Do you have an idea that you are truly excited about, but struggling to get started? Has it been lingering around in your head for a while, but for some reason you still haven’t taken that first step?
Maybe you have taken some action but can’t seem to sustain the effort needed to see it through to the end. Maybe you’re midway through but feeling stuck somewhere. If you can relate to any of this, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem amongst all creative people.
In this blog post I’m going to be addressing some common challenges that stand in the way of getting started. I will explore some of the internal and external obstacles that lead to procrastination and the death of good ideas. Then, I’ll take you through a simple framework that will help you bring your ideas to life much faster.
First Things First
You might have heard this before, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably sick of hearing it again! I have to say it though, you must have the right mindset. The problem with this vague statement is that it leaves you wondering: what exactly is the right mindset?
In a nutshell, your mindset is a set of attitudes and beliefs that shape up your worldview. In the case of overcoming resistance and getting started, it’s important to identify some of those attitudes or beliefs that might be holding you back.
Lack of Self-belief
Most of the time what’s stopping you from executing your idea is not a lack of resources, but rather a lack of self-belief. Even if you’re a confident person, with enough introspection, you’ll find that you’re still doubting yourself in one way or another.
The most common thought is what if I’m not good enough? It’s not a totally bad thing to consider because it keeps you open to learning and improving. However, you should never let it stop you from starting.
Understand this, you’ll never be good enough unless you start. No amount of planning and research are going to shape you up like taking action and going through the process. If you wait until you feel totally ready, you’ll never get started. No matter how much you learn, you’ll never feel totally ready. The fastest way to learn is to get started and figure things out as you go.
Fear of Failure
Another prominent limiting belief is fear of failure. Most people have a certain mental narrative that dictates their actions both consciously and subconsciously. We create this perfect story in our head and avoid anything that threatens it. Simply put, we like to think of ourselves as winners and tend to avoid engaging in challenges that could prove otherwise.
For this reason, I suggest when you work on something don’t call it a project. A project can either fail or succeed; instead, call it an experiment.
The purpose of any experiment is to test a hypothesis. Regardless of the outcome of the test, you succeed merely by arriving at a result. When you approach your ideas from an experimental perspective, you are in testing mode and you’re not emotionally attached to the outcome. You will have more room to maneuver and develop better clarity as a result.
By calling it an experiment you have already accepted that you might not get your desired result. This shifts the focus from the outcome to the process. Most people fail by obsessing over outcomes and not paying enough attention to the process. The real value is almost always in the process rather than the outcome.
Social pressure plays a huge role in shaping up your mental narrative. Not everyone is comfortable being under the spotlight and putting out their work for the whole world to see. No matter how good you think your idea is, fearing the criticism of others can hold you back from pulling the trigger and exploring your full potential.
It’s important to be at peace with the fact that your work will never satisfy everyone. You’ll always be criticized and it’s up to you to let that stop you or use it to your advantage. You can either take it personal and let it stop you from going after what you want, or you can use it as a source of feedback to improve your work without being emotionally affected.
Another pitfall is when people in your social circle think of you as a natural born winner, then you wouldn’t want to partake in any activity that might risk that notion. In order to succeed at anything, you must overcome social pressure. Conforming to societal norms at the expense of your freedom to express your authenticity will only make you miserable.
Perfectionism leads to procrastination, and procrastination leads to frustration. If you get stuck with an idea long enough without taking any action, you have failed already. You’ll realize that most of the time what’s holding you back isn’t the complexity of the task, but the fear of producing mediocre work. You’re holding back because you don’t want any failure to threaten that perfect story you’ve been building up in your head.
It’s important to have high standards and put in your best effort to create the best work possible. However, if you’re a perfectionist, you’ll always find an excuse to put your work on hold. Musicians drag their projects until they can afford a better studio, writers until they do more research, and entrepreneurs until they have more capital or build a bigger audience.
The circumstances will never be ideal. You can’t create an ideal situation before you get started. Focus only on the tools and resources that are currently available to you. You can always refine your work as you go, but you need to get started first or else you won’t have anything to refine.
Now that we have established the required mindset and covered some of the most common obstacles, let’s get more practical and dive into some steps that you can immediately put in action.
Find Your Starting Point
Getting started doesn’t have to be complicated. The more you simplify the process and eliminate unnecessary decisions, the easier it gets. Contrary to popular advice, you don’t need to think big; sometimes thinking small is more efficient.
In other words, you don’t need to deconstruct the whole process before you get started. All you need to do is to find your starting point and take small consistent steps from there on.
Convert Your Idea from Implicit to Explicit
Whether you’re working on a new product, writing a blog post, or producing music, the process is similar. Start by converting your ideas from something internal and implicit to something external and explicit.
You can do this by mapping out your idea on a piece of paper or writing down all the points you want to cover in a word document. If you want to take this a step further, you can use an app that helps you visualize your steps and connect the dots.
When you do this, you shift your attention from being the thinker to becoming the observer; you can qualify and critique your own work as it unfolds in front of you. This will give you a better sense of direction and allow you to generate new ideas that complement your main concept or even change it into something completely different and better.
Focus on Starting not Finishing
Sometimes we fail at starting even when we have clearly identified our starting point. This is mainly because the task might seem overwhelming and that very first step isn’t the most fun thing to be doing. Your goal is to simplify the process until little or no resistance stands in your way. One way to do this is by focusing on starting not finishing.
If you’re a creative who’s experimenting with an idea, start with no intention to finish. This will make it much less overwhelming to get started. Even better, it allows you to be more creative because there’s no time pressure and you can play around with your ideas. However, there’s an inherent risk of procrastination whenever you work without a deadline.
