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Why is getting started the hardest part?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Why is getting started the hardest part?

Scott Miker

You have a new goal.  Maybe you want to start a company, start a new workout routine, quit smoking, earn an advanced degree, write book or finally start eating healthy foods.  You know what you want to achieve, you set goals, you know how to do but you just seem to keep putting it off.

Why is getting started the hardest part?  Why is it that we can know what to do but can’t really do it?

The reality is that we all face this challenge at some point.  We all find ourselves stuck in planning mode, or hesitant to take the risk. 

One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t steal second base with your foot on first.”  In other words you have to let go of some security of what you have for the chance of something better. 

In my first book, You Can’t Surf from the Shore I address this at length.  For me I found that there was a fear that was holding me back.  But it wasn’t necessarily a rational fear.  The fear looked for any justification to NOT go forward.  It often attached to real obstacles to convince me that I should just stay where I was and didn’t risk what I already had. 

Most of us experience some version of this fear.  It might be that we don’t want to fail.  It might be that we don’t want anyone to see us fail.  Or it might be that we just don’t want to do the work.

The best way that I have found to get through this is to just get started.  Once we make the commitment to go we no longer think, “what if this or that happens?”  Instead we focus on breaking through the obstacle or solving the problem.

But this is much easier said then done.  We can certainly understand that message and still not budge.  Or we just barely try something without really looking to complete it. 

In Creative Confidence, Tom Kelley and David Kelley explain this try mindset.  “It’s as if today is for attempts, and the real action will happen at some vague future moment.  To achieve your goal, to topple the barriers that stand in your way, you have to be focused on getting it done now.  Or as Yoda, another wise and seasoned change master, put to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, ‘Do or do not.  There is no try.’”

Instead of looking for a way to superficially try, shift your mindset.  Instead look for small aspects of the system that you can implement.  How can you find a very, very small habit that impacts what you are trying to change?

Instead of expecting to jump right in from sheer motivation, take a small step and focus all of your effort there.  Read about Agile Project Management or Lean Startup techniques to find ways to make small incremental improvements and build from there.    

I love the story of Jerry Seinfeld that talks about how he would write jokes every day.  His focus was on writing every day, not on the quality.  This allowed him to keep going and improving and got around the fear of failure by being willing to write a bad joke.  Writing the best joke wasn’t the focus, it was on doing it every day.  But by writing every day the quality did improve and the his level of success really shows what is possible when you just go for it and keep doing it, rather than waiting for the perfect moment or expecting everything to be perfect.

One of my favorite authors, Rory Vaden talks about this shift in focus.  He says to focus on progress, not on perfection.  By focusing on progress we can get started and keep going without the fear that it isn’t good enough or that we have to be elite immediately.  This works for any goal – exercising, eating healthy, budgeting your money, quitting smoking, writing a book etc. 

If you find that it is difficult to get started, shift your focus.  Be willing to put yourself out there.  Don’t just try something without any effort but understand that it won’t be perfect when you get going.  Keep focusing on making progress and forming new positive habits and you will realize that your goals are within your reach.

Tom Kelley and David Kelley go on to say “In other words, to ultimately reach a creative breakthrough, you just need to start, regardless of small failures that may occur along the way.  It’s unlikely that you r first try at anything will be a success.  But that’s okay.  It’s hard to be ‘best’ right away, so commit to rapid and continuous improvements.”