There are times when nothing I do seems to make a difference in achieving the end result I’m looking for. I lose motivation and become easily distracted from the process and the goals I have set. 

When I’m demoralized by failure, any excuse will do to avoid another failed attempt: reading all my e-mail, getting another cup of coffee, surfing the Web — you name it. 

Research shows that when we are frustrated from not achieving the results we seek, we become listless and lethargic, and in extremes, we often stop trying altogether. 

For example, many of my business-coaching clients who sell their own services can become especially demoralized. In today’s economy, many of them face repeated days with dwindling customers or sales. 

Most of the time, these business professionals haven’t necessarily done anything differently in their approach to customers to start experiencing failures, so it feels to them that no matter what they do, nothing works — simply because of the economic climate. 

Their repeated sense of failure leads to what social scientists call “learned helplessness.” Burnout from these seemingly hopeless periods is devastating and spirals downward.

So what to do? 

Make a game of scoring 

Many business clients have found that social and business networking has been successful in the past in connecting with new customers. 

A related quantitative goal might include calling 10 relatives or friends — regardless of immediate outcome — to remind them about the availability of their services and to ask for their help in spreading the word through their own networks. 

Making a game of it

Making a game of it by scoring points with each conversation can create a sense of progress even without new sales to maintain livelihood. 

Making a graph to track their “points” each day can help counter a sense of failure with a visual record and a reminder that they are more than their sales record. 

Scoring qualitative goals 

Sometimes “nothing is working” for my client, yet they need to “keep going through the motions” to get to the other side — even as they are falling into a downward spiral of “little defeats.” 

My favorite strategy in situations like this is to look for the qualitative process goals. 

I encourage framing goals in a way that includes the inherent positive results that may accompany the process of working on the goal, whether it is achieved or not. 

For example, how can a client experience his/her own strengths in working on the goal? Are they re-discovering their resilience, patience, tenacity? Are they strengthening their own networks with family, friends and business peers? 

Finding underlying goals

Goal definition can be broadened to include character goals — those byproducts we notice when in working on a goal we become a bigger, better person.

For example, when my clients are suffering from a decline in sales, I ask them to identify inherent high points that are notrelated directly to sales in the last month. 

Did they feel happy because they committed an act of random kindness by giving something away unexpectedly? 

Did they create a human moment of empathy with a potential customer that didn’t have any immediate effect on the bottom line but made them both feel good about life? 

Did they make a potential customer laugh who was having a bad day?

These are the kinds of achievable human outcomes that increase our humanity and are within our influence regardless of the economic climate. 

Changing dynamics

Looking for opportunities to give empathy, share laughter or inspire hope for someone else broadens our perspective and renews our sense of self in a way that includes meaningful parts of us that go beyond our livelihoods. 

They take the focus off the day’s seeming failures at maintaining a strong livelihood and focus on more sustainable happiness-producers. 

The paradox is that by focusing on where we can succeed, dynamics change. Creativity is sparked. Optimism is contagious. And, magically, sometimes sales occur in spite of everything.

We need successes along the way to ensure that we don’t give up. These success stories can become personal legends that sustain optimism and build our “hope bank account” back up to where we can be effective again. And ,in the process, we become sustainably happier. 


LAURA WORTH, MSW, is a life and business coach. She is also the publisher and editor of community-based, neighborhood-specific Web directories for local health and wellness arts via SoundWellnessCommunity.comOr visit