Are you looking to start a side hustle or make a career change? Or perhaps you’d like to pick up meditation or eat less junk food?
Or maybe you’re trying to make a change for the second (or third) time, and you want to see it through this time?
Regardless of what you’re doing, there are a few key things that will help you harness your motivation and turn it into productive action. If you’re trying something new, here’s how to succeed at it.
The #1 most important thing to do is to start somewhere. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, logistics, and planning, but the best way to start something new is – surprise! – to start doing what you want to do.
You should not try to become an expert before you start. That’s because you’ll learn a lot more through the process of doing, and what you read will make a lot more sense once you start. If you’re the type who likes to research something extensively before doing something new, that’s fine, but don’t let researching get in the way of starting!
Also, you should not try to be perfect. This is super important. As the saying goes, “perfect is the enemy of done,” or in our case, “perfect is the enemy of starting something new.” You probably want a stellar result from your new thing eventually, but that will come with time and practice, which is all the more reason to start with what you can do today.
Excellent ways to start somewhere:
- Picking up meditation? Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, focusing your attention on each breath. Congratulations, you just started somewhere!
- Finding a new job? Submit one application today. Your resume doesn’t have to be perfect; you’ll be applying to other jobs and improving your resume as you go.
Ride the waves 🌊 of motivation
Your motivation is your most valuable resource.
You are most productive when you are motivated.
When a wave of motivation comes, take advantage! When the wave subsides, keep progressing, but don’t expect the same level of productivity from yourself as when you were riding the wave.
This is also why I think planning is overrated. Motivation waves don’t operate according to a schedule. In my experience, riding the waves is way more productive than sticking to a regimented schedule.
Reduce barriers to entry
Starting something new can be hard, but you can make it easier by reducing “barriers to entry.” What this means is that it should always feel easy to continue working on your project. This will help you maximize the output you get from each wave of motivation.
One of the big “barriers” is the willpower barrier. If you’ve had a long day, your willpower may be exhausted. (Yes, it runs out!) You want to minimize the willpower it takes to work on your project so you can make progress even when your willpower is low.
An excellent way to reduce the willpower barrier is to accept from yourself whatever you have to offer. Did you plan to practice guitar for an hour, but you only practiced for 15 minutes? Congratulate yourself on practicing for 15 minutes; that’s infinitely better than 0 minutes! You could even try to not plan to practice for an hour in the first place.
Another great way to reduce the willpower barrier is to reduce the time it takes to get working on your project. If it takes 10 minutes to set up your workstation, can you get that down to under 1 minute?
Beware sideways progress 🦀
Sideways progress is progress that takes time and energy but does not get you closer to your goal. It is so important to not waste your valuable motivation on moving sideways.
Examples of sideways progress are:
- Updating your schedule/plan for doing your new thing too often, instead of using that time to do the new thing
- Feeling like you need to know more, but ending up researching things that are unrelated
- Spending a lot of time picking a slightly better WordPress theme, meditation pillow, etc.
Allow yourself to “fail”
“Failure” is often a Very Good Thing.
Did you know that when you get an answer wrong, you have more brain activity than when you get it right? Yes, that means you get smarter when you fail.
A lot of people say that perseverance is the key to success, but this ignores the possibility that you may have picked something that is not to your taste. It also ignores the possibility of you wanting to try something different. Are you supposed to keep doing everything you’ve ever tried for the rest of your life? 🤔 Probably not.
Giving up on a project or putting it aside for some time may feel like failure to you, but that doesn’t mean it was a loss! If you happen to hate some aspect of your project, it’s really valuable to know that. Or perhaps you learned a new skill that you can apply to a future project.
Some very successful people have “failed” multiple times in the conventional sense! (I won’t spoil it for you–read Range by David Epstein to figure out who they are.)
Always allow yourself to truthfully evaluate if your project is still for you. We sometimes have to put things aside so we can progress towards the next new thing.
How to succeed at anything new: Start somewhere. Use your most valuable resource well. Beware of things that distract from what you’re really trying to do. If your new thing is not for you, take stock of what you’ve learned and let yourself try something new, again.
Sources and further reading
- Start somewhere: Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson
- Beginning to meditate: Joy On Demand by Chade-Meng Tan
- Productivity and motivation: High Output Management by Andrew Grove (“You are most productive when you’re motivated” – I didn’t make that up!)
- Letting yourself “fail”: Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Erik Barker
- Failure, and tons more: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
- Failure, trying new things, and tons more: Range by David Epstein