I have an idea. Let’s play a game. A puzzle game. Or maybe a numbers game? How about a word game? Or a scavenger hunt?
I have another idea. Let’s talk about our favorite things: our favorite movies and shows, our favorite moments and people, our favorite ideas and quotes. Or maybe our hopes and dreams, our interests and passions, our values and goals.
Here’s one more. Let’s do something that makes us feel good, that makes us grow, that makes us think. Let’s learn a little more about and from one another, focus a little more on the important things, care a little more about what we do. Let’s share all of that with others, and repeat.
Starting something often takes a lot of effort. It’s often said to be the hardest part, even. There are many reasons for this. Some people are afraid of the new, while others are afraid they may fail.
Some people (me included) simply enjoy thinking about how perfect their little idea is that they would rather keep it in their head than do the work to turn it into something real. While that is fun in itself, an idea is nothing without action. From a Communication Arts article many years ago that I used for research for a “thesis” project, Stefan Sagmeister is attributed to having said that “the best ideas sketched in his notebook over the years are worth nothing in comparison with the ideas he has executed and that still exist today.” I would add that any ideas executed (regardless of quality) is worth more than any ideas in a notebook or in someone’s head.
If your perfect idea fails in execution, it’s okay, as long as you accept that that is the process and that you have learned from the failure. You may be heartbroken that your baby has manifested to a totally different creature, but the good news is that it may help you come up with a better idea (better than your “perfect” idea = yay!).
Make Room for New Ideas
When an idea nags at your consciousness, the choice is usually simple: execute. But with an idea that you’re sort of excited about but not completely sold on because of a few unknowns, I recommend that you still take the time to investigate and answer those unknowns (or, if the risks are low anyway, just skip all that investigation and go for it). This way, you will know whether you want to continue investing your time in this idea. If not, you can safely drop it from your consciousness, leaving room for the next idea.
Waiting for “The Right Time”
Some people also have trouble starting because they’re waiting for “the right time,” but eventually years go by and they’re still waiting. While I still have some form of that mentality, I now try to do the things that I want as soon as I can, unless there really is a better time than right now to do that (ex. it’s summer time and you realize you really want to get better at snowboarding). Or if executing the idea spans a long period of time where I legitimately don’t have the time in the near future, I try to find the next available time frame and mark it on a calendar or put in a reminder for me to revisit when I can pick it back up again. But the point is: the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll learn and improve upon it.
In the current tech world, it’s common to ship the MVP (minimum viable product), learn from its usage, and iterate repeatedly to make it better over time. I believe the iteration part is an useful part in personal development. I recently read an anecdote (which apparently appeared in the book Art & Fear) about how half of a ceramics class is told they would be graded on the amount of clay they’ve used (quantity) and the other half would be graded on quality, and the result was that the group graded for quantity had better quality work, supposedly because they went through a lot of clay and improve upon their work with each new piece.
Ira Glass and Ze Frank also talked about this.
“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” —Ira Glass
“If you want to be something, start being it. If you want to be a writer, you should be writing. Not tomorrow, but today. If you want to be an artist, you should be drawing and painting. […] If you want to be a stand-up comic, write jokes and figure out some place to stand up and tell them.” —Ze Frank
After graduating from college, at age 22, I remember GTD-ing and evaluating the next chapter of my life, and I wrote on an index card, “Don’t wait until you’re 26 to start living.” In the end, it was a semi-success, mainly because I had a late start with this goal, so by 26, I only got about halfway done. But ultimately, I’m glad I had written down that idea down without it, the thought would still be in my head, and I would probably still be “waiting for the right time”.
If you’re having trouble starting something, here are a few tips that I find useful for myself.
- Approach it as an experiment. Strip all expectations of perfection or even success. It’s simply an action that you do that results in a certain outcome. If you like the outcome, you can keep doing it. If you don’t like it, you can either do it again but differently to see if you like the new outcome, or you can stop doing it and move on to something else.
- Commit to doing it only once (but give it a serious chance). Tell yourself that you only have the time or energy to do it once for now. After that, you can renew your commitment, even if it’s still one at a time.
- Make it work for you. If you’re anxious or unsure, do whatever preparation you need to make yourself comfortable enough and fit your needs.
17, 21, 22, 30
Follow and play the game.