Just about a year ago, I was cozy on a sun-splashed patio at a cabin in Big Bear, California. I was so excited to wake up early, sit in the morning light, sip my delicious coffee and gingerly start working on an article about banking as a service (BaaS).
At the time, I was having trouble. I was still feeling through my writing flow. When it was time to put figurative pen to paper, I’d often seize up, totally paralyzed, unable to even plop my first search question into Google. The giant gap between the blank screen and a published article seemed unjumpable.
But this particular morning was completely different.
I was beyond excited to get started. My whole brain was lighting up. The vibe drew in the right words and served as a repellent against all the wrong ones.
So I went on a mission to figure out how I could bottle the feeling! Was it the sunny surroundings? The glimmer of early morning? The cutie across the table?
Turns out, it was all in my mindset.
Improve your writing by learning to embrace ‘starts’
As a society, we award so much value to “finishing” something.
A graduation ceremony. Hitting a weight loss goal. We deem Friday the crown jewel of weekdays.
Our brains aren’t as well trained to enjoy starting something. In fact, most of us dread it!
We hate Mondays! We don’t want to start losing weight because it feels like the end goal is so far-off. We don’t want to write that book or go back to school because it’s so hard to envision the finishing part. How will we ever finish writing this article when we can’t visualize the final piece?
We’re often so hyper-focused on the finish that we get too paralyzed to even start. We just have no idea how we will get there! The road to our goal is so hazy that we feel like we want to quit before we even begin.
In reality, starting can be a much more empowering experience. Learning to wield the power of high-octane starts helps you break down perceived obstacles and dive into challenging things with confidence. The strategy is so powerful that 5X NBA Champions, the San Antonio Spurs, painted it in their locker room.
So stop obsessing over the final blow and get comfier with all the itty-bitty chips that come before it. By starting, we move closer to the end, inch by inch, impressing ourselves as we climb over intermediate micro-goals with ease.
How to start getting excited about starts
‘Embracing starts’ is now my idol, and I’ve been fine-tuning how to best worship it. Check out these tips and tricks that’ll really help you kick down procrastination!
Start your day with something exciting
Hello, Upper East Siders: I’ll share a secret with you.
I really like the Gossip Girl reboot. I’m sure that the purists are prepping their pitchforks. But I like it so much that I actually added an item on my Friday morning to-do lists to watch the latest episode as I thumbed through my emails. I started looking forward to getting started with work on Friday mornings!
Don’t save your “treats'' for the end of the day—instead make a daily habit of rewarding the starts! Here are some ideas:
Drink a beautiful tea
Watch the latest episode of your favorite show
Read 30 minutes of a new book
Do a heart-thumping workout
Head out for a short walk in the sun
Chat with your partner or phone a friend
Enjoy the rainbows that leap out of your window prism (my personal favorite)
You can plan to do a different thing every day, or just keep a list of your favorites to pick from each morning.
Become an immovable sentinel of your mental energy
In episode 485 of the Tim Ferriss podcast, comedian Jerry Seinfeld talks about how as a writer, it’s your job to build a perimeter around your mental space. That the things that make your personal creativity flow, whether it’s going for a run or reading for two hours every morning, are just as important as the ‘job’ itself. You need to defend that time with your life.
Start with a concrete end time
This tip comes in many names, like the Pomodoro technique or “chunking” your day. When our brain sees a hard writing assignment staring us in the face, it starts coming up with all the reasons why we shouldn’t jump in.
One of the main ones: it’ll take forever to do.
Open-ended assignments with no tangible timeframe are almost impossible for your brains to even consider starting.
It’s like showing up to a race with no idea how far it is. Your brain is like “hell no!” But if you know it is five miles, you start creating a mental game plan. You know how to pace yourself. You know how much water to drink. So decide to invest a concrete amount of time in working on projects that aren’t immediately due—10, 20, 30 minutes—and hold to it. You’ll be surprised how much more tackleable those harder assignments will start to feel!
One of the most interesting dynamics of starts/finishes is The Barkley Marathon. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve gotta watch this doc, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.
Ultramarathoners pay $1.60 and submit a license plate they stripped off a car to maybe complete this ~100-mile fiasco. No one is really all that sure how long it is, and nobody other than one guy, the race director, even knows when it will start. It could literally be any time between noon and midnight on maybe a Saturday. When he feels like it, he’ll blow a conch and light a cigarette marking the 60-minute countdown. Maybe that’s why there are rarely any finishers.
Don’t ‘end’ your day, ‘start’ tomorrow
When you’re about to wrap things up for the day, pick a tomorrow project you can poke around in for a few minutes. Pick something big or something that is giving you an unruly amount of anxiety. Now it’s only for a few minutes, so you shouldn’t go into it with the intention of completing the task. Just spend 5-15 minutes checking on some preliminary research or plopping down some super-rough brainstorming ideas in TextEdit. (OK, OK; I'll tell you why I am obsessed with TextEdit here.)
The point is to get a little energy thrumming for your next assignment, so it doesn’t feel like such an impossible feat.
And bonus: sometimes you’ll get on such a roll that you might actually finish the project. I completed this very blog post during an evening tomorrow start!
Make a habit of slooming
Psychologists and brain experts agree that smartphones are radically changing our brain chemistry.
We no longer have liminal, daydreamy spaces in our day. We fill them with doomscrolling Twitter and having a go at Wordle. I am a huge fan of a chill dawdle I call the sloom. It’s in the easy-breezy moments right before you go to bed, or it’s in the sliver of sunshine before you wake up. Instead of grabbing for your phone, let your brain play around for a bit. It’ll start churning through some of the stuff you researched in your tomorrow start and find interesting ways to connect it with other stories and factoids.
I’m a huge believer in the ol’ tenet, “an object in motion stays in motion.” So start moving towards your next writing project—even if the steps feel ploddingly gradual. The small steps will add up and inspire you, proving to yourself that you can beat this mental brain block.