The Art of Getting Started
I was staring at a dining room table overflowing with what appeared to be the makings of a museum exhibit dedicated to grade school life.
- A salt dough model of a tooth
- A giant presentation board on Egypt
- An All About Me binder
- Three bulging art project portfolios
- A writing journal
- Spanish flash cards
- Half used hand sanitizers
- A forgotten permission slip
- Wrinkled notes from teachers
- Empty containers of mints
I’d been walking past the growing pile with my eyes closed for three days straight because the thought of dealing with all of that stuff was paralyzing me. It’s par for the course at the end of a school year with three children, but it also could have been a giant metaphor illustrating one of the most vexing challenges we all face – – getting started.
More often than we’d like, we find ourselves overflowing with ideas, but not actually acting on any of them. We ideate and list-make and plot and plan, and yet we do not act.
It happens to the best of us. But why?
Well, let’s use me as an example. I’m the kind of person who starts out thinking big and then finds a way to make it even BIGGER. I have BIG plans, BIG ideas, BIG dreams. But no matter how much I wish it did, nothing starts big. Everything in life starts small.
Big dreams will never be realized without small actions.
And so, we must find ways to get started. Almost always, once you’ve forced yourself to take the very first small action, momentum kicks in and you can find your way through the maze of tasks that will get you to the finish line. In fact, even if you later realize you didn’t begin in the very best place, you’re still far better off for having started.
This works whether you’re facing a giant pile of laundry, a disorganized closet, those stubborn 10 pounds, a messy car, or the pile of notes for the book you want to write.
To get started, you don’t have to commit to doing all of it, or to know what all of it is or to know the perfect order in which it should be done. You just have to start.
There’s an art to getting started when you’re stuck at the starting line.
1) Set a time limit.
Sometimes we don’t want to start because we know we can’t finish (yet). So decide NOT to finish. Set a time limit for working on the project and stick to it. Just knowing you have a pre-set ending point can help you to begin.
2) Pick an inconsequential piece to do first.
Authors often talk about writing the endnotes to their book when they can’t find the energy to get started on the actual content. It’s a small and seemingly insignificant piece of the body of work, but it will eventually need to be done, so why not start there? Every project has an equivalent of this – find it and you just may find your starting point.
3) Give yourself permission to do it badly.
This is perhaps the biggest idea of all because it addresses the most significant barrier to getting started. Too often we decide that if we can’t do it well (translation: perfectly) we’re just not going to do it at all! Giving yourself permission to do a terrible job will help you get off the starting blocks. It’s not really about quality at this stage; it’s about building momentum through action. You’ll get better as you go.
Like a rocketship trying to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, the sheer force required to begin may feel overwhelming, but if you can just push past that initial resistance, you will find that you’re buoyed from step to step by the thrill of progress. Just get started.
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