I always envied Major Tony Nelson. You know, the astronaut from the 60’s television show, “I Dream of Jeannie.” Single, successful…and he had a beautiful genie in a bottle in his living room who was his eternal servant and could make anything happen instantly with just a blink of her eyes. Speeding ticket? Poof! Problems at work? She blinks it away.
Don’t you wish it were that easy?
The truth is, everything worth doing in this life is a journey. And greatness begins at the at the point in the trail where ordinary people give up and turn back. There are no genies, only creativity and consistency and determination.
There are many points in a journey that bring with them the chance of failure, but there is none more critical than the first step. It is in that first step that most dreams die. The reason most journeys fail is because they never begin. Or as Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”
So how do you start?
Whether it’s losing weight, starting a new workout, a new morning routine or trying to read more, the key is that first step. So here are 3 strategies to help you get started down the path that leads to where you want to go:
1. Just get curious
Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” So begin the process by just noticing and measuring where you are now. Don’t worry about radically changing your diet, just begin to write down what you eat. In a 2008 study researchers found that the more days a person kept a careful record, the more weight he or she lost.
James Clear is an expert on developing habits that empower us (and in the near future he’ll be a guest on the 1 Simple Thing Podcast.) In this post on JamesClear.com he gives this simple advice:
Pick something that is important to you and make an effort to be more aware of the things that drive your decisions and actions. Don’t worry about changing your whole life. Don’t judge yourself for not being as good as you want to be. Just pick one thing that’s important to you and measure it. Take stock of it. Be aware of it.
Your awareness and your habits go hand-in-hand. The simple act of noticing what you do is the first step for improving how you do it. If you recognize how you’re spending your time, then the next step will often reveal itself.
Just notice. Record your meals, track your steps, or just take a minute each night to evaluate how you feel you did that day on your goals. Being aware of where you are is the first step to getting where you want to be.
2. Make a simple plan
One of my major challenges in losing weight is breakfast. If I fail at breakfast, I give up on the rest of the day because I figure I’ve already blown it. The best defense for me is to get breakfast taken care of ahead of time. If I have the elements of a healthy breakfast in place, I’m much more likely to start my day with a victory.
I had a friend tell me just the other day about a simple change that made him more regular in his exercise. He likes to swim laps in his pool, yet he found it difficult to be consistent. Just the simple act of laying out his swim trunks each night before bed made all the difference in the world for him.
Harvard happiness expert and author Shawn Achor calls it the “20 Second Rule.” In an interview with Eric Barker on his blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Achor says if you make something 3 to 20 seconds easier to start, you’ll be much more likely to do it.
If you can make the positive habit three to 20 seconds easier to start, you’re likelihood of doing it rises dramatically. And you can do the same thing by flipping it for negative habits. Watching too much television? Merely take out the batteries of the remote control creating a 20 second delay and it dramatically decreases the amount of television people will watch.
It seems so simple, most of us will not even try. It’s almost embarrassing to think I am such a lowly, slothful creature that 20 seconds could make that much difference. 20 seconds? Really? Am I really that weak?
Try it and see if it works. You may be surprised.
3. Remove the roadblocks
Maybe you’ve wondered why you procrastinate, no matter how many times you swear you’re going to stop. Maybe you spin your wheels, never getting started on that next project or dream. What’s stopping you? You WANT it, yet you don’t DO it.
Dr. Sharon Melnick is a Harvard Researcher on stress. She’s also a guest this week on the 1 Simple Thing Podcast. Her new book is full of practical advice on Succeeding Under Stress.
On her website, Dr. Melnick says there is only one reason why you haven’t taken action:
Because you haven’t identified your specific blocks to taking action, and then been shown the right solution for your type.
For example, Do you know what you should be doing but its hard to get yourself in the mood to do it? It seems too complex, too hard, too uncomfortable. If so you are an Avoider and you have to know how to get yourself motivated and get started.
Or are you too overwhelmed with too many things and you are distracted and you spin your wheels? If so you are a Spinner, and you need to figure out how to focus in on the most important priorities and get organized.
Or do you know what you want to do but you are a perfectionist and its hard to press the send button because you don’t think your work is good enough? If so you are a Perfectionist and you need to trust yourself and get yourself to know when its good enough.
Dr. Melnick has an Action Quiz on her website that will help you determine your Action Blocker, and then recommend a course of action detailing how you can get past that block.
Take the first step
Maybe you remember your teenage years. There was that guy or girl who made your heart do funny things. There very thought of talking to them made you nauseous. But there would never be a relationship without a first date. And there would never be a first date without a phone call (or text or Facebook Message, or Snapchat, or…you get the idea.)
There are 1001 reasons to be afraid. Take the step anyway.
It’s a daunting task, an enormous mountain to climb. Take it anyway.
You may fail. Take the step anyway.
One day you will look back at that first step and wonder why it took you so long to take it. You’ll wonder why you let fear or any other action blocker get in your way. You’ll wonder why you didn’t take it earlier.
But most of all, you’ll be glad you took it. Take the step.