How To Start Something New (or 5 Ways to Motivate Yourself)

tl;dr: break it down

When you try to start something new it’s a whole thing. You may consider it for months, plan for weeks, try it out for a few days, but then fail to put in the hours. Maybe it’s too intimidating, or too hard, or too stressful.

I’m a short distance runner. Why? I always told myself it was lack of stamina, but in reality it was because I was impatient, and struggled with being able to delay satisfaction. I wanted to go FAST, go NOW, and not wait. So what if I didn’t go as far? I still felt as good, right?
Wrong.

After trying to push myself beyond the limit once (thank you SoulCycle) I realized how I felt sprinting was ephemeral and like a sugar rush – immediate but fleeting and would make me crash anyway. The feeling I got from finishing a long distance cardio workout was above and beyond anything I had sprinted towards, and lasted a heck of a lot longer. It was another level of satisfaction I didn’t realize I could reach – and it’s trying to get there again which lets me push myself to continue to try it again and again where now I’m doing 4 mile runs multiple times a week. This helped convince me it’s what I wanted to do – but how did I convince myself to go from barely finishing a mile to breezing by 4 miles?

Before this I felt inadequate by not meeting my distance goals. You may get scared and self conscious looking at those around you and psyche yourself out in a matter of minutes something you’ve been thinking about and kinda-sorta-(but in reality REALLLY) wanted to do for months. Why? Because you’re biting off more than you can chew.

You’re doing too much, too fast, for what you can motivate yourself to do. It’s unfair to compare yourself to anyone else you’ve seen not just because everyone has different starting ability levels, but because you’re making it out to be something too big for you to manage. The easiest way to do something is to make it something you don’t really care about. Something that’s not gonna stress you out or overwhelm you, but is routine and basic enough that it doesn’t really impact you. (Ideally, you want to break it down and interpret as things you want to do and really feel satisfaction from, but that takes a bit more work and this way is easier to start with.) So how do you get to it?

1. Dont Wait, Just Start

Just start it. See what happens when you just try to start. Did you fail? Great! It’s important to try to understand what’s impacting you. You now have a base set of expectations of what you’re trying may take and how it may affect you.

2. Break it down into smaller pieces

Hammertime

Think back to the point at which you wanted to stop or ended up stopping what you’re trying to do. Was it too hard, or frustrating, or stressful to continue? That’s natural. The trick is to make it into something that isn’t.

Try to break that blockage down into something you wouldn’t hesitate to do. You’re more likely to get something done if it’s mindless and inconsequential vs a big effort you’re trying to change your life with. I need to start running? Break it into: find your favorite sneakers, look for a good fitting but appropriate gym shirt, walk out of my building, take in the scenery, and choose a street to explore.

By breaking it down into smaller things, not only do you feel achievement every time you complete each sub-task, but you also get that much closer to your end goal and receive that satisfying feeling as you progress by doing so. Over time, you may forget about the checklist but the feeling of satisfaction when you get to the gym and work out will continue to stay. It’s like memorizing the way to work – eventually you don’t need to memorize every landmark and direction because you already know the path and can remember what it feels like to get it done.

3. Start in Mediation

Breaking it down doesn’t just mean into smaller chunks, but into a path that is acceptable to you over time. Sure breaking a big intimidating task into a number of inconsequential ones helps, but it’s all for nothing if you do too much can’t bring yourself to repeat it.

I tried starting with multiple 2 mile runs a week, but not only did it intimidate me but it was just unfeasible with my existing stamina and focus level since my average was barely a mile up til then.

Don’t just start small, but start slow. The key to all of this is to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed, so you can experience the satisfaction of progressing and getting work done. Like I said in my last post; it’s possible to motivate yourself with fear, but it’s far more powerful to focus on the joy and positive impact.

4. Identify positives

Remember – positive catharsis over negative. Don’t try to tell yourself you’re horrible or bad if you don’t do it, but focus on the positives and the reasons you want to continue. Ask yourself these questions to help guide you to realize why you’re starting something in the first place:

  • What are you getting out of it?
  • How good do you feel when you complete a task?
  • How good do you feel afterwards, when you’re thinking about what you did?

Think about the feeling of satisfaction at looking at your toned body in the mirror, or being able to code a way to automate your excel spreadsheet, or seeing your driveway cleared of snow. If you start thinking that way you can give yourself a taste of what it feels like, and help push yourself to achieve it, which in itself feels good when you realize what you’re working towards.

Besides the overall satisfaction, I found i felt healthier, was improving my posture, and felt an achievement by being able to keep up with other runners. What took me further was focusing on this.

5. Identify motivators

Being able to realize and focus on that feeling of satisfaction and achievement is the most important piece of all. That feeling you when completing something – not just the immediate happiness of knowing you’ve made some progress, but the longer term satisfaction that you’ve worked and achieved something – over time you should focus on and remember how it feels. In the following weeks I’ll keep referring back to it because by being able to identify and think of that feeling – that supreme level of satisfaction – you can do a lot. That level is a guiding motivator that can do a lot help you go further than you ever thought you could.

But don’t worry if you don’t understand this yet – just focus on what you enjoy and how you feel when you complete those tasks.

Quick Tip – Use your friends, family and strangers to apply social pressure to help to keep you in the routine and keep you motivated

Focus on and leverage the above factors

So this is how you can get yourself to start something new. But that’s just the beginning, because you can start and figure out the basics, but how do you get better? How do you increase the probability of continuing and succeeding? I’m still a work in progress with my running and continue to leverage these plus some more ideas to push myself further and farther.

But before all that, how do you know what to try in the first place? Of course you can keep breaking things down, but there’s a bit more you can look at.

gordon ramsay fox GIF by MasterChef Junior

…why is Julie Bowen there?

Interested in more?

Think about how or why you wanted to start doing what you’re trying out. Do you think you’re going to love it? Or is it something you feel like you should do. No wrong answers, but come prepared for:

How To Choose What New Thing To Try