6 Powerful Steps for Building Positive Momentum

03/10/2015 09:57 am ET | Updated May 10, 2015
Manuel Gutjahr via Getty Images

We've all had those days when life sings with positive momentum. You wake up with a good hair day. You find an open parking spot right outside the restaurant you're driving to for lunch. You breeze through your emails, receive smiles from strangers on the sidewalk, and find a crumpled $5 bill in your pocket.

Conversely, the opposite rings true for days when absolutely nothing seems to go right. Bad breaks don't just strike once; they strike repeatedly, until you find yourself 0:1 against a plate of nachos at the end of a rough day.

So what are some ways to stay on the good side of momentum in your own life? Below are a few truths I've relied on for building positive momentum -- or turning a case of negative momentum around.

1. It's all about the small steps.

These days, people are moving at hyper-speed to keep up with work, family, friends, hobbies, education, and other obligations -- let alone that one additional project lingering on their to-do lists. So what do you do when a project seems too insurmountable to even know where to begin? You break it into the smallest steps.

My mother used this method on my sister and I when we were children and she was teaching us to clean our rooms. Instead of tasking us with an overwhelming pile of toys, she'd have us choose one corner of the room to focus on, and then we'd move on to the next.

The same approach can be applied to any project that you're working on. If, say, you're searching for a new job, the process can appear very daunting at the outset. So find its corners. Aim to update your resume one day. Make a list of five potential companies to apply to the next. Choose just one place to submit an application to, then let yourself off the hook for the day. When you feel paralyzed before even beginning, take just one small step. That alone will get you moving.

2. No step is too small.

Sure, certain actions will make a bigger impact than others. Performing onstage at the Grammys, for example, might contribute more to a career than recording a cover song in your parents' basement, although for both of these I speak from the realm of literally zero experience, other than spending a year working across the street from Beyoncé. Does that count?

However, I have seen in my own life that each step, no matter how small, gets the momentum moving, and that's what it's all about. For example, the time I spent living next to Beyoncé. When I first moved to New York City, I barely knew a soul. But I was intentional about wanting to meet people. So I took a bunch of small steps. I said yes to every dinner invite that came my way. I went to some pretty awkward apartment parties. I joined the company volleyball team, without having picked up a volleyball in, oh, 25 years. And with each small step, I made more and more friends along the way.

Small as little steps may be, they signal the direction that you want your life to move in, both to you and to the people around you. One small step on top of another compounds, and creates a snowball effect of powerful, rolling momentum. So when you can't figure out how to create that big step, just take a little one, followed by another. Because momentum is the sum of all of them, and each one counts.

3. The bigger the step, the bigger the reward.

Although each step counts, also appreciate that steps are like currency. A lot of little ones will eventually add up to a nice sum of momentum, but the greater the step, the greater the return on investment you're going to see.

Consider something like stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you're looking to really stretch your limits, an activity like skydiving might have more of an impact than taking a new route to work. Or, if you're trying to get back into the dating game, signing up for a singles night at a local bar might haul in more introductions than taking a few extra minutes to dress up in the morning.

Everything counts, every single thing. But the braver and bolder the step, the more it will shift something inside of you, and the more that will start to shift the world around you.

4. The first steps are the hardest.

There are billion-dollar industries around the fact that people don't really like change so much. They like to wake up when they wake up. They like to eat what they eat. People are wired for habit, and at first, change feels really uncomfortable and insurmountable.

But if you can make it through the first few steps, you'll start to notice that it gets easier. That's because once you notice the positive effects, you'll have more of a desire to keep them coming. So those same steps will feel lighter and easier to you, because you'll be eager to see their benefits. The first steps are always the hardest. So aim to get them over with, and let the rest start working for you.

5. Incentivize yourself and celebrate little wins.

If all else fails, give yourself a little reward for taking that first step. Did you make it to the gym after work? Allow yourself 30 minutes of your favorite TV show. Did you finally get around to hanging up that painting? Maybe it would look even better with a celebratory glass of wine.

Make sure that your reward doesn't negate the positive effects of your effort (e.g., don't reward yourself for that workout with a plate of chili cheese fries) but don't hesitate to give yourself a little incentive for getting moving, either.

6. If momentum starts moving in the wrong direction, do something to reverse it as soon as possible.

Even when good momentum is moving along full force, there will be snags along the way. Expect them. If you're aiming to eat healthy, but fall into temptation over a plate of fudge brownies at the office, immediately put yourself back on the right track by making a cup of green tea, or choosing an extra serving of veggies at your next meal.

It's up to you not to give one bad experience the chance to turn into several. You can choose better, and get momentum moving in the right direction again. If momentum is the sum of small steps, if you make one the wrong way, all it takes is one step in the right direction to get back to center.


You will never be able to anticipate all of the good and bad coming your way in life. But you can make active decisions to seek out the good more often than not. Lucky parking spots are nice, but when you really start to see momentum working in your favor in work, in goals, and in love - that's when it gets exciting, and that's when you'll know that you're not only experiencing positive momentum, you're building it.


What are some ways you create positive momentum in your own life?