Start with the Small Wins

What do you do when the hardest part is at the start?

You know what I’m talking about.

Maybe you’re looking at that cursor on your word processor, mocking you as it blinks on and off in the blankness.

Or maybe your mind is whirring at octo-core speeds in the presence of your crush, dismissing conversation starters almost as soon it conceives them in an infinite loop of anxiety.

Or maybe you want to quit smoking and are smoking just one last cigarette–for the hundredth time. 

It’s like when you’re pushing something. Ever notice how when you start to push something, it’ll refuse to budge at first, but it feels like it doesn’t resist as much once you’ve gotten it to move? (Remember the concepts of static friction and kinetic friction from your high school physics classes?) Or in certain chemical reactions, there’s a high energy toll that needs to be paid (technically called activation energy) before the reaction can take place.

A more fun metaphor is when you’re on a roller coaster. Sure, it’s exciting, with the cars going through the twists, turns, and loops at devil-daring speeds. But before that, the cars have to slowly go up the highest peak of the ride, getting pulled up by a heavy chain, each clack-clack of the wheels against the rails building anticipation, excitement, and nervousness among the passengers.

So that’s the way it is with a lot of tasks. A lot of the time, you have to muster enough willpower to start, and from the initial grind, you gather enough mental momentum to power through to the finish.

Still, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem: how can you muster the willpower needed to get through the first hurdle when even that’s really challenging? How do you keep yourself motivated to climb when even base camp seems like an impossible summit?

Simple: don’t even think about base camp.

Think about what comes beforehand, and aim for that. Then aim for the next step. Then the next. And before you know it, you’ll have gotten over the hump.

Speaking in angry, impassioned ebonics, Eric Thomas puts it really well:

You got to go in the future and see it, baby, and then you got to come back in the present… you got to take that big goal, that big dream, that big reality-that’s what I said-you got to take that big reality, and we got to take small steps to make it manageable to make your dreams become a reality.

Think big, dream big, but start small. That’s right, start small. Remember what I told you; start where you are, with what you have, because what you have is plenty.

In the book The Power of Habit, we read about the concept of small wins. Basically, it says that there’s power in acknowledging even little victories:

“Small wins are a steady application of one small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. ” Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny achievements into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

If you’re an amateur, be fair to yourself. Don’t measure yourself against the records of Olympians. Just do what you can today, then do a little more, and a little more after that. Keep telling yourself: “just one more push.” Then make the push, then say “just one more push” again. Gamblers tell themselves that they can quit any time they want; give yourself permission to tell your mind the exact same lie, but channel it towards a productive endeavor.

Technically, every milestone is separated by inches.

Once you realize that, you can get started.

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