By Leo Babauta
The tendency to put off difficult tasks that we don’t want to face is almost universal.
And it turns out, the moment of starting a task is often so much harder than actually doing the task.
Once we get started, there can be challenges (and we will want to switch to something else) … but if we can just start, then half the battle is already won. So getting good at starting something tough can be a powerful skill to master.
Let’s talk about how to master it.
What Gets in the Way and How to Shift It
Why is it so hard to start? We feel uncertainty, fear, stress, overwhelm about the task. Or it makes us feel bad about ourselves, inadequate in some way.
It’s like opening a box that you know is going to cause you pain—of course you’d put off opening the box! We want to protect ourselves from that kind of stress.
We can force ourselves to touch the electric fence, but that can only last for so long. We only want to put ourselves through so much pain before we start to question why we’re making ourselves suffer.
The opportunity is in finding a new way of seeing these tasks—instead of filled with overwhelm, stress and inadequacy. Can we find a more powerful way of seeing the uncertainty of this task? Can it be an opportunity, an adventure, a playground, an expression of our art? Can it be a dance of joy, a powerful way to serve others with love?
Find that for yourself. What is the opportunity of this task? What would make it meaningful and joyful?
Connect to that before you start, and things will get easier.
How to Start
Once you’ve taken a look at how you’re viewing the task, and find a new way to view it, you’re ready to train yourself at starting!
Here’s what I recommend:
- Pick a task that’s important/meaningful, but that you’ve been putting off. Usually it’s easy to find one. Look at your list, think about what you’ve been avoiding. Pick one, even if it’s a fairly random choice, it doesn’t matter.
- Find a way to make it meaningful and joyful. How can you view this task so that it serves others, that it’s an adventure or play, that it feels powerful opportunity? Even just a little bit is good. Connect to that.
- Shrink down the task. You don’t have to do the whole thing. Just a bit of it. For example, instead of having to write this whole blog post, I can focus on just writing the first few paragraphs. This will help lower resistance.
- Clear everything away. Close your browser, disconnect your phone, close applications. Remove distractions. Give yourself the gift of simplicity.
- Dive in joyfully. You only need to start. You can work on staying with the task later. Just start! See it as a dance, a way to serve, a way to bring the full vitality of your being! Pour yourself in.
- Appreciate this act of starting. It’s delicious and profound.
How to Practice the Art of the Start
An amazing way to practice this is to set yourself a challenge to do this once a day, 5 days a week, for a month.
By doing it just once a day, you’ll relieve yourself of the pressure of trying to do it all day long. You can be deliberate about it and find a way of viewing the task that feels powerful and joyful.
By doing it most days in the week, for a month, you will get better at it quickly.
Here are some additional tips:
- Keep a simple journal. Write down things that help and things that don’t help. Use it as a learning log.
- Do a short review every week. I recommend having people you report to, so that you’re sharing it with others, like an accountability group.
- Do it with others if it helps. That means you might meet someone on Zoom once a day where you each tackle the things that you’ve been putting off. It gives you the little push you need to start.
- Enjoy the practice! Don’t make this a sacrifice, another burden in your life. Make it a playful, joyful adventure. Something that feels meaningful and delicious.
Leo Babauta is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). He eats vegan food, writes, runs, and reads. He is the founder of Zen Habits which is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
This article was originally published on Zen Habits and re-published with author’s permission.
Editor: Dana Gornall