Having trouble getting started? Here’s how to get going and enjoy the ride toward completion of a new, challenging goal.
When it comes to achieving a goal, the simple act of getting started can often be the toughest obstacle – and the obstacle that can doom your project to yielding any kind of value. If you do get started working on a goal and for whatever reason don’t succeed in the end, you will have gained the value of learning something in the process.
For example, let’s say you set a goal to run a first 10k. You’ve never run the distance before in your life, and the idea of finishing a 6.2 mile run is enthralling.
You do get started, but halfway through you get a case of Runner’s Knee and have to alter the plan.
While you may not yet have achieved the goal, in figuring out what caused your knee pain – like maybe you need a different pair of running shoes, or fix your running form, or do some strength training, or all-the-above – ultimately you become a stronger, more injury-proof runner. You are better prepared to train for a longer running race.
Getting Started Is More Important Than Not Failing
If you had never started the training programme in the first place, it’s going to be hard to scrape together any sort of value out of setting the goal. Except maybe deciding to churn your frustration into the energy source that helps you get started next time around.
If this is a problem you’ve struggled with – breaking out of your comfort zone and starting a new, cool programme that will help you toward a goal that you’re really fired up about — then here are some tips to help you get moving.
1. Brainstorm up entry-level tasks
Sometimes we struggle to get started because the goal we’ve set seems utterly overwhelming. Perhaps the goal requires a broad assortment of new skills, and a voice inside your head says, ‘How in the hell are we ever going to learn all this stuff?’
You get tired thinking about all the work ahead.
Here’s a way out of the loop: Get a piece of paper and a pencil, and brainstorm up a list of small, easy actions that may not seem like big deals but each would serve as a small step in the right direction.
Let’s go back to using a running event as an example. You look at the training plan you’ve committed yourself to. Maybe it’s a 12-week plan. Put your focus on Day One. What are some small steps you can take to help make Day One happen? Is there anything you can do to get your gear organised? To make sure you have the time you need for the workout blocked off? Do you need to make sure you get a good night of sleep?
Just brainstorm up a bunch of actions that could help you get one small step closer to starting the engine so you can check off your first day of training. Pick one and do it. Maybe do another one. Then allow the momentum to move you forward. You will have begun.
2. Check your attitude
If you feel a worried sort of stress slowing you down before starting a programme, this is a good thing to flip around. Stressing out before starting a project can lead into actions that will undermine the whole deal. So-called “stress eating” is a good example. Wolfing down junk food can be an act of sabotage. Your state of mind – your attitude – will go from bad to worse.
So be honest with yourself about how you feel while you’re on the cusp of starting a new project. If you feel pessimistic, flip it around. Allow yourself to feel excited. Find the fun in it.
3. Make a game of it
Look at the small actions list you brainstormed up and see how many you can do in an hour. Is it one? Three? Six? Make a game of it.
Make a game of the whole thing. Lower the temperature by allowing yourself to not be perfect and enjoy being in motion on something new and cool.
4. Give yourself permission to start
Lower the temperature. This is a good idea to emphasize. One problem that can shut a person down is when they take up a new goal and — with good intention — seek to find a role model to copy. Not a bad idea, but it gets sticky if you fall into a trap of comparison.
The expert is, for good reason, pretty dialed in when it comes to smoothly practicing or performing their craft. It’s healthy to remind yourself frequently there was a day they were a clumsy beginner. So if you find yourself struggling to start, give your permission to be just as clumsy as your role model was when he or she first got started. Enjoy your way muddle through the first day and the first week. The skills and efficiency will come.
“If you set your bar at amazing,” author Seth Godin remarks, “it’s awfully difficult to start.”
5. Burn through embarrassment with action
Next time you are at an airport and have a long layover, try this experiment. Go find a bit of space at a gate and do a workout. Maybe a stretching routine. Maybe push-ups and sit-ups. Or maybe throw down some burpees.
You will naturally feel a little embarrassed because inevitably someone is going to see you exercising. They might even stare. I know the feeling – I’ve felt this form of internal resistance as I started a burpee workout at the Chicago O’Hare airport.
Here’s what I learnt; after the first five or ten burpees, my mind got drawn into the effort and I forgot about all the people around me. I either didn’t notice someone was watching me or didn’t care. This feeling became all the more prevalent as the burpees got harder.
I’ve found this to be a useful tool. Any time I feel resistance starting something because I worry I might feel foolish – like I would if I were to take a dance class – I remind myself of two things:
- You think people care, but mostly they don’t. Yep, they might glance at you, but they tend to return their focus to whatever they’re doing. If anything, they are probably impressed that you have the gumption to do burpees in public or take a ballet for beginners dance class in your thirties or whatever.
- The worry burns off as you get into it. I haven’t seen a research study on this. Just my own personal experience. After the first 10 burpees of a 100-burpee workout in the airport, my focus naturally went from worrying about how ridiculous I might look to the challenge of getting through the workout.
My wife may have moved a few seats away from me while I do the burpees…a ‘I’m not with that guy’ move out of the picture. But once I was finished she would welcome me back.
The upshot? When taking on a new programme or project, put all your heart and soul into getting started and making the first day happen. Get it going, make a game of it, and as the saying goes don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do this and you may find day two, three and so on will become a natural and inescapable part of your day.
Make a 2021 Tough Mudder event your goal.