The trainers in this picture tell a story.
When I was younger I was always sporty.
Although this mostly consisted of chasing small balls around a court or pitch, I also ran a little, eventually stopping in my mid-teens when growing pains made hills problematic.
Two years ago I had the urge to run again. Something about the simplicity of the activity called.
Then, in a typical case of behaviour change jitters, I procrastinated, looking for a new pair of trainers.
I researched ‘best of’ lists and scoured forums for advice.
But soon after I became aware of the reason for my searching.
I was afraid, scared of heading outside on a lonely dark morn with only my thoughts and the road for company.
So I resolved that day to stop overthinking and buy a cheap pair of running trainers. No bells and whistles, nothing fancy.
And then I had no excuses. Nothing standing between me and simply starting.
The fear of starting
We’re so often afraid of disturbing our lives by changing our behaviours that we concoct all sorts of things we need first…
Time to prepare, the ideal equipment, access to the right people.
But so often these factors are just fear disguised as pragmatism.
When getting started, all the equipment and tools are secondary. Facilitators, nothing more.
When starting you don’t need the best, you just need to get going.
The most valuable investment when engaging any new activity is simply showing up.
And research is very often redundant anyway.
When we start something new, the greatest gift we have is to enter with the beginner’s mind.
With a blank canvas of possibility, we’ve no idea how we’ll feel or react.
We might start wood carving just to realise that we don’t like it that much after all.
So that time you’ve spent scouring wood carving magazines for the best knives, in the end, is wasted.
In the real world action is the most valuable currency.
Perfectionism, while itself unobtainable, is completely counterproductive in the initial stages of starting.
You see, action creates information, without which we can only speculate.
We can think we need a particular piece of software to start coding, but until we actually enter the trenches, it’s all guesswork.
That application you’ve been ogling might be fine for experienced professionals, but completely unnecessary for your ambitions.
When starting, therefore, the first key is to simply show up repeatedly.
At first, you will want to quit, and undoubtedly many promising pursuits are preemptively abandoned in the graveyard of lofty ideals.
Anything unfamiliar to us will be horrible to start. Know this.
Our minds and bodies will complain that we have zero idea of what we’re doing and encourage us to quit.
In our weaker moments, a sly little voice will whisper about succumbing to the pain.
And the worst thing? You’ll have no evidence to the contrary, with no immediate results to show for your effort.
Naturally, when the self-condemnation starts, you’ll begin to question the validity of your desire.
Know that this is natural.
Self-criticism is simply the ego-driven mind betraying its fear, urging you to return to your familiar, comfortable existence.
Don’t let it triumph.
Instead, divorce your enjoyment from results and abandon any unrealistic expectations.
Cultivate an awareness of your new activity. Be present, interested and engaged, but ask for nothing else.
Soon you’ll reach the end of the valley of disappointment and perhaps even start to see small changes in your identity.
Through the simple process of showing up, you might now see yourself as someone who codes. Or writes. Or sings.
This is the first, and perhaps most powerful dose of validation you can receive.
It will also spawn newfound confidence that you can persist through self-doubt and emerge triumphant.
You’ll feel stronger for it.
This identity shift can create a renewed passion for the activity.
Next, with enough time and continued practice, you might start to see some results from your efforts.
Such returns are good waypoints, providing valuable dopamine breadcrumbs on the path to mastery.
But they’re simply signposts. While results are ego-strengthening, it’s important not to over-identify with them.
Attaching your happiness to external success metrics is all very well when everything’s peachy, but will inevitably turn sour when you hit your next performance plateau.
As you develop either a habit or love for the activity, you’ll naturally start to gather feedback.
Here, you’re simply gathering enough data to make small tweaks in your learning process.
Much like driving a car, by assessing your progress you can adjust the steering wheel to stay on the road.
Gathering real-world data, rather than listening to ego-inflated fears ahead of time, is what just starting is all about.
It’s the difference between trying something, rather than asking for help first.
Your questions are more valid because they’re based on evidence.
The longer we deliberate before starting anything, the longer we delay access to real-world results.
The research we pursue often makes us feel good, providing the illusion of progress.
We give ourselves a pat on the back for our hard work while never actually moving forward.
The dream in our head remains pristine, unsullied by the hard knocks of life and untainted by potential failure.
We can go on talking to our friends and family about what we plan to do, at which point they’ll nod, smile and make the right noises.
So if you want to write that novel, stop reading books by successful authors.
If you want to start that new business, refrain from watching endless YouTube videos by wealthy entrepreneurs.
And if you’d like the finally get healthy, put the diet plans down and simply move more while eating better.
I say this to myself as much as anyone.
How to start anything
Making progress isn’t rocket science. How to start?
It’s one tiny action, followed by another and then another.
Ask yourself, what actions can you take today to inform the rest of your tomorrow’s? Begin there.
My trainers tell an important story. That conditions don’t have to be perfect to take the first step.
So don’t be afraid to take yours.