A new year makes me feel optimistic. This sweet sensation lasts a only couple of weeks at best before the new year settles in and becomes just another year. Suddenly, I’m swept up in the same old same old and I haven’t started anything new.
Part of the problem is, as I take stock of the opportunities, obligations, and work ahead, the to-do list grows and grows. There’s so much to do and so little time. This can lead to paralysis. Which leads to avoidance through binge watching (which leads to some of my favorite blog posts, so it’s not entirely unproductive).
With so much to do, how do you make the mental space to start something new? How can you take the first step toward fulfilling those intentions you set for the new year?
Face the Fear
When you’re ready start something new, there’s so much that can inspire fear. You might be afraid to make mistakes, to embarrass yourself, to admit you don’t know something, or to ask for help.
You’re allowed to be scared. Don’t ignore your fear—face it. Work to better understand what you fear so you can figure out how to overcome it. Figure out what’s in your way, whether it’s an outside influence (another person, a missing piece) or something about yourself (lack of knowledge, being a perfectionist).
Don’t dwell too long on why you’re afraid. Instead, shift your focus to why you shouldn’t be afraid. Think about all the reasons why you will succeed. Recognize that you already have many abilities, experiences, and assets that you’ll draw on as you embark on something new. Be confident that you will acquire new skills and learn through doing. Believe that you are capable of success.
You can—and should—dream big and bold. But, for dreams to come down to earth, they need to be achievable. While you’re at it, give yourself some wiggle room in what you set out to achieve, that way the stress of unrealistic perfectionism doesn’t keep you from getting started.
Realistic doesn’t mean boring. When you set out to start something new, ideally, the very idea should thrill you. If you aren’t thrilled, you risk losing your momentum and never finishing.
If the task itself is not exciting, find or create excitement elsewhere. Happily anticipate what will be awesomely different after you’ve accomplished something new. Get excited about the growth you’ll have achieved once the work is done.
Make it a Priority
Sometimes you need to finish something else before you can start something new. You may have to complete, postpone, or decide not to do other things to have enough capacity to commit to something new.
Since it’s a priority, don’t just say you’ll do it. Put time on your calendar to plan and accomplish something new. Whether you need to dedicate an entire day or set aside an hour per week, make an appointment with yourself.
If you need to, it’s okay reschedule—but only let yourself get away with that once. Otherwise, you haven’t committed and made it a true priority.
Having one ginormous to-do is daunting. To increase the odds that you’ll be successful when you start something new, identify the first step you need to take.
Break down the big picture into manageable steps. There’s no need to worry about every single tiny step you need to take. First, sketch out the broad strokes or phases of your plan. Then, narrow your focus to more clearly define the most important step—the very first one. Tackle this first step and put the others out of your mind.
If you falter, take a breather, then come back to the task with renewed determination. If you fail, do your best to figure out what went wrong and try a new approach.
When you’ve finished the first step, it’ll be time to take the second. The finish line awaits.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl.
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