This is where you need to be decisive and identify whether your idea is worth pursuing to the end or not. Of course, you can’t make that decision before getting started and testing your idea first.
Get Feedback in Motion
Most people avoid this process because they think it’s a waste of time and they only want to fully pursue their idea once they’re totally sure that it’s the right one. You must know that you can never get an output before an input.
Executing your worst idea provides much more value than not executing your best idea. The main reason is because you need feedback to validate your idea, and that feedback will only come from going through the process.
Define Your Minimum Viable Product
The fastest way to test your idea and get feedback is by developing a minimal version of whatever it is that you’re trying to create. In the world of Entrepreneurship, this is widely known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
The MVP is a term initially coined and defined by Frank Robinson in 2001, then made popular by Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs, Steve Blank and Eric Ries. The main idea behind the MVP is to get feedback by testing for product-market-fit before developing your product or service in its entirety. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is still one of the best books on this subject.
You can apply the MVP to anything you’re working on. Musicians do it with demo songs, authors do it with blog posts, and software engineers with early versions of applications or programs.
Even college students do it by submitting first drafts to their professors before they submit their final version. They do it to get feedback from their instructor, make sure they’re heading in the right direction, and avoid spending hours of unnecessary work.
During this process, they also get a chance to communicate with their instructor and build a relationship, which most of the times works well in their favor. The same thing applies for a business; you’re testing, getting feedback and engaging your target audience in the process. When you involve people in what you’re doing, they’re more likely to support you.
For example, if you want to start a podcast, you don’t have to buy expensive recording equipment just yet. Record it on your phone and launch it. Why invest in expensive gear before testing your material for a while and seeing if it’s resonating with your intended audience? It doesn’t have to be perfect right away; you can always improve it as you go.
If it makes you feel any better, most people love to witness the transformation. Being too perfect from the start is almost boring to those of us who are more interested in the journey.
Set a Strict Deadline
Once you have identified what goes into your MVP you need to give yourself a strict deadline and stick to it. By strict I mean, if you think you need a month to get it done, you should give yourself two weeks to finish it. If you extend a task over a long period of time, you’re most likely to quit on it.
If you don’t think it’s realistic to compress a big task into a short period, think back to a time where you had to submit an assignment that supposedly needed a week to finish but you got it done just the night before.
You’re much more likely to create momentum if you condense the work into a shorter period. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t compromise the quality of your work. In fact, it helps you concentrate your efforts and uncover the strengths and weakness of your ideas much faster than you would if you were to have more time to think about it.
Now you might be thinking, what if I wasn’t able to finish my work within this strict deadline, wouldn’t this lead to frustration and disappointment? No, it wouldn’t.
Whether you finish on time or not you would be stoked at the amount of work you did and have already set the wheels in motion towards the finish line. You are now fully invested in your project and have already developed enough self-confidence to see it through to completion.
Get Momentum and Sustain It
Consistency is important to preserve momentum, but you need to get that momentum first. Momentum is a product of small wins created by intense effort and sustained by consistent work.
If you work hard enough to get a quick win, you’ll be well on your way to the next one. If you procrastinate, you’ll develop momentum in the other direction and end up procrastinating more and more until you give up on your idea. It’s a double-edged sword, use it to your advantage.
Eliminate Distractions and Get Focused
Once you’ve gained some momentum, you need to hold tight to preserve it. Give your idea your undivided attention and don’t work on it while you’re thinking of another idea or have something else in progress at the same time. Focus is the key element in everything you do, so you must eliminate all distractions. Something as simple as your social media notifications can throw you off balance.
You need to calendar your working hours and find a place where it’s highly unlikely that you get distracted during that time. Don’t just turn off your notifications or put your phone on airplane mode, it’s not enough. Turn off your phone all together so that if you’re tempted to check it, you’ll be looking at a dead screen. If your work doesn’t require you to use the internet on your laptop, make sure you turn it off.
Remember, you don’t need to do more research during work hours, it’s a distraction in disguise. I highly recommend you check Cal Newport’s Deep Work for a deeper dive on the rules of focused success in a world of distractions.
Take Short Breaks and Avoid Long Ones
If you get tired or your mind starts wandering off, take a break, just don’t take a long one. Breaks are necessary to stay fresh and avoid burnout, but extended breaks can kill your momentum. If you’ve ever been to the gym, you know that you should rest between your sets and your exercises, but you shouldn’t rest for too long. Same thing with work of any kind, if you rest for too long, fatigue and resistance will take over, and soon enough doubts and frustration.
You can’t gain momentum or preserve it if you’re working on and off. In fact, this is how most projects fall apart. Remember, your goal is to complete your MVP in a short period of time, which means working with a high-level of intensity that allows you to finish within your desired timeframe.
I’m in no way an advocate of the non-stop hustle, so I’m not suggesting you work 24/7. Just know that stopping midway through your work for the occasional day off can hurt your progress. If you want a cool off period to reflect on your work, do it after you have completed your project. You’re not required to ship your project or publish your work as soon as you’re done with it. In most projects, you can always come back, edit, and refine.
Most of the obstacles we face throughout the process of executing our ideas can be simply avoided by thinking in smaller and less overwhelming steps. It is feelings like overwhelm, lack of self-belief, fear of failure, social pressure, and perfectionism that stop us from doing our best work. It’s almost as if you need to trick yourself into getting started, but in reality, you’re only tricking yourself if you don’t.
You trick yourself when you think you have an idea that you will execute someday, you know, when the time is right! We all know that’s not going to happen, because the time will never be right and you will never feel totally ready.
Take the plunge, jump straight into it, and see what happens. Remember, you don’t have to be highly skilled to get started, you have to get started to become highly skilled.
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