You only need a simple first step and you’ve started. That’s all it takes.
When you’re struggling to get something done or at even started why not start with the easiest possible first step? This can lead to something even better than you originally imagined. This story explores the simple idea that doing something, (actually anything) however small or ‘easy’ is always better than doing nothing.
This approach is particularly useful if you find yourself procrastinating and getting frustrated by your inability to get things started. A small simple step can catch the lizard brain unaware and get you into motion before it had a chance to talk you out of it once again. You know the tactics the procrastinating mind uses;
- You were all geared up to go then up comes a better plan that needs a bit more research or;
- The amazing plan you had yesterday just doesn’t look good enough today or;
- You have other priorities and we know we’re doing this anyway, right? — another week will be fine then we’ll really be up and running
In fact, all of these things threatened to delay me getting my first story published here on Medium. Eventually, I took the first step by writing an article about first steps. The fact that you’re reading this now proves it works!
What’s Impossible Today May Not Be Tomorrow
However stuck or entrenched a problem seems to be there is always a first move, a small step, some kind of action that can alter the future trajectory of the situation and allow the ebb and flow of life to do its thing.
If you want to change something, the deal is that you have to make the first move however small. You’re the only one who can unlock the entry gate and walk through.
I’ve found this to be a useful perspective when spending a lot of time thinking about something but struggling to turn good intentions into action. This can be useful for mundane tasks like sorting out paperwork or something bigger and potentially risky, like pursuing a second career, or a new business venture.
However impossible, hopeless, unrealistic, beyond comprehension something feels right now, the feeling or thinking about the situation is not necessarily reliable evidence for what is or isn’t possible in the future.
In fact, psychological research has a name for the study of this. It’s called Affective Forecasting with the research suggesting what we already really know.
“Affective forecasting is predicting how you will feel in the future. As it turns out, we’re terrible at it. We’re not good judges of what will make us happy, and we have trouble seeing through the filter of the now. Our feelings in the present blind us to how we’ll make decisions in the future, when we might be feeling very differently”Psychology Today
So if we’re not very good at predicting a future state it seems logical to suggest that trying to assess what is possible or impossible for our future self is unreliable. We simply don’t know what lies beyond our imagination or comprehension right now.
For this reason, we should keep open to possibilities. This doesn’t have to be something rare or unusual. Most people struggle to change day to day habits which includes thinking and behavior. Speaking from experience, anyone who has stopped smoking or maintained a sustainable diet change will know at some point this may have seemed an impossibility — until eventually, it happened.
My own experience has proven that to me time and time again that a perceived impossibility can become a possibility and then a reality.
The Reason Behind the Reason
In my 20s I firmly believed I was trapped in a line of work I simply couldn’t ever get out of I eventually found a way to transition. For me, my simple first step came out as a statement; ‘I just want to do work to help people because that would make me feel work was meaningful’
Reason? because I wanted to prove my self-worth because I had low self-esteem and I wanted to do something that seemed purposeful
Reason? Because at the time I felt I’d let everyone down by wanting to leave my job and I wanted to show that I did care about people around me even though I wasn’t sure how to express this.
My reason for change back then seemed to run deep; Redemption and the search for meaning and happiness? Simple enough 😉
Find the reason behind the reason you want or need to do something in the first place. In other words ‘Start with Why’. This is great but I’ve found that the more important the ‘why’, the more likely some resistance will start showing up. This is when you need to trick your resistance into a false sense of security by choosing a first step that barely seems challenging at all but can set you in motion and unblock any thoughts trying to keep you procrastinating.
My first step to getting into a new career was to start reading personal development books. The first book I remember finding on the bookshelf was “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Schwartz.
Previous to reading this I had no awareness whatsoever about the idea of personal development and an inner world which could be explored. A place where a calmer more powerful place could be found and imagination could be ignited. My self-esteem was low and any courage I could muster seemed to evaporate on first contact with the outside world. I believed this was who I was and just the way life was.
This first introduction to the idea of personal growth taught me a very simple lesson;
“All confidence is acquired”.
Up until that point, I thought you were either a confident person or you weren’t. I believed I was one of these people who just didn’t happen to be born as a confident person and I’d just have to live with that fact and the hard-wired limitations that came as part of the package. The idea that everyone has to work in some way to ‘acquiring confidence’ always stayed with me and it gave me a sense of hope and optimism that helped me feel that I could develop my confidence by working at it.
This led to a journey where I decided I had to understand more about myself and others. I also started to believe I could feel better, and be more useful by doing work to help others who needed it. I went on to study Psychology for four years and ended up with a good first degree and started a career working in the mental health field. That was 27 years ago.
When I left school aged 16, the idea of graduating from a good university with a degree was just another ‘impossibility’ according to my belief at the time.
The Trick to Getting Started: Getting in the Game
In late 2017, I became serious about getting into better health and good physical shape after years of not going anywhere near a gym. When I went through the induction and put together my plan with my personal trainer I just went through the motions about the number of reps, sets, and different muscle groups I was apparently going to be working on.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t serious it was just that my immediate goals were nothing to do with what I was going to do in the gym. My first step was simply to leave the house with my gym bag and turn up at the gym twice a week, to begin with. If I did that I’d congratulate myself on showing up. Job done, goal achieved — I made it very easy to feel I’d achieved something, knowing that the next step would be on its way soon enough!
If I did that first step I knew I’d do more exercise than I was presently doing and I’d be ‘training’ my mind to get used to the idea that going to the gym is the type of thing we do regularly. As a result, I didn’t mind if I followed the plan when I got there, tried out a new class or went for a swim.
My goal was achieved if I;
a) Left the house.
b) Entered the gym building.
That hadn’t happened for years and it was my first step. I knew if I did this often enough over a long enough period of time, I’d get serious and make good use of the time once I’d got over any resistance about making the time.
Once I started doing it as part of the weekly routine the next steps became clearer in terms of nutrition, workout goals and generally getting some results. If I’d have taken for granted what needed to be my focused first step things may not have worked out so well, or maybe they would but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
This whole strategy revolves less around planning linear steps forward to eventually reach a goal. I’ve always struggled with this because most of the time if I knew what to do and how to do it I would have already done it!
For me, progress has always been made by simply knowing ‘the game’ I wanted to be playing and once that it defined it has then become about getting into the game. Like any game, the end goal is to win but that isn’t a strategy in itself. That is the point of the game.
So to use the gym analogy, everyone starts with the intention of ‘winning’ — getting fitter, losing fat, gaining muscle, mobility or even expanding a social circle. The point is you have to show up, get in the game, get a feel for it and become the player. This builds momentum. It gets you in motion and out of your head and the endless inner battles of, I need to, I should do, if only, I really don’t want to, but I must give it go.
Just show up and get in the game. Become the type of person who goes to the gym regularly because that’s what you do.
Often we lose by not showing up, not entering, not making a decision, doing nothing but going round in circles in our own mind. This is draining and ultimately demoralizing. Give yourself a chance by showing up and celebrating the fact that you took a small step; then repeat it and show up again. When you feel like you’re an active participant in your own game (the one you made up) you build up your confidence and then you get to start trying some winning moves.
So in summary, ALL confidence is acquired and you can only get it from participating. Showing up is half the battle so get stuck in and then worry about whether it’s working. If you’re IN the game you ARE doing it right because it’s the only way forward.
Finally, you know when you can’t get a song out your head…
If it’s going to happen, make it an empowering one that gets you into action!
Thanks to Curtis Mayfield for the timeless inspiration;
Move on up! and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
So keep on pushing