Gently Leaping to Success

Getting To Done: A Strategy from the World of Sports

For over a year, I was paying for two large storage units when I only needed one — money going straight down the drain. But every time I even thought of dealing with it, I would do anything else! You know that sense of dread. You’ll clean out the refrigerator, organize a sock drawer, or pull weeds before you face whatever it is you really don’t want to do.

Then one day, it dawned on me that a strategy I had developed as a sports coach to help my players tackle more difficult aspects of the game might help get me going. I tried it, and in no time at all, the entire job was done. It worked! So what was the strategy?

The Sports Strategy In sports, often if you ask players to do something too hard or complicated at the beginning, it takes much longer for them to develop their abilities. If you start with an easy challenge — one that practically guarantees success, they tend to move quickly towards the more difficult skill. You take pressure off by not asking them to do any more than the easy challenge. Then if you give them credit for what they have done and provide some kind of reward, you are reinforcing the wanted behavior. Slowly you can add more difficult components, and before too long, they are further along in their development than even they can believe.

Getting Started Feeling overwhelmed by a task keeps many people from even starting a project. That’s why it’s important to divide it up into very small achievable segments. For instance, in my case, I would go to the storage facility, unlock both of the units, and peer inside. I would find the easiest task possible requiring the minimum effort. Once I settled on this undemanding task, I would get it done. Then no matter what, I would not allow myself to do any more. I would then give myself credit for what I’d done and a reward of some sort.

For your challenge, you would pick some portion of a bigger task that you know you can do with ease. For instance, for an exercise program you might start by only walking 50 yards and stop for the day. For a school assignment or term paper, you might write an opening sentence addressing the assignment (and it doesn’t have to be a good opening sentence, just words on paper or computer). Or to get going on your taxes, you create a folder to hold your W-2s and/or 1099s and label it “Taxes 2018.” That’s it. You’re done. Do no more for now, and stop thinking about calculating your mortgage interest.

Over-The-Top Credit Having completed this one task, celebrate your victory. Give yourself a ridiculous amount of credit. Act like it’s a big deal — clap, cheer, behave as it you’ve won an Olympic gold medal. If you feel foolish and undeserving, good. That means you’re doing it right. Be silly. Have fun with it, and pretend like it’s a monumental feat.

What’s In It For You? Now that you’ve celebrated your victory for succeeding at this small step, rewarding yourself is extremely important. Your reward is up to you. It could be a piece of dark chocolate, watching a favorite TV show, reading a chapter of a book, or going online window shopping. Try to keep it small and healthy but rewarding nonetheless. Then stop for the day, half-day, or 15 minutes (depending upon your timeline). Be sure to let it sink in that you’ve succeeded.

How Does It Work? It’s very hard to feel overwhelmed and dread about doing small ewasy tasks. It’s the idea of doing all of it all at once that bogs us down. And if you’re literally requiring yourself to feel happy about your accomplishment and receiving a reward, it motivates you to do it again. You don’t have to believe you’ve done something meaningful or worthwhile. Shut down your inner critic that’s constantly undermining your motivation and telling you that you’ve not done enough. Turn on your voice of self-appreciation.

You can use this method for doing anything from laundry and dishes to writing a book or planning an office party. Find the easiest task, complete it, stop, celebrate your success about completing it, and then give yourself a reward. Do this over and again, until it’s all done. Hint: If it’s buying Christmas presents, you might want to start in July. Once you get the routine down on something that’s too easy to fail, apply it to other more challenging situations. Then stop, cheer, and reward.

Caution If at any point you start to feel badly, quit and start again later. Pain is not gain. This approach is meant to become a fun game that gets results. Your expectations may be too high. If you can’t reach your “easy” target, make it even easier and smaller. Only take on what you know you can succeed at doing. Pushing or over-trying can lead to setbacks instead of success.

Getting to Done The next time that feeling of dread sets in about something you know you need to do, try this sports world approach. At the very least, you will have accomplished one part of your bigger goal. Most likely, you will not feel depleted and you will feel motivated to take on the next segment. By making your task or piece thereof so easy you cannot fail, you may soon be on your way to getting to done.