[The following is another chapter excerpt from The End of Fear Itself. Enjoy people!]
One of the problems with change and the process we must go through in order to affect change, is that we often don’t know where to start.
Most of the time, when you feel stuck and afraid of starting a new change, creating a new habit, losing weight, taking a new job or looking for one, or whatever, it’s not because you’re necessarily afraid of the outcome—though that might be part of it—often it’s because you just don’t know what the first step in the process might be.
You have a Fear of Starting!
“What should I do first?”
If we don’t know what to do first, many of us freeze, hesitate, or just give up entirely. The size of the new change and the vision of the end game is too big for us to wrap our minds around, so instead of acting, we put it off, or abandon it. There is a real sense of inertia in these moments; an object at rest, tends to remain at rest.
This is not the road to success, however. The road to success is built on action. Yes, we have to pick the road, and that is the vision part of it, but then we have to actually walk down the road.
But if you’re focused too much on the end product, or outcome, you can become overwhelmed, and your mind clouded by a jumble of things and the process that you have to go through in order to achieve that outcome.
That’s when you move the salt.
“What the fuck?” you ask.
Yeah, I said, “Just move the salt.”
Let me explain.
Have you ever had a kitchen sink, and counter, full of dirty dishes? Maybe the entire kitchen was a wreck after a party, or a big second breakfast? Probably. I’ve certainly been in that situation, often.
The kitchen is such a mess that you don’t even want to go in there and look at it, or even contemplate cleaning it up. I’m with ya. I feel that way all the time, nearly every day, though some days I don’t have to clean it up—like this morning—because Patience beats me to it. That’s nice, but I don’t like to leave all the cleaning to her, since I’m a 21st Century man, and all.
So, here’s how I deal with cleaning the kitchen.
I trick myself into doing it. I just move the salt. While I’m sitting in my big easy chair in the my home office, looking into the kitchen, moaning about the mess in there that I know I should attack and just get’er done, I stop and tell myself, “Self, just go in there and put the salt away.”
“Don’t clean the kitchen, yet. Just put up the salt.”
So, what happens? I go into the kitchen, turn on my little bluetooth, wireless speaker, walk into the living room and turn on some tunes on Spotify, and then I go back into the kitchen, look for the little, wooden salt cellar, and I put it where it belongs.
That’s it! Done!
Except that while putting up the salt, I see that the pepper is sitting nearby, so I put it away, too. Then the cereal box gets moved onto the kitchen table, nearer the pantry, and the tea pitcher magically makes its way into the fridge, immediately followed by the bag full of bread, which miraculously ties itself back up and moves into its home position in the basket on the kitchen island.
Five minutes later, the entire kitchen is clean!
Why does this work? And it definitely does.
It works because I have just chosen to do something, anything that will break the inertia of the Fear of Starting. All we have to do, in any situation, is to identify just one small thing in the process, the easiest, most doable, stress-free thing that we can do that is moving in the direction that we want to go.
For instance, let’s say you’re thinking of starting a new business, to take an extreme example. Let’s say, to give it more concreteness, that’s it’s a pizza restaurant. Why pizza? Fuck if I know; it was the first thing that came to my mind, for some reason. I just picked something, instead of sitting here in my inertia chair trying to find the right example.
Any example will do; ours is gonna be pizza. Deal with it.
So, you have a vision of what that pizza parlor will be, once it’s up and running. It’s gonna be awesome: none of that corner-cutting, chain store pizza crap! Hell no! Yours is gonna be an old-school, real ingredient, made to order, Pizza Palace! Great, you have the vision.
That’s where the problem comes in, the Fear of Starting. What do you do first?
If you can, make a list off all the things you know need to be done before you’re serving hot, fresh pizza to the neighborhood. Then, pick one of those things, and do it. If you can’t come up with that list, then make of list of one item:
- Right now, do a Google search on “How to open a pizza restaurant.”
Then, complete the list! Go to your computer, or open up your Google search app on your phone or pad, and do it! BOOM! You just moved the salt, my friend. Pretty soon you’ll be the hottest pizza joint in town!
It’s really that easy. Well, you still have to do all the other things on the list, but at least you’ve taken the first step, and that’s a big step because it breaks the inertia.
The Fear of Starting can come back, however, at any point during the process, because there are natural ‘stopping points’ in any process. It is important to try to avoid them, if at all possible.
Let’s say you moved the salt; you Googled ‘how to open a pizza restaurant’ and a bunch of sites came up. You checked several of them out, read the content, saved them for later reference, or took really good notes, and now you have a better idea of what’s involved in building a successful pizza joint.
Great. What’s Next?
Did one of those sites lay out the steps in sequential order? Did they give you the next step in the process, i.e., ‘where is the pepper shaker?’ What is the pepper in the process? What’s second in other words? That’s a natural stopping point, but don’t be lulled into stopping. Grab another thing from the list and keep working.
Let’s use another example: writing, since I know more about it than running a pizza joint.
One of the hardest things about writing, books, articles, anything really, is that you come to the end—of a chapter, an article, a book—and those are natural stopping points. So, most writers stop. But that’s a bad practice to get into, because then you have to break the inertia again, every time. You have to find and move the fuckin’ salt, every time you sit down to write.
I’ve experienced this many times, and when I’m really writing properly, I don’t fall into that trap. I do fall into it, but only when I get complacent and lazy.
The way to avoid it when writing, is that you set a certain time limit on when you write, and you write like a madman, or madwoman, until the alarm goes off or the time you set appears on your clock. I don’t always set an actual alarm, but I do write down the time I started, and then usually write for one hour. When the alarm goes off, or the time is up, I stop writing.
I mean I really stop.
If I’m doing it correctly, I have to stop in the middle of a sentence. I don’t keep typing the idea down that I was working on at that moment, because the end of a sentence is, well, an END. It’s a natural stopping point, ergo, not a place I should stop. If I just happen to be at the end of sentence when time runs out, fine, but I don’t keep typing.
Now, I don’t follow this rule with an iron fist or anything. I don’t have an antique, writing Nazi—whatever the fuck that is (don’t ask me, it was the first thing that sprang to mind)—standing over me with a riding crop to bash my fingers if I don’t stop typing in the middle of a sentence or anything. So, sure, many times, I keep typing and finish the damned sentence. Sue me. But the best way to avoid writer’s block, i.e., the Fear of Starting, is to never actually stop.
Do as I say…forget what I actually do.
I forgot where I heard this, but I read somewhere that some famous writer—how vague can I be?—said that when he finished the final draft of a book, he would take out another blank sheet of paper, put it in the typewriter, and type the first sentence of the next book, then be done for the day.
That’s how momentum is gained, and maintained. A rolling stone gathers no moss, you know. And if you move the salt, and then the pepper, pretty soon the entire fuckin’ kitchen will be clean, and you’ll be serving up pepperonis and beer to happy pizza-eaters, or sending off your next best-seller!