How to stay motivated and maintain your momentum

You know the phrase “humans are creatures of habit”? It’s true. But humans are creatures of momentum just as much. This means that progress begets more progress, and negative reinforcement begets more negative reinforcement. Said in a different way, when you’re pursuing your goals, you’re probably either making a lot of progress quickly or letting it all fall apart just as quickly. Justin Kan says the following:

“Getting started is necessarily the hardest step, but humans are momentum creatures by nature. 

You will encounter the most resistance when you haven’t taken a step at all – but once you get started and get the ball rolling, nothing will stop you.

– Justin Kan

Justin gets the core understanding on how to get momentum going and keep it going. After all, he started and sold Twitch for $1 billion, so he knows a thing or two about getting the ball rolling. But there’s more to it that can make progress easier to obtain and more effective. And it will also help you prevent negative spirals from getting too bad.

Maintaining momentum is like activating a set of nodes

How do progress nodes work?

When you are pursuing your goals, you have a set of activities that you pursue, usually at the same time, and usually every day. The key to understanding progress nodes is understanding that some related activities are better done first, and as a priority versus others because they impact the odds you will do other activities. That’s why your activities are more like nodes in a network than a list.

Think mental health for instance. If you’re anxious, you might pursue a bunch of different activities:

  1. Going for a run (1 hour/day)
  2. Yoga (0.5 hours/day)
  3. Doing cognitive behavioural therapy exercises (30 minutes/day)
  4. Meditation (40 minutes/day)

Seems like a lot to do each day, right?

Not all activities are created equal

There’s a reason why people usually fail at difficult tasks like overcoming their mental health challenges. It’s because they’re time-consuming and require discipline. But the key is to do the tasks that are most likely to get you to do the others. Progress begets progress.

How to find your optimal progress node

Take the mental health activities again: 

  1. Going for a run (1 hour/day)
  2. Yoga (0.5 hours/day)
  3. cognitive behavioural therapy exercises (30 minutes/day)
  4. Meditation (40 minutes/day)

To find your optimal progress node, you need to figure out which single activity makes it most likely that you will do the other activities. If you want to get scientific, do the following:

  1. Make task number one “going for a run” the only task you need to do for a week. Ideally, you do the others if you can
  2. Record how many of the other tasks you end up doing each day
  3. Record in a note, any external factors that may have stopped you from completing your other tasks. If you think there were big external factors affecting your recording for several days, you’ll have to restart because it’s corrupting your data
  4. Repeat tasks 1-3 with the other mental tasks, such as doing yoga for a week then recording whether the other activities got completed
  5. At the end of your recordings, you’ll be able to see in clear terms which single activity makes it most likely

That’s a lot of work, and it’s possible you’ll already have a hunch as to what’s working as you go. The important thing is to be aware of what works.

Remember: even if you don’t know your progress node, something is better than nothing

Like Justin Kan says, getting started is still the most important step. Because any positive activity influences the other activities you do, evenly weekly. So pick a small, manageable task if you don’t know what to do and just get started.

Networks of nodes also influence other networks

The network you have for a goal can also be the primary progress node in the larger network of nodes for your life. Imagine that mental health is the primary progress node for all other parts in your life, like your physical health, work, and relationship with others.

How to maintain momentum

Use this list to maintain your momentum when you’re pursuing your goals:

  1. Keep the positive emotions going: consists of using the positive emotions associated with completing your tasks to continue making progress.
  2. Don’t overreach on your goals: there is a tendency to expand the scope and ambitions of your goals when you start making progress, then come way short of these much larger goals and then become demotivated. It’s the classic “if I can do this, then surely I can do this much bigger goal”. First, understand if the goal is possible and whether it will impact your current progress. 
  3. Monitor your progress and watch for long declines: Keep progress records (KPI’s are usually best) and monitor them regularly. If you see a decline or a reversal in progress, determine if it’s a pattern or an outlier.
  4. Hold yourself accountable, but also forgive yourself: When you lose momentum, it’s easy to beat yourself up. It’s more helpful to treat yourself kindly so you don’t get into a negative spiral, while still not giving yourself a pass so you can figure out what to do differently next time.

Habits are one of the only ways around momentum

With most things in life, you’re either making progress or declining. Habits are the exception. They exist in a different part of our brain than the one that makes progress. It’s called the basal ganglia, and it’s where a lot of our automatic behaviour goes. When it comes to habits, it’s the only way where you can expect things to “run themselves”.

Developing habits are hard. And the good resources are few and far between. Here are a few resources:

  1. Atomic Habits by Mark Manson. A more recent book on habits, it’s been widely sold and also touted by many successful people as being useful
  2. This study suggests that habit-forming has a large degree of variability in the time it takes to form a habit.

Momentum works backwards as well

In the same way you have a set of nodes that help you maintain your momentum, your progress can go the other way as well. Negative reinforcement begets more negative reinforcement. Negative things that happen to you can stop you from doing your progress activities, which in turn means the other activities it was previously supporting are also less likely to get done.


While habits are important for us to improve ourselves, it’s equally important to make sure you continue your progress towards your goals. Progress nodes is the activity that jumpstarts you into making progress, which makes it easier for you to do the other tasks you want. So it’s important for you to find your progress node and get started. Setbacks are the beginnings of negative spirals, so it’s important to catch them quickly by measuring your progress. And the only way for progress to last on autopilot is to develop habits.

1 thought on “How to stay motivated and maintain your momentum”

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