Toddler looking at concrete stairs

Start with the doing. Then get to the done

Big goals can inspire. They can also paralyze.

One of the best outcomes from building the habit of building habits is having a skill to make big change. If you want to stop always being late. If you want to be a better public speaker. If you want to drive your company to new heights.

Once you identify the obstacles, these all are essentially tasks of building habits. But we often stare down the end of an enormous project and are so intimidated we never start. That happens to me a lot. So I remind myself that it all comes down to an incredibly simple act: just get started.

When I turned 30, I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be. I was active and ate reasonably OK but I needed better habits than the ones I had or was able to start myself. So I paid for a personal trainer for a shot while, knowing the few hundred dollar investment could be a major investment.

I’ll always remember that one of the first assignments he gave me was to just walk into the gym three times a week — he and I met only weekly at most. No, he didn’t even want me to lift any weights. He didn’t want me to run. He just wanted me to walk into the gym more often. I was fascinated by this: he knew he was trying to get me to start a habit, one that required me to get into that gym more often.

It worked. Though I am no gym obsessive, I have pretty regularly gone to the gym for most of the last 18 months. I am in better shape today than I was a couple years ago. In fact, I now have other health goals I need to achieve.

I bump into this advice in all sorts of unexpected places.

When I interviewed celebrated novelist Zinzi Clemmons for my writing process podcast last year, I found it again. She told me that while working on a big project, she will listen to music or even watch a movie that puts her in the right mood and “counts it as writing.” I was floored. The woman behind the “debut novel of the year” just needed a mindset to get into her work.

In short, she was building a habit. There’s a big lesson in there.

You have to start with the doing; Then get to the done.

(Photo by Mikito Tateisi)