Getting started is one of the hardest parts when it comes to maintaining motivation. Especially if you struggle with procrastination or perfectionism. Anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and plain old dislike for the task you’re supposed to be doing are all reasons you may find getting started difficult.
Recognizing why you’re stalling is the first step in fixing the problem. Take a moment to think of something you want to do but don’t actually get around to doing. What are you feeling? What are your reasons? Even though these may be valid excuses, if they’re preventing you from doing what you love, then keep in mind that it’s your job to find a way around them.
Luckily, if you can just get started, chances are you’ll keep working. Your problem isn’t the task itself, it’s that you’re avoiding it! Since the problem lies in avoidance, by focusing on just getting started, you’ll be more satisfied and happier with your progress.
Getting Started On Creative Projects
If you’re having trouble getting started, then keep in mind that it’s best to try several of these suggestions. Doing only one or two helps, but using as many helps you succeed more often. Since everyone is different try as many as possible and figure out what works for you and your life.
If the problem stems from procrastination or lack of self-discipline, you’ll need the determination to keep trying. Procrastination is a difficult habit to break, but don’t let that stop you. Here are a few tips on how to overcome this problem.
Remember, everything is a process. Sometimes you’ll do better or worse, but you have to keep making effort every day. When you see yourself slipping, go back to the basics. Your focus should be on getting started and making effort to progress every single day.
1. Using Visual Cues
Being able to keep track of your project, and have visual cues throughout the day, reminds you to get started. Leave your reminders where you’ll see them frequently throughout the day. This keeps the desire for getting started fresh in your mind. Sticky notes, to-do lists, and wall calendars are great ways to write down goals and projects and keep track of your goals.
Another way I highly recommend is with physical objects. If you’re learning photography, leave your camera where it’s easy to see and pick up for a few pictures. If you’re learning calculus, put your book and calculator on the desk so you can see them. I have my watercolors set up so that whenever I take a break from writing, I can’t help but notice my half-finished pictures. This way, I can think about how and when I’ll do it, and what I’d like to work on next.
2. Getting Started With Smaller Goals
I’m a huge believer in starting small—if only because I’ve had one too many grand plans grind to a halt. So I’ve had to adapt my approach and use biology to my advantage. Our brains love feeling good, and one way this happens is by releasing a chemical called dopamine. Whenever you achieve a goal and make progress on what you want to do, the brain releases this neurotransmitter.
The key is to have a lot of little wins leading up to a big win. This way, you’ll feel good while you’re doing it and feel like you’re accomplishing something. Even if you space out your rewards, in the end, you’ll still get a huge dopamine rush when you succeed! On the other hand, if you’re only working to a big goal without these sweet spots, then you’re more likely to lose interest and motivation. Reward yourself as you’re making progress so you learn to love what you’re doing.
This has helped me accomplish so much, and it’s a simple, effective strategy anyone can do. Make tiny goals to follow like a trail of breadcrumbs leading to your ultimate destination! Getting started is simple and fun because you’re reaping the rewards. Pick one goal, eat it, and move to the next one.
This can be as simple as working for 3 minutes every day or using the Pomodoro technique. I’ve tried both of these when I’m really dreading getting started. Make sure your goals are easy enough to do but still move you along on your journey. Unintimidating goals go a long way when it comes to getting started.
3. Scheduling Time In Your Day
Regardless of how busy your schedule is, pick a time to do an activity helps when it comes to getting started. Thinking of how your day flows and planning to do something at a certain time goes a long way to build motivation. It’s also helpful to pair it with another activity that happens to reinforce the behavior.
When I started reading fiction every day, I decided to use my time on the train to and from work since the train-ride was roughly equal to my target time. When I decided to do yoga every day, I picked 1:00 pm and made the rule that I couldn’t eat lunch until I finished yoga. By using things I have to do, I was able to squeeze in the things I wanted to do.
By setting a time, you’re mentally preparing yourself. You know it’s coming and what to expect. I set a reminder for yoga on my phone that rings every day. As I’ve gotten more consistent in my habit, it’s become something I look forward to doing every day.
The funny thing is that even when I enjoy it so much and think I’ll do more in the evening, I rarely get around to doing yoga again. I forget or run out of time, so I know that scheduling it is so important for actually doing it.
