Two years ago, I wrote this post on another blog:
I don’t think beginning matters anymore.
Starting a blog or new website project. Planning to write a book. Deciding to work out more or eat healthier. Sketching the outline of a new masterpiece. Opening the spreadsheet for next month’s budget. Reading Genesis 1.
I dare say that none of these matter. On most things, the barriers to starting are so low that they require very little forethought or commitment. (This feels like a recent development. It may have always been this way. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.)
Yet we celebrate as if it were a significant milestone.
We post a celebratory tweet. Or status update. Or blog post.
Yeah! I did it. I started.
And we get 43 congratulatory comments. We swell with pride. We feel great. And what’s really been accomplished? Nothing.
Maybe worse than nothing. Because of the feedback, we feel like we’ve made progress. Except we haven’t. And this can become a dangerous cycle. Announce a beginning. Receive praise. Feel pride. Fail to follow through. Repeat as necessary.
So how do we break the cycle?
1. Quit celebrating the start – at least publicly. Certainly it’s okay to feel good internally about making a positive decision. But don’t let the external praise for simply beginning replace the genuine pride and satisfaction that only comes from finishing. That hunger is what keeps us moving forward. Don’t fill it with junk food and think that will sustain you. It’s depleted quickly. And then you’re left with that 2:00pm feeling that’s hard to shake and get moving again.
2. Have true accountability. Your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are nice people, I’m sure. Mine are. But they’re not going to hold you accountable to your goals. They can’t. There’s too much noise. Real accountability requires clear metrics, vulnerability and transparency, and candid feedback. This doesn’t happen on accident. You must purposely plan for it and empower specific others to serve this role for you.
3. Celebrate consistent execution. Delay the gratification. Plan the reward or public sharing for when you’ve made significant progress. You’ve written 1,000 words five days a week for a month. You’ve exercised three times a week for four weeks. You lived within your budget last month. Then the congratulations are real. You will have something to be proud of. And you’ll avoid the fake high that distracts us from making real progress.
I’ve been involved in a number of projects since then, and I’ve only recently begun to follow my own advice.
Looking back, I was spot on.
This post is proof. Last November, I made a big deal about starting NaNoWriMo. The goal was 50,000 words that month. I went to the kickoff meeting. I joined the online writing club. I bought a guide. And I didn’t even make it to 1,000 words.
This year, I decided to tackle NaBloPoMo. I committed to one blog post a day for the month. And so far, I’ve done it. I’m really proud of some posts like this one and this one. I’ve shared some new productivity tools like Asana. Others have been ugly (like this one; Tuesdays are tough).
I didn’t really tell anyone. I didn’t go to any meetings or buy anything fancy. I just started taking steps closer to my goal. And here we are, 15 days later – with a post for each day. Can I tell you that I’ve never achieved that before? In at least 5 years of effort, I’ve never written 7 days in a row, much less 15.
I think a few things made the difference.
First, I was realistic. I can write something every day.
Mostly, I think it’s because my motivation comes from within. I feel like I’m called to write, and I know I need to practice. Because of this, I don’t need much encouragement from others to keep going. I find the time to sit at my computer every day and face the white screen without anyone or anything reminding me.
Here’s my takeaway:
If I need to celebrate a start publicly, it’s a sign that I might be focusing on a goal for the wrong reasons. It might be because I’m really doing it for someone else, which means that when the going gets tough, I’ll give up.
Seth Godin says it well in this video.
What it means is that the people that push through the Dip . . . thrive.
The Dip is the slog between learning and mastery of a skill. It’s the Middle; it’s inevitably painful. And there’s no way to skip it.
But that pain is a really good sign. It means that what you’re doing matters. And it also means that your competition is probably giving up.
Keep pushing. You’ll be glad you did.