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Anyone can have high morale when things are going well and when everything is in place as it should be. We tend to be buoyed along by good fortune. Favourable circumstance gives us high morale. When adversity hits, and it hits everyone, the morale necessary to overcome, deal with, or accept our challenges, has to be created internally by us.
Amazingly there has been very little research into the methods people can use to boost their own morale. Most of the wisdom comes from people who have lived experience; people who have kept their morale high despite adversity.
What do such real-world exemplars do to keep their morale high in low times?
Over and over again, people who have faced, what to others would be, morale-crushing setbacks, keep on, keep on.
As Calvin Coolidge famously observed: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.”
The persistence summarised in the phrase “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. Every culture seems to have had sages expressing the wisdom of persistence. Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Praise boosts morale. Praise yourself, catch yourself doing things right, and do the right thing. Praise others, it feels great to make people feel great. Give someone credit for something they have done; praise them to others. Enjoy watching them glow.
Remind yourself of your achievements, and what you have done for others. Remind others of their achievements – feeling good about the people around you, boosts their morale and yours.
Do something altruistic – something that benefits another person, but not you. The less the other person can do in return for you, the more satisfying it seems to feel to be able to help. If it is not obvious what you can do to help, ask. Ask people what you can do to help or serve them.
Choose your thoughts
What we think has a huge impact on our morale. Take moments to bring to mind thoughts that boost your morale. There is always a more morale-boosting thought to find. Evoke thoughts in others that you know will boost their morale.
Here are some of the best pieces of wisdom I have found.
- Marcus Aurelius advised: “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
- The Dalai Lama: “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”
- Norman Vincent Peale noted: “When you change your thoughts, remember it also changes your world.”
- Earl Nightingale confirmed it in six words: “You become what you think about.”
Choose your emotions
Few people are aware that their emotions can be spontaneous and chosen. We can’t always choose the emotions that arise, but we can choose those we stick with. Emotions that are held are one component of any given “attitude”. William James said: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
Exercise changes emotional states and boosts morale. Do a small amount of exercise, often. A few press-ups here, and a handful of sit-ups there. Climb some stairs, now. Do some squats, later. Mobility moves morale.
Appreciation and recognition
Give little gifts to yourself and others. Nothing extravagant, simple gifts that symbolise appreciation. If someone likes fruit, bring them a piece. If someone else loves herbal teas, give them some.
Many thinkers have note that an “attitude of gratitude” is good for morale. Such gratitude need not be for someone you know. Warren Buffet pointed out: ‘Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.’
Wear something that symbolises your choice to keep your morale high. A pendant, a bracelet or something that is regularly in your line of sight that says to you: “I choose to be focused and feel good.” A picture, a printed quote or statement, an object that symbolises your goal or purpose, a picture of the people you love. Something that triggers you to choose to feel good.
Feed your mind morale boosters
Watch some comedy. Watch a feel-good move; something to lift your spirits.
Avoid negative people, for very good reasons. To quote Einstein: “They have a problem for every solution.”
Minimise your exposure to negative media, including the news and other sources of negativity.
Mark Twain counselled: “Stay away from those people who try to disparage your ambitions. Small minds will always do that, but great minds will give you a feeling that you can become great too.”
Make the best of the resources you have (internal and external)
The people with the highest morale are not those who have or make the most, they are those who make the most of what they have.
As Arthur Ashe said: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Be present in the now
Focus on the present, note your own breathing, and become aware of your bodily sensations. Enjoy your senses, by savouring the simplest of things. For instance, gently rub your fingertips against each other. Note the feeling. Look at a colour, and really see it. Hear a sound and luxuriate in it.
Winston Churchill kept morale high in low times. He noted: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
Hellen Keller faced obstacles that few others had overcome. She advised: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Goals give the mind a focus, a purpose. The person with “a strong enough why can bear almost any how,” said Friedrich Nietzsche
Victor Frankl expressed it too: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
People who believe in a goal, believe they can achieve that goal, believe they have what it takes to achieve that goal, focus on that goal, believe they can overcome whatever adversity stands in the way of achieving that goal and have high morale.
