The last Space Shuttle to be launched was the Atlantis, which went into orbit on 8 July 2011. During takeoff, the spacecraft burned 660,000 pounds of solid fuel, 45,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 17,000 gallons of liquid oxygen per minute: the equivalent of how much energy an individual would use in an entire year.
While the mission lasted 12 days, most of the fuel was used during the initial launch. Fuel was used during the flight only for course corrections and for returning to Earth’s atmosphere — little to none was used in orbit itself.
The Difficulty Of Starting
The launch of the spacecraft illustrates the struggle that we face on a daily basis. Like spacecraft, all of us face strong inertia each time we start something new, preventing us from making headway.
In his book The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the inertia holding us back from starting anything as ‘resistance’. It’s the reason why we are unable to begin anything even though we’ve planned on doing so for ages.
That book you always wanted to write? The business idea you always had? That new fitness regime you wanted to go on?
Resistance is what holds you back from starting on any of the above.
It manifests itself in numerous forms: procrastination, fear, criticism, and lack of motivation. All of these are reasons which give ourselves for not starting. The worst part is that they seem valid — that’s what makes starting so hard.
But like many difficult things, starting can be made easier by practice. Through sheer repetition, you can eventually learn to identify and overcome the resistance that’s holding you back.
The Importance Of Starting
Here’s one thing you might already know: a strong finish is more important than the start. It’s certainly true, but most people never really get started on the path towards mastery.
The most accomplished people rose to the top of their respective fields by putting in hours of deliberate practice. They focused on one thing and kept beating on their craft till they mastered it. Picking one thing and saying no to the others has been the way to achieving mastery — not just proficiency — and will remain that way till the world is run by robots.
But even those people had to start somewhere. Before they discovered their passion or calling, they would have had to try numerous times at different endeavours. Without finding a field which they had both interest and ability in, they would not be able to become masters of their craft.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — Lao Tzu
Only after they mastered starting could they learn to finish strong. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to master the art of starting. Like spacecraft which have gone into orbit, you will flow effortlessly and will require little fuel once you have taken off.
Breaking It Down
Said Stephen King, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better”.
Here’s what happens between an idea and the start of implementing it. In the beginning, you will feel excited, inspired, and unable to contain yourself. That lasts all the way till you begin the actual act of starting itself, where you’ll be confronted by a force-field of fear and doubt.
The biggest problem is that ideas are abstract and unbelievably large. We don’t realise this until we sit down and begin the actual construction of our idea. Suddenly, our plans look extremely intimidating.
The way to overcome this is to focus on small acts. Forget the intended outcome and build on ridiculously simple acts. Commit to just five minutes of jumping jacks, 100 words, or reading 10 pages a day.
That’s it. You don’t need to do more if you’re uncomfortable doing so.
We stay in our present state because it’s comfortable. Starting something isn’t easy because it requires more thought, more deliberation, and more effort than our default state. By introducing something so simple, it becomes more uncomfortable to not start because we have to live with the guilt, shame, and regret of inaction.
By design, our instinct for self-preservation causes us to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. That’s what motivates predators to hunt, and for animals down the food chain to flee. Similarly, that can be used as a motivating force for us to achieve our goals.
Build on the little starts every day. Scale up as you gain confidence and proficiency, eventually reaching a point which you can comfortably adopt this ‘small act’ as part of your routine. Whether it’s Kobe Bryant’s insane 666 off-season workout or Stephen King’s 2000 words a day, habits eventually allow you to become adept at your craft.
Automation Through Habits
Without the power of habit, there can be no sustainability. Habits allow us to accomplish goals without deliberation and decision making — both of which require us to tap on our mental faculties which may not always respond when called upon.
Brushing our teeth, washing our face, and grabbing that cup of coffee is something we’ve internalised over time. It’s something we can do automatically every morning even though we might be groggy and not in full control of our senses. We’re able to do that because we’ve been doing the same thing for a good portion of our lives.
Consider this: every single act above requires starting. You have to get out of bed, get to the toilet and then make your own cup of coffee. Barring the first act, each of these poses little challenge to most people because we’ve eliminated all the possible causes of resistance through sheer repetition.
Every habit follows a three step pattern, which James Clear calls ‘The 3 Rs of Habit Change’. You need a reminder, a routine, and a reward for habits to form and stick. Implement all three elements in order for you to create the habit of starting something new and breaking away from your routine.
When you do so, you eventually develop a system for defeating fear, procrastination and self-doubt. Practise starting, and you’ll be able to turn it into a skill.
If you haven’t found something you love, make a habit of starting new things. That way, you gain maximum exposure to different fields. Use the process of elimination to discover something that you love.
We’re hardwired to seek out novelty. In fact, it’s something so prevalent that the term ‘shiny object syndrome’ has been coined to describe this phenomenon. This is the same force that compels us to keep up the latest TV show, engage in celebrity gossip and tune into the latest fashion trends.
Instead of participating in these activities, use the time and effort to start something that you’ve always wanted to do. Block out a period of time weekly to start something new. Make starting a regular part of your life.
Don’t be afraid to start on that ‘dumb’ idea. Harry Potter was rejected by 11 different publishers; the telephone was considered a waste of time; Van Gogh himself languished in relative obscurity in his lifetime. It turns out that humans are horrible predictors of what will prosper and what will fade.
“Opportunities come and go, but if you do nothing about them, so will you.” — Richie Norton
Even if you should fail in your endeavour of choice, you’ll not be wasting time. By continually starting, you’ll become prolific in many fields. The odds are in your favour that you’ll eventually start something that will succeed. Your experiences will also form the bedrock of new ideas and perspectives that will guide you in the future. You might not see it now, but you’ll just have to wait for the dots to connect.
[Related read: How To Overcome The Fear Of Failure: Living In Permanent Beta]
The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now.
Don’t let your excuses hold you back. Our deepest regrets are rooted in inaction. They are the source of our “what ifs”. Don’t let the possibility of an unlived life haunt you.
Take immediate action towards the goal/dream that you’ve always had. Make the smallest step today, and build upon it tomorrow, and the day after. Before you know it, you’ll be in the orbit of your dreams.
But before that, you need to liftoff.