When faced with adversity, what techniques do you use to stay motivated and solve problems?


All startups go through tough times and it can sometimes be a struggle to stay motivated when things are going wrong. What are some of the techniques you have found useful to stay motivated and solve those nasty problems?

Motivation Problem Solving

asked Mar 6 '10 at 00:05
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points

7 Answers


Great question, very interested to see what other people post. Here's what I do:

  • I know when I am about to go on a deep dive. I know that if I keep it unchecked I will have an awfully negative day. When this happens, I know the day simply started wrong, and I need to get over it. I take it easy during that day and go to sleep really early so that tomorrow I have a rested perspective. There's nothing wrong with stopping the downhill run and starting over tomorrow morning, or whenever you can hit the reset button on yourself.
  • I stay away from pessimists. You don't need someone around to to nod in agreement when things are going bad. You need someone around you to nod in agreement when you brainstorm and get close to the correct solution.
  • Rest is key. I used to sleep 6 hours, 10pm to 4am. The number of problems went down when I started to sleep 7 hours a night. That extra hour has had a huge impact on the number of bad days I have.
  • Be very introspective and catch yourself being negative. There is a part of us that actually wants to fail. I don't know if this applies to all people, but it certainly applies to a lot of people I have gotten to know (myself included). This little voice is the one that grabs onto a negative idea ("I might not get this sale", for example) and runs with it. Rather than fight it, what works for me is that I ignore it. Yes, there is risk, and I might not be able to make this one thing work ideally at the first try; so what?. The optimistic voice is stronger anyway.
  • Always keep in mind the good, ignore the bad. Someone somewhere is going to not like you, and someone is always going to think you are a failure. Someone else is also going to think you are the best. Listen to the later only. There is no reason to adopt someone else's negativity.

That's what stands out the most at the moment for me.

answered Mar 6 '10 at 00:31
Gabriel Magana
3,103 points
  • "Someone somewhere is going to not like you" - very good advice. – The Dictator 14 years ago
  • This is a great list. I like the rest comment. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


When I start to go negative with challenges and frustrations, I clear my head by separating negative fear (what if) from reality (what's arrived). Here's the conversation I have with myself:

  1. These daily, life-sucking negatives are largely fear.
  2. The potential negatives (as opposed to known, arrived negatives) make up the bulk of fear.
  3. How much of this is fear verses actual arrived problems I have to deal with?
  4. I consciously reject the fear and embrace the challenges with an action plan.

I find that I can handle the actual challenges before me when I reject the fear that comes from 'what ifs'. Keeping these separate keeps me positive and focused on the things that matter.

answered Mar 6 '10 at 03:50
Keith De Long
5,091 points
  • +1 for the action plan. It does seem when you have a plan, the anxiety level goes down a bit. I think fear is also a contributor to getting stuck. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


Great answer gmagana! Here's my contribution:

If you work in a startup, you probably share a vision and a dream. There is a faith element to that. You work there because you "know" that your company can make a difference, and it can change the world.

In times of chaos and frustration, that faith is what will keep you going. Keeping your "eye on the ball" at all times, learning from what went wrong, and using that experience to make the next move better. But always keep your faith in your mission and what you want to accomplish.

The first 2 years of my startup were like an endless climb to mount Everest. Hard, full of road-blocks, frustrating at times... but we always kept our eye on the summit and tried to ignore the "pain" we felt during the climb. At the end, we got to the summit, and when we got there it really felt GOOD!

answered Mar 6 '10 at 02:12
825 points
  • That higher calling or vision seems like a good way to break through the adversity and move forward. Maybe the "no pain, no gain" mantra applies to startups as well and you just have to accept it and move on. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago
  • Also, a little "pain" makes victory taste even better. It's almost unfair to win a battle when you have all the money and resource in the world (a.k.a working in a large corporation). But when you win in a start-up, where everything is limited, is feels like you're the best! – Mike 14 years ago


Really good thread.

My solution:

  • Break the adversity down into small pieces, small tasks that I think will help overcome the challenge.
  • Psychologically it makes it much less overwhelming. And you can derive satisfaction at achieving the tasks even though you may not have solved the "big problem" until the end of your efforts, or maybe not even then.
  • For example, at a previous company we had a huge issue with users who signed up but weren't active. A sports / game site. This had huge implications on the success of our company. Daunting, depressing, seemed like a mountain to climb. Sapped my motivation.
  • I broke down the problem into a whole bunch of individual tasks. Focus group, usability testing, competitive analysis, Champs group (essentially a customer advisory board), analytics analysis, phone interviews, consulting services (minimal) of a UI/UE expert, brainstorming session, and more. We actually did all this pretty quickly.
  • We focused on those tasks. We believed that they'd help us tackle the problem so it kept us motivated. As we got them done and learned more, we felt good even though we didn't know if all this would ultimately add up to solving our problem.
  • Finally, through the accomplishment of the tasks, the changes we made to the site made a significant impact on our activity metrics which made us feel really good.


answered Mar 6 '10 at 03:56
4,214 points
  • Breaking the problem down is sound advice. It seems to make it a little less scary if you have specific things to work on. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago
  • I can't emphasize enough how this approach has helped me, both professionally and personally. – Chris 14 years ago


It's very hard to do, but taking a short break to put things in perspective works most of the time. Sometimes you just fail to see the big picture and need to take your mind off your problems. A night of sleep is often enough !

answered Mar 6 '10 at 07:26
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points
  • Good point. Sleeping on it is hard to do but valuable. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


  1. I go back to movies that inspired me.
  2. And keep coding.
answered Mar 8 '10 at 12:19
G Rex
683 points
  • Outside inspiration, from wherever, seems like a great way to get back on track. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


Adversities are a part and parcel of life. Hardships, anxieties et al do exist ever since mankind came into existence. (I'm sure it applies to non-human living beings too).

Pranayam (the breathing techniques) - a part of yoga - would be of immense help. Various types of pranayam and yogas help you keep your cool during even terminally adverse conditions. I have seen people who practice yoga to be always composed and taking wise decisions even during adverse situations.

Pranayam and surya namaskara have been practiced in India since ages with proven benefits. If you supplement your lifestyle with these along with adequate sleep, as advocated by gmangana and Oli, many of the percieved hardships/adversities are no longer so.

answered Mar 8 '10 at 23:34
Sandeep Satavlekar
325 points
  • Good idea. You should always try to calm yourself even when the world outside is going crazy. That way, your inner calm will help you deal with the situation. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago

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