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If Your Path to Success Has You Borderline Insane, You're On the Right Path. Progress is imperfect by nature. Here are three strategies to cope with it and keep moving forward.

By Dan Dowling Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Everyone's seen the funny little success diagrams. The first one's a chart with a 45-degree line that goes left to right from bottom to top. Its caption: "What everyone thinks success looks like." The diagram next to it is a confuzzled, knotted, circuitous, frazzled, and schizophrenic-looking line that's engulfed in smoke and flames as it bounces and kamikaze dive-bombs and climbs and backslides and somehow manages to reach the same pinnacle of success that the first diagram terminates at. Its caption: "What success really looks like."

Image credit: This Is A Book, by Demetri Martin

And it's true. The rollercoaster ride of success makes Six Flags look like bocce ball at the geriatric center.

Instead of traveling on that perfect 45-degree line, the real line doesn't even climb for what seems like forever; you'll go a hundred frames out of the diagram without climbing a notch. This is why 95 percent of would-be success stories throw in the towel before they get any results: They can't handle the delayed gratification. (They didn't have the strategies you're about to read in this article!).

When the line finally breaks inertia, its path mirrors your actions: the inconsistencies, the wallowing, the failures, the occasional triumphs. But, improbable as it seems, your little success line will in fact eek its way through that snarled mess up to the top of the chart.

You just have to embrace the imperfect nature of progress.

For the record, the most successful people you can think of, like Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Brendon Burchard, all struggled to (or couldn't!) pay their bills before their breakthroughs. Here are three ways you can embrace the imperfect nature of progress:

Related: The First 5 Steps That Begin Your Entrepreneurial Journey

1. Praise your effort, not your progress.

If you wait till progress rolls in before you praise yourself, you'll be one of the 90 percent of people who give up before they reach their first level. That's because no human can keep grinding and grinding without some reward, some motivation. The truth is that no one will reward you or motivate you to persist unless you do.

So don't wait until you see progress before you clap yourself on the back -- applaud each of your efforts now!

You can cement this habit by drafting a list of your day's accomplishments each morning (five to eight goals works well for most people). Then at the bottom of your planning page, write out the goal "encourage yourself" with 10 checkboxes next to it. For every goal you complete, get in the habit of crossing off a self-encouragement checkbox too: "Way to go! You're kicking ass! Thank you for persisting, and for making me successful."

If it sounds cheesy, you obviously haven't tried it. This self-encouragement is like water to the parched soul. It's a breeze when you're in the doldrums. It's...well, forget the schmaltzy metaphors -- it's essential for your imperfect progress.

Related: 21 Inspiring Quotes That Will Motivate Your Entrepreneurial Pursuits

2. Exercise regularly.

You know how that crazy little line of success tends to plummet without warning? When we bottom out -- like getting rejected or failing so miserably that death seems preferable -- is when we tend to make our worst decisions, like quitting. That's why you have to create an endogenous reserve of feel-good chemicals through regular exercise that makes your lows tolerable enough to keep chugging along without resorting to alcoholism, or worse, defeatism.

Studies have proven that exercise alone has a greater effect on mood than anti-depressants on their own. So if you want to maximize the confidence-and-happiness-boosting benefit of exercise, you'll want to do it all throughout the day, not just once or twice. Rather than going all out for a couple hours several times per week, shoot for up to five exercise sessions of five to 10 minutes per day. Do that and you'll have dopamine and serotonin constantly circulating through your synapses. Moving frequently (every 30 minutes to an hour) halts the production of cortisol and adrenaline, the archetypical "feel bad" chemicals.

Now that you've started a daily planning habit, all you have to do is include five checkboxes next to the goal, "Move!" Then every time you get up for a short walk, or some burpees, or even something as simple as a set or two of squats, you x-out one of those movement boxes and pat yourself on the butt for a job well done. Every time you flip open your planner and become conscious of an empty movement box, you get up, then you move. Doesn't sound like it would make a difference? Just try it. There's a reason that all top performers swear by their exercise routines.

Related: Why You Need More Exercise as an Entrepreneur (and 7 Creative Strategies for Getting It)

3. Keep your goals in front of you at all times.

For every entrepreneur or would-be success story that ever fizzled out, there's really only one reason for it: They lost focus.

When you're down, especially if you don't have a regular exercise regimen, it can feel like "up" never existed -- like the only thing you can focus on is your current state. But that's not the case for the smart entrepreneurs who surround themselves with visual reminders: what they're doing, why they're doing it, where they're going. Visual cues like pictures, goal cards and mission statements orient your focus past temporary suffering and toward your desired outcome.

Take 20 minutes today to print out the most powerful reminders for you. Stick them in your bedroom, in your office, in your car. You can even program them as recurring reminders in your phone. For instance, every day at 2:00 pm you could have your power mantra or whatever phrase the symbolizes your success flash on your screen, forcing you to acknowledge it, encouraging you to be it.

Or you could trust your flawed mind to automatically shift your focus for you when your success line starts trailing off. As someone who attempted this strategy (which resulted in sleeping on my mom's couch two extra years), I don't recommend it.

Related: Why Affirmations Have Failed You and 4 Steps to Change That

No matter whether you've just started, or if you've fought to get halfway and have recently fallen off a ledge, self-improvers who fully appreciate the wild and imperfect path of progres are better prepared mentally for the work and toil (and the peaks!) to come. But knowing isn't enough. You have to adopt the habits and strategies that make you resilient and keep you moving despite the lows you hit. Start applauding your efforts. Encourage yourself with the help of a daily planner. Manufacture a consistently confident and positive mindset through regular movement. And give yourself the right visual cues you need to stay focused on where you're going, not where you're at.

Dan Dowling

Solopreneur, writer, and coach

As a former couch-surfing millennial turned solopreneur writer and coach, Dan Dowling writes on personal development. Visit and learn how to create your own solopreneur success story.

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