How To Start — And How To Finish

Both have very little to do with motivation

There are, overall, two types of people:

  • Those that can start things, but have trouble finishing
  • Those that can finish things, but have trouble starting

If you think you’re both, fine. It’s unlikely, but sure — that just means you’re even worse off than most. Start with one.

If you say you don’t struggle with either, then you’re probably lying. But if not, awesome — I’m just not sure why you’re reading this post.

If you want to argue you do both at different times, or that it depends on the thing, or the day, or the way the stars are aligned: duh. Obviously. Congrats, you’re a human being; we all do. But chances are you have a bigger problem with one or the other, or tend to one over the other with bigger shit. If not, just pick the thing that matters most, and let’s start there.

So let’s keep to the two groups outlined above. More than likely, the primary argument isn’t in the fact that there are two, but the suggestion that everyone in either group can be treated as the same.

First, for those who struggle to start

Rejecting everything as not being “right” or “good enough” or “the one.” Calling this “uncertainty” or “discernment.” Realizing (or even not realizing) that it’s perfectionism.

Manifesting as procrastination. Lack of Action. Lack of conviction. Lack of a start.

When I began writing on Medium in April of 2017, I had no idea how to start. I just did. I don’t mean to make that sound contrived, because I know it does, and I know there are a number of people who read that and think there’s still some Huge Important Underlying Secret that I’m keeping to myself, like “yeah, but what else?” (Most commonly, they phrase this as “what’s your process?” or “what was your motivation?”) And I can answer any of these questions, but none of the answers are what you need. And the best thing I could tell you in response is: I just started. And after that, I just kept going. I wrote whatever felt like it was “good.”

And, perhaps most importantly, I wrote even when I didn’t feel like writing.

And if there’s one piece of advice I’d give, it’s:

Motivation and inspiration are the biggest crocks of the universe.

And as I’ve said before: anyone who’s done anything substantial has done it regardless, and anyone who sits around “waiting” to feel sufficiently “inspired” or “motivated” is on a fast train to nowhere.

Breaking free of an inability to start is incredibly simple: forget about passion for a second. Forget about anything needing to be perfect. And in fact, tell yourself that nobody will read or see or find out about this first attempt. Pretend it’s just an experiment — the first of a thousand more to follow — and do whatever the fuck interests or excites or delights you most.

Not everything will work with this trick. Tons of people use this to convince themselves to work out every day. Like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read, “I just tell myself to hop on the treadmill for 5 minutes — just five minutes! And crazy thing is, once I get started, I end up going for 30, or 45!”

I am not that person. Sure, I can convince myself to get on the treadmill for five minutes, and I’ll be damned if 90% of the time, I’m watching the seconds tick down on that digital clock like a sight dog on a pheasant, and the second it hits five minutes, I’m out of there. I do not like to be on the treadmill. I’ll do it, but only out of obligation. No part of me has ever once kicked in and said, “you know what?! I was wrong — this is fun!”

And that’s the second group:

Second, for those who struggle to finish

You don’t need any help in the inspiration department — at least not to get started. You probably live very well in tune with your interests, inclinations, experiments, ideas, and inspiration, and when I ended the section above with “just try things,” you may have laughed a little like “lol, people struggle with this?”

You are brimming with options.

Maybe it’s easy for you to “just do it;” just take action, on most anything set in front of you.

Maybe it’s easy for you to brainstorm ideas, or consider how anything and everything ties back to logic.

Or maybe it’s automatic for you to understand what’s most authentic to you; what you’re experiencing, feeling; what you desire.

Either way: starting or brainstorming is the easiest thing in the world for you — and your bigger challenge is either:

  1. “Finding the time” to “do it all,” or
  2. Maintaining the interest and motivation to keep going once you do.

So, you have two options here. What’s more important — authenticity, or obligation?

In the case of the treadmill, or other healthy habits, we don’t need to like it. We don’t need to like going to the dentist, or filing our taxes, or cleaning our house. We just need better ways to tell ourselves to stop being such babies about it, and get it done. We shouldn’t care if we “like” it — that doesn’t matter. And even though it feels like it should, or we’re shouting in our own ear, we can’t placate.

But it does matter when it’s work and love. And there, you have to make the same decision again: what matters more — my feelings in this moment, or what I get at the end of the road? Is failing the marshmallow test worth it to me? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not.

But everything that’s worthwhile in life is not based on motivation alone. It’s not based on inspiration alone. Living your life waiting around to “feel like it” means you’re going to go a very long time not living at all. You have to take action regardless. And then enjoy the feelings when they do “feel” like joining.