Goals (IV): The first step – How to get started

goals - the first step

Whenever we try to make a change in our lives, even if it’s for the better, or when we attempt anything that we care about, we meet an old enemy: resistance. Barriers will pop up. Some of them we can perceive, some of them we are not even aware of. This is the way of the universe and the nature of goals. If you care about something, you also fear it. If you didn’t fear it, you wouldn’t care about it. It’s part of the process and the first step is to accept it.

No, it’s not rational, but who ever claimed it was? So don’t despair when in your head you come up with ludicrous excuses for why you shouldn’t do whatever it is you are attempting. Do not use them as a reason to judge yourself harshly either. It’s not a personal flaw. It doesn’t mean you are lazy, incompetent, or any other negative label you can come up with. It is that way for all of us.

There are ways to minimize the resistance and drastically reduce the number of excuses, obstacles, snags, cop-outs, hurdles, and spokes in your wheel which your mind and sub-conscience (those bastards) can throw at you. The keyword here is entrance barriers and to make things easier, it’s important to eliminate them from the beginning.

How to make getting started easy

I have written about this earlier here. Entrance barriers are the internal roadblocks we have to overcome in order to make a change in our lives. The reason why many people fail at changing is that we are often overly ambitious with our goals. We want too much too fast and therefore need a lot of willpower, a very fickle and unreliable form of energy. By reducing entrance barriers from the get-go we give ourselves a much better chance of succeeding. How do we do that? I’m glad you ask.

Make it small

Habit creation is far more important for behavior change than achieving big results from day one. Making minimal alterations that turn into sustainable (and scalable) new behaviors instead of gung hoing it and burning yourself out makes long-term success much more likely. So take whatever you think your new behavior should be and reduce it drastically to 10 or 20 percent. Here’s what I mean by that:

  • If you want to run for half an hour in the morning, start off by running 5 minutes
  • Instead of overhauling your whole diet at once, change one thing about your breakfast and keep everything else the same
  • To learn a new language, go with 5 words per day in the beginning.

You can do more later. Concentrate on making that little change first. Make it part of your routine and then scale it up. I was already in the habit of writing a lot every day so I was confident I could do an hour for this project in the morning. If I was just getting started with blogging, I would have aimed for 5 minutes or 100 words or some other definitely achievable number. In fact that is exactly how I got myself to an hour.

Make it temporary

Forget the vows which include the words “never” and “from here on until eternity” (except when your significant other, a priest and two rings are involved – you should really mean that sh*t). This will only make your mind project into the future with all its eventualities and you will feel like you need to take it all on at once.

The key therefore is to commit yourself only for a short amount of time. Aim for a week or two. Even a day can work. Read, for instance, how this guy got through Spec Ops Training by vowing he would “quit tomorrow” but get through one more day. It’s the same way I gave up coffee two years ago (not quite the same as Spec Ops training I venture), one day at a time instead of “I will never drink coffee again”. So whatever you are planning to change in your life, reduce the time for which you will commit. You are in a much better position to extend it afterwards.

Keep it simple

“Here’s how you run a marathon; Step one: start running. There is no step two.”

- Barney Stinson, How I met your mother

What if the best way to lose weight was to be chased by a leopard while being on a unicycle and juggling flaming swords (business idea!)? You think that would take care of the obesity crisis? Simplicity beats complicated every time and habit change is no exception. Choose something that doesn’t need the same amount of instructions as building up Swedish furniture. Five pushups are a good way to get into a workout routine. All you need is a floor. You have that, right?

Same goes for equipment, go minimal. No gimmicks, no extras. You don’t need to find “the best workout app”, the latest productivity tool or other means of mental masturbation. The more complicated you make things, the more confused you will be, and the less likely it will be that you get started. Don’t fall into the trap of using “lack of equipment” as a tried-and-true excuse.

Create a trigger

If you want to make a change, it’s important to create consciousness for it. Place something in your environment which reminds you of the thing you want to do and triggers the new behavior. It can be putting a water bottle on the bathroom sink so you remember to drink first thing in the morning. It can be placing your gym shoes in front of your bedroom door. It can be a post-it note on the coffee machine or a picture of yourself on the fridge. Anything that will function as a circuit breaker for your old routine and make you remember to go through with your plan. In my case: Laptop on kitchen table – check.

And there you have it. Adhering to above principles is enough to get you started. You can begin to form your new habit which will bring positive change to your daily life. In the next and last step we will add a secret ingredient which will guarantee you follow through and don’t give up half way: Accountability.

Which first step can you take to bring change to your life? How can you overcome your obstacles? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image: Vernon Chan / Flickr

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