Blank white board and desk.

A Simple Hack to Get Over the Fear of Starting

It does not matter who you are, there is a task, goal, or project that you need to start.

We move through a list of things we need to start every day. Regardless of where we are in the progress toward a task or goal, each action requires us to start, and then start again. There are some tasks that are very easy to start, and then there are others, especially larger goals—often personal—that feel like Goliath (a larger, powerful giant). In this blog post, I would like to share a simple hack that has been helping me get over the fear of starting.

Blank white board and desk.

Every Day is a Sequence of Starts

Each day we have to repeatedly start tasks like writing, reading, editing, reviewing, fixing, preparing, cleaning, or finalizing. Most of our personal and professional projects require us to wake up every day and start attacking the action steps. Maybe we should just rename the days of the week to Startday 1, 2, and so on because most days are an exercise of our willpower to start and then sustain that momentum.

The practice of starting is one that is very interesting to me. Nothing is accomplished without starting and some things will never be accomplished because we are too afraid to start it. Success—however defined by a person—is only realized because they strengthen their practice and relationship with starting.

This practice of starting is applicable to both small daily chores like washing the dishes, making the bed, or responding to emails, and to larger tasks like taking the next steps to pursue a personal goal, working on that large project at work, or tackling a task that you are really not in the mood for like exercising.

For smaller tasks, failing to start might not be connected to fear. You just may not be in the mood. But on the other hand, those big tasks that feel like pressure, out of the comfort zone, or unfamiliar are the scary ones. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are some goals—both personal and professional—that just really overwhelm us to the point where starting feels like the most terrifying next step. In those cases, the brain says no, not yet, let’s do it tomorrow, or starts the negative thinking spiral.

“Start by Starting”

One day I received a journaling card in my Cloth & Paper planner subscription box that said “Start by Starting.” Oh my gosh! The statement is so simple, yet so profound. I loved it because it was a reminder to stop complicating action steps. As a chronic deep thinker, I can tend to overanalyze the next steps, this includes thinking of the best and worst outcomes. Sometimes I want to see the full path and/or be able to chart out the entire course before moving forward.

In my 9-5 job, this level of analysis is a strength and is critical for project planning. When planning large projects, it is important to consider the risks, mitigations, key milestones, and outcomes. This skill also helps me think through our team’s projects and goals. On the other hand, when facing large personal goals, being a deep thinker can sometimes create analysis paralysis or circular thinking around trying to plan out the journey. The unknown and personal risks are typically what spike the fear.

What I am learning is that there are some goals in life that have GPS navigation (general instructions for the directions you need to take), but do not come with a complete itinerary or crystal ball to foresee every way the journey will play out. That is one of the hard parts of life—you really never know how it might play out. And that is the thing: you will never know until you try and trying requires starting.

A Simple Hack to Help You Get Over the Fear of Starting

Here is the 100% truth: the fear surrounding starting scary tasks may never fully go away. As you accomplish more and take on more responsibility you will just learn to manage it better. Since it may take more inner work and confidence-building to combat the fear, let us focus on one thing we can practically implement today to begin building the discipline of starting.

Here is one simple concrete strategy you can use to get over the fear of starting or to push yourself out of your head and/or feelings and straight into the task:

Work on the task in time segments using a timer for the specific number of minutes you want to work on the task and get to work! Yes, it is that simple. You can use this hack for both small and large tasks. It may help shift your focus from the large overwhelming thinking to the technical step you can control.

Set a timer to get started on a specific task
Here is the personal timer I use when I need to push myself to start on a task.

I received the one pictured above in a previous Cloth & Paper planner subscription box. This particular one is not available for direct purchase on their site, but I found the exact timer available on Amazon.

If you do not want to purchase a physical timer, you can use a timer on your phone or Google “Pomodoro timer” and you will find some online options. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to have a physical timer separate from my phone so I don’t touch my phone and become distracted by all the notifications or apps.

Steps to use this strategy: (don’t forget to make it your own)

  1. Identify the task or goal.
  2. Break it down into actionable steps.
  3. Set a physical timer for the minutes you want to work on the task.
  4. Optional: grab a small snack or beverage for your work block (Lately, my personal preference has been a nice cup of tea).
  5. Hit start on the timer.
  6. Get to work until time is up.
  7. When the timer is up, give yourself a high-five for committing to the small work block.
  8. Assess how you feel once the time is up and decide whether to continue or stop. In some cases, you might be a groove or reached a state of flow and want to continue. If so, stay in that flow.
  9. If the task is not done, determine some additional times to come back to it.
  10. If applicable, feel the satisfaction of crossing that task or work block off your physical to-do list. Sidebar: Am I the only one that will write something small on my to-do list on a really tough day just so I can have a micro sense of accomplishment (ex. “eat lunch” )?

You Might As Well Try

Regardless of the type of task, it will never get done unless you start it.

Try setting a time to work on a small part of the task and then sit down to start chipping away at it. For small tasks, you might end up finishing the entire task within that time; in other cases, you might need multiple work sessions to complete the task.

Wherever you start, begin with one work block at a time. Then, repeatedly start again the next day until eventually you reach your goal. At the very least, you will have one thing to cross off your list.

I know that finishing is just as important as starting, but we can address that in another blog post.

Maybe learning to break through the mental blocks of starting will get us closer to our goal. If it does not get us halfway there, at least we will be one step ahead of where we were before we started.

If you want to read a post to inspire you toward pursuing your goals, read 20 Self-Improvement Reflections to Help You Kickstart Your Goals.

Disclaimer: This blog post contains an Amazon link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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