Sometimes in the face of a big project, we become some overwhelmed by how much needs to be done that we do nothing at all.
When I was a college student only a couple of my friends had cars. When we wanted to leave campus we would 6 or 7 of us into a compact car and head out to shop or get something to eat. One day the car broke down in busy traffic on a low speed road. We did what any sensible group of teenagers would do; 4 or 5 of us jumped out and started pushing. It was hard work getting the car moving, but once we got it rolling it wasn’t too hard to keep it moving along until we came to a parking lot where we could get it out of traffic. Starting a project is the same way. It takes much more effort to get started than it does to keep things moving along.
When you are struggling to tackle a big goal, it is important to start small and get moving.
Start With Why
Getting clear on your motivation will help give you the energy to follow through and take action. Ask yourself:
- Why is accomplishing this goal important to you?
- What difference will it make in your life or in the world?
- How does it tie into your core values?
Do Something Small
What is the smallest thing you can do that will get you moving? If you are flossing, floss one tooth. If you are running, run from your front door to the sidewalk. If you are writing, write 100 words, or 50, or a sentence. Make it so small, you can’t not do it. Andrea Bonior talks about starting committing to working on something for just 5 minutes when you are having trouble getting started.
Do it Now
Now that you have identified a small step you can take, DO IT. Right now.
Identify the Next Step
What is the next thing you need to do to move towards your goal? Make a commitment for when you will complete it. Better yet, do it now too.
Commit to Working on It Every Day
Now that you’ve started, don’t lose your momentum. Commit to working toward your goal every day. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, but you need to do something.
Make it Easy on Yourself
The same challenge holds for your daily tasks as for the project as a whole; getting started is the hardest part. What can you do to make getting started really, really easy? Get everything you need prepared in advance.
- If you are flossing, get the floss ready by the sink.
- If you want to go running in the morning, sleep in your running clothes and put your shoes by the bed.
- If you are writing, decide what you are going to write about and have pen and paper with a prompt at the top on your desk and ready to go.
By making it really easy to get up and get going you dramatically increase the probability that you will actually do it.
Make it a Habit
When something becomes habit, you no longer need to draw on your finite store of willpower to get it done. You just do it automatically. To take advantage of this you need a clear trigger and definite reward for the behavior you are making a habit. James Clear talks extensively about habits.
Make a Plan to Maintain Your Momentum
You will run into speedbumps and roadblocks. Be prepared. One very effective strategy is having a specific plan for when and how you are going to do something and what you will do if you encounter obstacles.
- Be specific. What will you do? When will you do it?
- Think about what is likely to go wrong. What can you do if things don’t go as planned?
For instance, if I was taking up running my implementation intentions my read:
- I will run for 5 minutes first thing in the morning when I get up.
- If it is raining, I will run on the treadmill.
- If I oversleep my alarm, I will run around the building at work at lunch.
This is a simple strategy, but highly effective. For instance, in a paper published in 1997 Gollwitzer and Brandstatter found that implementation intentions (the technical term) increased the success rate in completing difficult projects from less than 25% to more than 66%.
Are there projects or goals you are struggling to make progress on? What could you do to get started on them today?
 Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandstatter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 186-199