Reader question: Getting started is hard – what do I do?

I am interested in lots of things but can’t seem to work on any of them long enough to make much progress. I think the reason I do so much thinking instead of doing is because I am a perfectionist and a planner, I hate starting ANYTHING until I have fully researched and planned down to the last detail, and got it all ready. I am like this with everything in life, like I can’t do anything until and unless all the things necessary are prepared.

Working on identifying and making sense of what fears lay beneath our drive to perfectionism can be useful. For a lot of us who dance with perfectionism it can be fear of criticism, often stemming from childhood, when we were small and vulnerable and being criticised by someone harsh felt life threatening. For others being ‘perfect’ (/ good/ high achieving/ ‘good)’ was our way to get approval/ love / attention that was otherwise missing.

I like to draw an image of the inner critic and give it speech bubbles and see what comes out of its mouth. Is it a scary monster? Is it an anxious bean counter and pendant? What does it tell me about myself and my work? What is it scared of?

Sometimes I also draw myself as a small child next to the voice of criticism, offering back some words from another perspective. I find this is a good way to see more clearly what the critic fears most, and to counter the messages of the critic, and find compassion for myself.

Another approach is to reduce the risk of the task at hand so the task feels less scary. How can we reduce the fear? How can we lower the ‘stakes’ – so that it is ‘practice’ or ‘an exercise’ rather than an ‘outcome’? Can we allow our inner child out to play making a big messy rough draft? Sometimes I start projects that I’m super scared of by scribbling notes on a daggy old scrap of paper, or I write hard things in notes on my phone while standing in queue for a coffee. For me, reducing the feeling of ‘significance’ frees me up to get started, because I know I’m not expecting some grand result.

Another way to reduce risk is to involve other (friendly) people. Can someone else  join in on the project so it doesn’t all sit on our shoulders to complete it? Can we enlist a support team, a cheer squad, a mentor, a coach or guide?

Can we support ourselves like we would support a friend? Pretending that we are just imagining hypothetically what we tell someone else in that situation can be helpful. ‘What advice would you give someone else who was just setting out to do (whatever you are trying to do)?’ Or try saying ‘if I WAS going to write a book/ change jobs/ learn an instrument/ go travelling, hypothetically, what would the steps be? What support or resources might I need?’ It’s easier to let the ideas flow when fear is not constricting the answers.

Can you create boundaries that help you focus intensely and get over the hurdle of getting started? A writing challenge, drawing a picture a day, setting the timer and working on it for an intense initial 5 minutes (‘pomodoro’ style), sometimes these kinds of challenges help us push through and get started, move despite the voices of fear.

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