Why Momentum is the Lifeblood of a Startup or Any Creative Endeavor
When we convene day upon day in the same space at the same time, a powerful energy builds up around us. — Steven Pressfield
At the end of his book Do the Work, Steven Pressfield tells the story of finishing up his first manuscript, going to his mentor Paul Rink’s house and telling him what he’d done. To which he replied, “great now start the next one.” And Pressfield passed on that same advice to his readers.
Take today off, pop some champagne, and get back to work tomorrow
That’s because he understood that momentum is the lifeblood of any creative endeavor.
In Ycombinator startup school podcast, Sam Altman said “momentum is the lifeblood of a startup.”
After finishing a 45,000-word manuscript in 6 months, I was tired. But, the day after I submitted my manuscript, I enrolled in Tim Grahl’s Course, Launch a Best Seller and started putting together the marketing plan for my book even though it wasn’t going to come out for another 8 months. I also continued to write every day about deep work, habits, flow, all in preparation for my next book which will be based on the idea of 1000 words a day. Through the process of writing a book, I had gained momentum and I was going to make sure that I did everything in my power not to lose it. I knew just how important this was having lost my momentum in the past.
In an effort to maintain her own creative momentum, my friend Reema Zaman has started a project here on Medium where she’s publishing these poetic letters she writes to people. If you’re in need of some verbal soul food, give them a read.
Momentum is the rocket fuel of creative and entrepreneurial success. The loss of it is the nemesis of that success.
Why is Momentum So Powerful?
In physics, the basic definition of momentum is that an object in motion stays in motion.
If you go to the gym for 10 days in a row, it’s going to be easy to go on day 11. But if you skip 5 days, you’re starting over from scratch.
If you write for 10 days in a row, doing it on day 11 won’t be so hard. But if you do it sporadically, you’re starting from scratch every day.
If a car is going 100 miles an hour, it’s going to be much harder of it to slow down than if it’s going 10 miles an hour.
Momentum turns what was previously an immovable object into an unstoppable force. In this case, that would be you.
Growth, Success and Momentum Windows
Momentum itself is rarely the byproduct of any one big thing. It’s the byproduct of little things done consistently over time, which carry you into momentum windows (which are often big things). It’s exactly how my business partner Brian Koehn managed to get his skateboard line into 27 stores in 2 years, all while he was in high school.
But what you do after a momentum window matters just as much as what happens during it. It’s why I’ve never stopped writing 1000 words a day, I’m always thinking about what project is going to come after the one we’re currently working on.
It’s also why all the most successful people are always working on what’s next:
- A published author on a second book
- An actor on another film
- A musician on the next album
- A founder on the next startup
One of the most important lessons my friend Greg Hartle taught me was this. If you do the right things in a momentum window, you’ll make a quantum leap and you’ll never be back down at the same level again.
Maintaining momentum is a delicate balance between living in the moment and keeping your eyes on the horizon. And it’s really hard to get it back once you lose it. But if you maintain it, you might just make a crack in the sidewalk or a dent in the universe.
Creating a Momentum Window Through Habits
In an interview on the Slow Hustle podcast, Peter Awad asked me if it was possible to create a momentum window. And the answer is yes.
Momentum is the byproduct of small things done consistently over an extended period of time.
And doing those small things comes down to one really basic idea, changing your habits. Habit change enables you to rack up small wins and experience incremental progress.
- Get in the habit of writing a few sentences a day
- Get in the habit of driving to the gym
- Get in the habit of reading for 10 minutes each day.
The reason most people fail to gain momentum from changing their habits is that they attempt to go from zero to sixty in a day. You want to make it near impossible for yourself to fail, and only attempt to change one habit a time.
Habit Change Give us an Immediate Result
When we most of us want to change, we crave an instant result.
- We want to write our first line of code today, and build the next Facebook tomorrow
- We want to write our first blog post today and be on Oprah by the end the year
- And when it doesn’t happen, we scrap our attempt to change altogether.
The thing that works for our clients best is if we start with something small. There’s no we’re going to do this overnight. We’re going to start with something small, and build consistency and build momentum from that. That’s important that you get an immediate result because you won’t stick with it for the 5 to 10 years.
By managing to change a small habit, we give ourselves an immediate result, which increases our motivation to continue
Leveraging the Power of Activation Energy
In order to make a small habit change, it helps to have an understanding of the principle of activation energy. Activation energy is the amount of effort required to do something.
For the activities you want to avoid, increase the activation energy:
— Take the batteries out of your TV remote control and put them in another room. The fact that you have to go to another room, find batteries and put them in the remote will reduce the likelihood that you’ll waste time watching TV.
— Freeze your credit cards in a giant block of ice. If you have to thaw a giant ice block every time you want to buy something with a credit card, you’re probably going to be much more likely resist impulse purchases.
— Remove Facebook, Instagram, etc from your phone. If every time you want to use one of those apps you have to reinstall it, you’ll be less prone to mindless checkins on them.
For the activities, you want to do more of reduce the activation energy.
— If you want to write every day, put your notebook on your desk the night before. Simply eliminating the step of having to get out the notebook will make you more likely to write
— If you want to exercise, sleep in your gym clothes and keep your shoes by the bed. The fact that you don’t have to put on your gym clothes will make you more likely to work out .
In his book The Happiness Advantage (in which I learned about some of the ideas above), Shawn Achor writes about wanting to practice the guitar. Despite putting on a to-do list, when the guitar was in his closet he never practiced. When bought a guitar stand and kept in sight, he started to practice. He reduced the activation energy.
Habits result in momentum. Momentum results in flow. Flow results in escape velocity and success.