How to start something new
As a daily practitioner of meditation, I have been approached by friends and family on how to properly begin. After offering my opinion on how to start to a few people, I noticed that the advice I give out is quite generic, and dissents from how I actually go about starting something new.
So this post is the “true” version about how I start new things. Intentionally broad, I apply this framework to activities such as exercising, writing, reading, learning a new technical skill, and more.
It’s a framework with 4 tiered phases focused on establishing a certain theme at each level. Prior to adopting this framework to my life, I thought about why I had many fruitless attempts at establishing components of a lifestyle that I highly value.
I thought about incentives, which are objectives with a certain value attached to them. I thought about impediments, which are notions that prevent you from doing things. They can be rational. They can be irrational. They can be out of your control. They can be within your control.
I realized that while starting something new, I was not applying my focus to that new thing. I was also concerned with its logistics: when I would do it, how I would do it, and to what degree I would do it.
I thought, all of that matters, but it’s exhausting! Especially when you’re completely foreign to this new thing. I started to strip away the logistics — to focus instead all of my energy on making sure I was prioritizing the thing. Not things affiliated with the thing.
That’s the essence of this framework, which I call MCES. Each letter is a tier, and they stand for:
- The first step is visualizing successfully doing it every day. That’s it. Carve out 5 minutes a day for one week to simply think about doing the new thing successfully. If 5 minutes a day is too much of a required investment, it’s worth revisiting why you want to learn the new thing in the first place. This first phase accomplishes two goals: firstly, you are priming yourself for doing it, without actually doing it. You build up a mental momentum towards the thing. It’s an equivalent to joining a waitlist to a new tech product, festival, book, game, etc, and letting that anticipation build. Patience is a byproduct of this phase. Secondly, you start to devote mindshare to the thing. In this phase, you’re establishing Mindset.
- The next step is to do the thing. Every day. But without the pressure of having to do it at a specific time, without a specific duration, and without an expected effort level. Reward yourself for just doing the thing, even if you were drained from a long day at work or had other things grabbing at your time, telling you that they are more important. There are no expectations here. Simply attendance. In this phase, you’re establishing Consistency.
- Now that we’ve established consistency with time, we now turn our heads to forming a partnership with effort. In the previous step, we were given the room to see what our current ceiling is (and where the floor is). Now it’s time to calibrate. The third step is doing it daily with a consistent level of effort. At this stage, it still doesn’t matter when you do the thing. Applying the pressure of how the thing fits in with our current world is unnecessary while you’re still getting into the swing of purposefully doing the thing. In this phase, we’re establishing Effort.
- The last step is to give the thing all you’ve got when you’re doing it, while at a specific time during your day. The goal is to cement it as a foundational piece of what makes you you, which is largely dependent on your actions and what you choose to spend your time on. In this last step, combined with the mindset and consistent effort of the previous steps, we aim to look at the thing the same way we look at lunch. Or (hopefully) brushing your teeth. Things that require very little effort. We already know it’s going to happen and neither look forward to it nor resent it. It just is. In this phase, we’re Solidifying the thing as part of us by including it in our day.
I am sharing this framework because it works for me, and the hope is that someone who is currently struggling to start new things will find it helpful. I think at the end of the day, it’s all about being flexible in the beginning, ensuring the most important aspect of starting something new is what you focus on first. It’s also a framework where acceptance is key — it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to be frustrated, and it’s more than okay to not know things. The most important thing, is doing the thing.
If you try MCES, tweet me your thoughts, or comment below. :)