When you pick a time in advance, you’re saving yourself from making a decision in the future. Your goal doesn’t have to compete with distractions like TV or Instagram since you accept it’s just something you have to do. This helps the action become automatic. Most importantly, it’s hard to forget to do something when you do it at the same time every day.
4. Preparing in Advance
If you aim to make getting started as easy as possible, then you’ll have more success. I always try to leave my workspace ready, so I can sit down and start right away. This means thinking about what I’ll need to start out strong the next morning and tidying up my work area so I have enough room to work.
Gather the necessary tools and have them ready so there’s as little resistance as possible. By streamlining the process, you’re ensuring nothing sidetracks you or prevents you from getting started in the first place.
Lately, I’ve realized that I’m not painting as frequently as I’d like. I’ve arranged my art table so that my paintbrushes are next to clean water. Whenever it’s time to paint, all I have to do is sit down, unscrew the mason jars, and uncover my palette. When I finish for the day, I tidy up, put out clean water so that tomorrow all I have to do is sit down again.
By eliminating future excuses you can focus on what you want to achieve. In my case, even though getting water isn’t hard, if I’ve got low motivation it might be just the excuse I need to get out of painting. So make the process as easy as possible and prepare in advance. Think about yourself at your laziest and all those silly excuses you make that keep you from getting started. Minimize resistance ahead of time so you’re more likely to succeed.
5. Stopping Points Are Starting Points
This is something I’ve started doing when I write. I try to end my writing knowing what I want to write next. This way, I’m looking forward to writing, and I have a lot of motivation to start. I’ve found that stopping at a difficult section—where I don’t know what to do next—makes it difficult to pick back up again.
Plan in advance where you’re going to stop and think about how you can set yourself up to succeed. For any project, you want to get back in the flow quickly. Make little notes, write down questions, or leave directions on what you were going to do so you know exactly how to get started next time. You may plan on getting started by doing a warmup or working on a different part of the project.
Try to avoid leaving yourself hanging. If you’re having trouble with it when you’ve already built up momentum, then picking up there next time is making your job of getting started even harder.
I’m not advocating plowing through difficulties at all costs. I value breaks since the brain needs a refresher, and taking a few days (or weeks) to think of sticking points can lead to some of the best ideas. But I do think that if you stop at difficult points in your work, you’ll dread the project. This makes getting started a chore and procrastination all the more alluring.
Whenever you stop, you should always have a plan to get started as easily as possible. Picture yourself sitting down to start, and ask yourself, “What can I do now to make sure I succeed tomorrow?” Stopping points shouldn’t ending points—they should be starting points. Little cliffhangers that make you excited to get back to work.
6. Appreciating Your Efforts
This is one of the most important ones, at least according to me. Immediate gratification is the best way to reinforce a behavior. That means appreciating all the hard work you’re putting in to succeed!
When you’re working, you need to take the time and tell yourself, good job! This is part of treating yourself with compassion and learning to love yourself. Many times we take ourselves for granted and don’t appreciate how hard we’re working. So make a point to really soak in the magnitude of what you’re doing.
If you’re able to enjoy what you’re doing it while you’re doing it, then you’re more likely to repeat that behavior. Eventually, you’ll look forward to getting started. So congratulate yourself on all your hard work.
Allow yourself to feel good because that’s what your brain loves more than anything else. Even when you’re not working, think about what you’re doing. Impress yourself with your passion, dedication, and progress.
7. Being Patient with Yourself
Wanting immediate results and a sharp increase in progress is understandable, but it tends to backfire. Demanding too much too fast causes us to lose motivation though. Unrealistic expectations are just that—unrealistic. So there’s no way to keep up! It’s common for people to push themselves a lot at first, and give up when they don’t have startling results right away.
Little things add up over time, so be sure to look at what you’ve done so far to succeed. Stop and ask yourself, am I expecting too much of myself? It’s hard to accurately estimate how long something will take and make reasonable timelines. So keep in mind that you may be rushing yourself when a slower approach will get you further. After all, taking your time and sticking with what you’re doing is better than rushing and giving up.
Expecting too much too quickly leads to feelings of anxiety and disappointment. You’ll find the pressure to succeed overwhelming and paralyzing. This causes procrastination—which makes getting started even harder! Remind yourself that what you’re doing IS progress. Every day try to work on it just a little. Going slowly is 100x better than making no progress at all.
Focus on improving a little, and over time it’ll all add up. Instead of focusing on results, try to focus on the process. Enjoy what you’re doing and realize how it fits into the big picture. You have to practice and learn, and any progress brings you closer to your desired results. Your hard work is not being wasted!
