What type of project starter are you?
Let’s say you want to start running. What is most likely your choice?
A) I know how important motivation is: I dream up my fantastic vision of the fittest version of myself. I’m all excited about the new runner-me and buy all the fancy running equipment and run twice before the stuff somehow disappears in the back of my closet.
B) I know how important planning is: Therefore I buy several books on running, sports nutrition, metabolism and preparing for a marathon. I develop a detailed training plan for me. At some point I drop the project, because it turns out that it is impossible to integrate running into my life.
C) I don’t have time for such fancy self-realization projects anyway. I have real responsibilities.
D) I know how important setting a tailor-made wish and planning is: I develop a picture that makes my heart beat faster. Then I gather some information to define the first possible small step. I start and move on from there. I start running with my old sneakers once a week in form of interval training: 1 minute running, 5 minutes walking. Sometimes a running mate joins in. After a couple of months I think I can run 45 minutes in moderate speed.
(In case of D: What are you doing here? You already know how it works.)
This post was planned for Thursday – last Thursday. So much for planning…
I procrastinated and then I finally wrote something which I didn’t even believe myself to be really conclusive. My test reader was skeptical, too. So I looked into the matter a bit closer.
And found out: I’m an A in recovery! And because I suffer from almost insatiable curiosity I can do B, too.
I feel perfectly fine when I’m invited to develop a vision; to describe my wish or dream is a task I can spend hours on. How does your ideal everyday look like? – Oh wait, I forgot something. I need more time. Oh, and what if this is not the right, the perfect description? Then all the effort I’m going to put into it will be wasted. So back to the drawing board. And only some days later, probably weeks, I may lose interest and go for something different, more exciting.
So it may be a good idea to limit the time and effort I put into the fine-tuning of a wish or dream. Maybe use a more structured approach and stop when the vison is good enough. Actually research suggests that for the brain it is enough to intensively dream about a wish. There is no distinction in the experience of reality and detailed daydreaming. If the description is too detailed, there is no need to take action: The reward system already worked and the brain is convinced that everything is fine and you can stay on the sofa.
Same is true for an information- gatherer or over-planner: Spending hours in the internet, surfing to the most unlikely webpages, browsing the shelves in the public library: Yes, you are not alone! I love this, too.
So if I really want to act on something (and it is not only about satisfying my curiosity) I better set a limit to information gathering and start to act as soon as the first manageable first step is appearing.
For both cases it is important to realize that starting before feeling really ready is crucial. I will never feel “ready” anyway.
So how could such a more structured approach look like?
#1 I really want…
Defining a purpose of the whole project is important: You need something that makes your heart beat faster. Something that relates to who you really are. This vision will carry you forward later on. Take out a pen and paper and write down the ultimate fantasy about it. No limits.
Maybe looking at some of these questions might help:
- What do I really want?
- What is different afterwards? What will change?
- Why do I want to change something?
- How do I want to feel by doing “it”?
- What exactly makes me want to change something?
- How would I feel if I really make it?
By the end of the year you are fit, because you exercise regularly. And YES, you wear THIS wonderful dress. – You spend your money on a holiday or a favorite charity instead on cigarettes. – You stand in front of your beautiful painting. Or you finally have made that ultimate move in your job. How would this be? What are the big advantages of what you want to achieve? What would your friends say, those who want to see you happy? Write it all down. And then stop. Declare your vison ready.
By reflecting these questions you will get a clearer picture about your internal motivation. Some people say that there is no true or sustained motivation from the outside possible. That only our internal motivation propels us in a specific direction while feeling good doing it. I don’t know if this is really true, but I know that to follow external motivation can lead in a direction away from what matters to you personally. So it is also important to answer this question: Who says that I have to do it?
In which form you answer these questions doesn’t matter as long as it is not only in your head. There needs to be something you can actually see in the outside world. Use whatever technique suits you.
Then start with
Most important: Talk to people who do what you would like to do or something related to it.
Ask around. People who already paint know how to integrate it in their lives. They also know where to get good material.
Do some online research. Gather information and let it lead you to new questions. Again method doesn’t matter: Writing in real or electronic note books (e.g. OneNote, Evernote), create audio files, make sketches, fill out an Excel sheet, make a collage, create a mind-map, … use a combination of all of the above. Simply follow your instinct, don’t be stopped by searching for the “perfect” method, just use what is at hand. Go for the simplest solution.
And then STOP. Don’t gather “as much information as possible”. This is a trap! You will continue gathering more intelligence along the way anyway, so you can stop now. As soon as you see a FIRST small possible step emerging: STOP gathering information. This step is as good as any other that will maybe pop up later. You will not feel ready. But move on now to
How will I do this step? What exactly do I need to do? Are there skills I need to build up before?
How do I know that I was successful?
Answer these questions using your favorite method. That’s your micro-plan A.
And now for micro-Plan B: Which hurdles may pop up? What do I do if they appear?
Now you are ready to move to
Simply do what your plan says and observe what happens. Be curious rather than judging.
What happens? Does it work like I intended? Does the plan need an adaptation? Do I have to put plan B into action? Do I have to do something completely different? Why?
This way you continue collecting information and you are able to alter your actions according to what pops up in reality. And once you have completed your task don’t forget to celebrate what you have achieved.
Then you start all over again for the next thing on your list.
This may sound as if it takes a comparatively long time before anything “really happens”. And this is truly so. But very often we are fooled into quick action without proper preparation and fail or are stopped harshly because we lack some kind of skill we didn’t even know we needed. Or we may take too big risks because of lack of information. So the bigger the change is you want to achieve or the wider the impact of it is the more important is the preparatory work. In case you desire large changes your autopilot will definitely try to stop you and knock you back to “normal”. You’d better be prepared for this. While doing the steps of the entire process you also already hone your skills necessary to proceed easier later on, too.
Your dreams deserve that much attention and care.
What do I do if I have identified several possible starting steps or a more complex project?
If you have already some options try a drawing to decide what to start with. Yes, I mean this. It’s difficult to put this approach into action, because it seems counterintuitive (“First I need to know what the most important thing is!”) and it is still challenging for me, too. But I know that it works. Because if you do a small step the risk is not too high. And you don’t put the hurdle so high so that it may scare you away. And most important: You start!
If you have a more complex project like “I want to start a business” you will break down the big dream into small and very small steps anyway. And then work on several of these in parallel or sequentially. But you could use the same method for each of them.
Nobody can develop a plan that needs no alterations. It’s not because you were setting up a stupid plan or because you are a failure anyway. The reason why plans and sometimes even wishes have to be changed or adapted is that the thing with the crystal ball still does not work.
And next week: Defocusing might be the right thing to do
I don’t believe in focus. I prefer diversity and rhythm. If I’d focus completely on only one project – well I’d get bored pretty easily and would feel tired of it rather quickly. It’s similar to focusing on work only: I have no good reason to go home. So let’s have a look at all the things you desire. Because I also believe in synergies.
 Magazine article from my “archive” (aka the large collection of articles, snippets and links I gathered over the years.) Only in German. Copy available on request.