. But too much can hamper your future progress. While you may be able to learn and adapt from the past, you can’t change it, so don’t dwell on what could have been.
Keep the big picture in mind. If you start measuring your progress too closely, you may find it backfiring. Biting off small, manageable chunks is a great strategy for tackling larger projects that would otherwise feel overwhelming. But don’t be too critical on yourself if you fail to meet one of those smaller goals. And especially don’t allow yourself to get derailed. In the longer term, there are opportunities to make up missed interim deadlines.
Recognize opportunities to harness forward momentum. Keep on the lookout for situations that will move you forward toward your goals. There is only so much energy you have on your own. Just like the boulder, momentum can be powerful, carrying you forward without requiring additional energy input. When you find yourself in that environment, go with it. Don’t try to stop it or over-manage it. Small adjustments are all that you need. But at some point, momentum starts to slow, and can even begin to go backward. It’s those times that require a positive, future-focused attitude to seek out ways to rebuild forward momentum.
Readers, have you ever been on the worng side of momentum? What do you do to keep things moving forward in the direction you prefer?