“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.” I may be late to the party. But I recently came across that quote from Les Brown. And I’m hooked.
Think about everything you want to accomplish in your life. You need to take that first step — no matter your familiarity or expertise in that field. Want to become a doctor or lawyer? Well, med or law school comes first. Want to start a family? You have to play the dating game before all that. Are you dreaming of starting your own business? No problem. You need a business plan ahead of time.
Even the small things that you want to do are applicable. For example, I wanted to start writing this article an hour ago. But, I have a little head cold and am just a bit foggy. After sipping on some green tea, I just buckled down and started typing. Guess what? I couldn’t stop once I got started.
So, what’s the point of my rambling? Well, forget all of the other strategies you’ve been told to improve your time management or productivity. Getting started should be your top strategy. After all, no matter how smart the goals, organized your calendar is, or motivated you are, they’re all moot if you don’t make the first move.
Why is it so hard to get started?
Well, research has found that we’re hesitant to start thanks to neuropsychology. Neuropsychology is when one of the nine executive brain functions get off track. The brain functions that can get off-track include impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organization, activity shifting, task initiation, task monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and general orderliness. Or, in other words, we all have our own reasons for dragging our feet.
For some, it could be because there’s a lack of self-confidence or not having the resources. For others, they may already have too much on their plates or can’t focus. And, some unfortunate people seriously don’t know where to begin.
Another reason? You might be dreaming too big. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t think positively. It’s just that it’s not enough.
“The problem that we often run into with this is that when people only think about a positive future, they’ve already attained this future in their minds, so they have little motivation to actually act on it,” Dr. Gabriele Oettigen, a New York University psychology professor and researcher, told The Atlantic. According to the studies conducted by Dr. Oettigen, “those that simply fantasized about it were less likely to shed the extra pounds or find the courage to ask out a potential love interest because, in their mind, they had already done so.”
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
As you can see, there are a variety of reasons why you hesitate to get started. And, that’s a damn shame. Because when you follow Nike’s advice and “just do it,” something amazing happens. You build momentum. And, you can ride that wave until you reach the shore.
But why is this the case?
Well, the first explanation has something to do with physics. Specifically, we’re talking about Newton’s first law of motion. The first law of motion states that “a body at rest remains at rest, or, if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.” Again, going back to this article. Once I started punching the keyboard, I kept going until it was completed.
If that seems like a stretch, then let’s talk a little psychology here. There’s something called the Zeigarnek Effect. It was discovered by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik back in 1927 and simply states that the brain remembers incomplete tasks more than those we’ve done. Even more impressive, we can’t focus on anything else until the task is done and over with.
The word is that Hemingway would stop writing mid-sentence, so he was forced to finish where he left off. So, even if you began work on a project for two-minutes, it’s going to linger in your mind until it’s signed, sealed, and delivered.
Oh, there’s one more thing. Working is less painful then procrastinating. Think of it this. You’re freaking out about how much a workout regiment or work-related task is going to suck. But, once you buckle down and get into, you realize that’s not all that bad. You felt worse when you were psyching yourself out.
How to get started on anything.
Hopefully, you’re sold on why getting started should be the strategy at the top of your list. But, if you’re still struggling with this, then here are some tips to get you going.
Have a plan.
Let’s say that you want to hit the gym at least three days a week. How likely will you go after work if you have to go home and change? Not very. However, what if you had your gym bag packed? That action took a little bit of planning and may encourage you actually to go to the gym.
Whatever you want or need to do, prepare in advance. Sure. It takes some time and effort upfront. But, it’s enough of a nudge to get started. And, doing prep work can help you identify possible obstacles so that you have a plan to overcome them.
Use your calendar.
“Put the tasks you need to do in your calendar — and commit yourself to get them done,” suggests Paul Petrone in a LinkedIn post. “The act of writing things down (as well as the satisfaction of crossing them off your list) will increase the chances you’ll do them on schedule.”
Get in the zone.
Whether you call “the zone” or “flow state,” this is where you’re “completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” Of course, that’s not always an easy task — especially when you’re not feeling it. Thankfully, you can achieve flow by practicing the following:
- Identify and eliminate distractions.
- Work at your prime time.
- Spend more time doing the things you enjoy and delegate/outsource what you don’t.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Make sure that you aren’t hungry or thirsty.
- Exercise your body and mind.
- Have a clear purpose.
- Collaborate with others — or at least share your goals.
- Seek feedback.
- Appreciate and reward yourself for what you’ve done.
Eat the elephant.
How would one go about this? By eating one bite at a time.
Now, you’re not literally going to eat an elephant. But, what this means is breaking down those significant goals into small and more manageable chunks. Think of it this way. You want to write an eBook. As opposed to obsessing about how you’re going o actually write an entire book, focus on a chapter at a time.
Set a time limit.
Remember the Zeignarik Effect? One way to combat it is by setting a time limit. I did that with this article. I made a deal with myself that I was going to write for five minutes. If I couldn’t maintain my focus because I was under the weather, then I would do something else. However, as I’ve already mentioned, once I began writing, I keep going.
Even if you don’t complete something in one session, at least you’ve got it started. And, you will be reminded to get back to it. For example, set aside 10-15 minutes to organize your workspace. You may not have gotten to everything. But, it’s cleaner and more organized than a couple of minutes ago. And, when you have another 10-15 minutes, you’ll jump back in.
Research shows that self-forgiveness is a cure for procrastination. The reason? Researchers state that it’s because it helps us “move past maladaptive behavior and focus” on what needs to get done.
Don’t worry about being perfect.
Let’s be real here. Perfection doesn’t exist. It’s just an unrealistic expectation that you’ll never reach. As a consequence, you waste time, energy, and miss out on new opportunities. But, if this is still holding you back, here’s how you can stop perfectionism in its tracks:
- Understand that whatever you’re doing is a work in progress.
- Set realistic goals.
- Stop comparing yourself to others.
- Ask for constructive criticism.
- Use “hypothesis testing.” For instance, write a blog post without proofreading? Did the world end? Nope. It’s still spinning.
- Don’t dwell in the past.
- Find a balance between being good and perfect.
- Focus on the process, not the outcome.
- Develop your self-awareness. If being “perfect” is causing you to feel anxious, do something to help you de-stress.