The more you believe you can the more likely you are to achieve. Henry Ford expressed it well: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
Was he right? Yes, and here is why. If you think you can, you will take action which makes “can” more possible. If you think you can’t, you will take no action, which makes “can” impossible.
Paulo Coelho noted that setting a goal makes us feel better about life: ‘When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.’
Take immediate action towards your goal, however small. We seem better able to keep our emotional balance when we are doing something constructive. Albert Einstein noted it, too: ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.’
Choose to learn and grow, even from set-backs
Most people fail a maddening three feet from their goal. They give up; their morale cracks and they quit, just at the point where the last failure had given them the information necessary to achieve.
Who would have thought that a couple of bicycle repair technicians would master flight when the world’s best scientists and engineers, who had access to vast funds had failed over and over again?
Almost all the high achievers I have coached have a sense that: “Adversity is the anvil of achievement.’ It seems that to become an ultra-high achiever that adversity is necessary. Winston Churchill made some horrendous mistakes, yet kept on keeping on while noting: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Henry Ford, too, achieved what no one before had, and had similar advice: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
Listening to someone who has touched all of our lives may be wise, Thomas A. Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
One of the worse causes of low morale is perfectionism. Cast it aside; progress helps, and perfection harms. Focus on progress, and turn not to plan experiences into guidance.
“Develop success from failures,” said Dale Carnegie.
Believe in you
Morale comes, in part, from self-belief. Will you choose to believe you can?
Since Muhammad Ali said: “I am the greatest!” and went on to become exactly that, many people have said that you have to believe you are the best to achieve. That may be so where being the best is necessary to achieve in some contexts, such as a boxing match.
‘I can!’ is what it takes in most contexts. Hundreds of millions of people strive every day to feed their children. They don’t have to be the greatest, as long as they believe they can, they are much more likely to find a way.
High morale involves believing you can; really believing it, to the point of feeling it; knowing that you can and you will. Be so certain that you can and will that it is already a fact. That level of belief is self-fulfilling.
The Wright Brothers believed they could find a way, even though they didn’t know what that way would be. When it comes to achieving, when the beliefs and attitudes are right, the apparent facts matter less.
When is quitting giving in to self-doubt?
High achievers see what others see as setbacks as learning opportunities. They know that self-doubt, loss of belief in the achievability of their goal is fatal to its achievement. They know that believing they can find a way, even if they can’t yet see a way, is essential.
High morale in low times is about believing you can, about believing you can find a way, even if you can’t see a way in the current moment, and you know finding a way will take time.
Earl Nightingale crystalised it well: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
Cynics will say: “Surely some things can’t be achieved; surely it is smart to quit when it is obvious the goal is impossible?”
Yes, some goals are stir-crazy, and some laudable goals are impossible to achieve. For almost everyone, persevering long after any sane person would have quit is never going to be an issue. That is a hen’s teeth problem; so rare it can be discounted as unreal for almost all.
Most people have exactly the opposite problem: no goal. To maintain high morale, make sure you have a goal or a purpose and believe that you can achieve that goal, even if you can’t see how. Once you set the goal, and believe it is possible, your brain will spot methods that would otherwise have been invisible to you. Morale may be a consequence of goal-focused belief.
Morale is a choice
Jim Rohn said: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
Morale is like a muscle; it can only be built through choosing to use it. Louise Hay said it well: “I choose to make the rest of my life the best of my life.”
Morale boosting is not a silver bullet, nor can it be maintained by a one-off inoculation. Keeping high morale is a daily and often constant activity.
Let’s conclude with wisdom from someone who learned how to keep morale high in what was one of the toughest professions, door-to-door sales. Zig Ziglar observed: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” The same goes for morale.
Which habits will you develop to keep your morale high?
Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.