8. Improving A little At A Time
If you expect perfection right away, then it’s important to understand your starting point and your finishing point. You’re going to be bad at first, and it’s going to be difficult and awkward. But the more we do something, the better we become.
Realizing that you can improve as you progress is one of the most important things when it comes to getting started. Start first then refine. We have little patience when it comes to seeing how bad we are, even though it’s a necessary part of the learning process. Trust me, I feel you. I hate seeing how bad I am at things when I first start, and this has held me back way too much.
It’s my tendency to keep working on something until it’s just right. Usually, I waste a lot of time on things that don’t even matter at all when I should be focusing on more valuable tasks. Wishing for perfection stops us from trying new things. Aim for good enough instead. Push for improvement instead of perfection.
So when you’ve reached good enough, stop. It’s time to move on. You can always improve later. When you’re getting started, though, the most important part is progress. You have to keep moving forward and balance quality and quantity, no matter what you’re trying to do.
So every day just try to improve yourself a little bit. Over time your talents and abilities will grow to amazing levels!
9. Building Excitement Around Your Interests
The more we do something, the more we talk about it. And in my experience, the more I talk about something I like, the more I want to do it. I love talking about literature, reading, and writing, and the more I talk about literature the more I want to write. The same goes for art and music.
Talk about your interests and what you’re doing. How you’re making progress, what problems you’re facing. Share your success and failure with others. By talking to your friends and family, you’ll likely find they have resources or insights you’d never come across otherwise. This is a great way to help keep up your motivation by building up excitement around your interests.
While it’s great to use social support, a word of caution: try not to talk about your goals and aspirations. According to research, by talking about your future achievements, it tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already done it. So talk about the hard work that you’re doing and find support there, but keep your ultimate goals to yourself if you want to succeed!
10. Setting Upper and Lower Limits
Figure out the minimum you want to achieve every day and make that a goal your baseline. While you’re at it, think about setting a maximum goal as well. This way, you can aim for somewhere in the middle.
While exceeding your expectations is great, if you start going crazy and working too hard, you run the risk of burn out. If you’re making great progress and hit a wall, then you might feel like you’ve failed. It’s hard to make yourself get back to work if you have unfettered expectations. So work hard, but not too hard—find the happy medium. Knowing when to stop is just as important as getting started.
This also helps build consistency, which is really important if you’re trying to make a creative pursuit a habit. Repetition and progress mean that you’re getting better and what you’re doing is getting easier. So having a range to shoot for instead of one solid number is a good way to ensure consistency. You’ll have an easy goal for busy days and a higher goal for when you’re able to push yourself.
11. Having A Ritual
Before getting started, it’s important to put yourself in the right frame of mind. A bit of mental prep can help you get into the flow faster. This is where developing a ritual comes in. A ritual is a specific practice that you repeat before doing an activity. Many artists and athletes have some kind of ritual they do to help them focus.
Rituals can be as simple as doing a kind of exercise or movement, eating a certain food, or they might be religious or superstition based. Rituals are unique because they have meaning to those who perform them. For instance, Jack Kerouac used to stand on his head in the bathroom and touch the floor with his toes nine times. The author Thomas Wolfe found that playing with genitals (in a nonsexual manner) helped him write because of the “good male feeling” it inspired.
So if you’re having trouble getting started, try developing a ritual that holds meaning for you and helps you get into the right frame of mind. Wear your lucky socks or eat eggs and toast every day for breakfast. What you do is less important than why you do it and what it means to you.
12. Actually Getting Started
Getting started is the most important step you can take. Action is progress, and if you’re not taking action you’re not moving forward. So stop making excuses and look for ways to make it happen!
Reading articles, watching videos, listening to podcasts is all well and good at first, but it’s not enough. If you don’t put in the time and effort and take action, then you’re just pretending. Be aware that being in motion is not the same as making progress. Gathering information is important and necessary—especially at first. But getting started IS part of learning, too.
You’ll always be able to find an excuse for not starting: I don’t have time, I don’t have the right supplies, I don’t know enough yet. You can’t go anywhere without experience though. You have to start somewhere, which can be frightening. It’s embarrassing, but that’s okay. You’re learning. You’ll make mistakes, but it’s not the end of the world—in fact, it’s the beginning of something new.