Q. How do I start something I really want to do?
Six rules to follow if you want to -- really want to -- start something
Start me up, I never stop. I'm a wild man once I get going, once I get my motor running, once I get out on the highway. In fact, I'm on a roll right now. I'm way past T-minus zero, I'm way past launch. I have ignition, Jack. I have liftoff. I'm outta here. If you're talking to me, you're talking to yourself, because I'm gone, Bud.
It took me two weeks to write that paragraph. Normally, in the language of physics, I am a static entity. That is, I dutifully obey all of Newton's Laws, especially the one that says a body at rest will remain at rest. Beat on me all you want. I'm going nowhere. Hand me the remote.
Until I get moving. Then I am a body in motion, so stand back. Maybe that's why I like roller coasters. You wait around for hours, then recline comfortably through that long uphill pull. Then the subject changes.
The plain fact -- and, dear chaps, the subject of this lesson -- is that nobody likes to start anything. We are all, by nature, inert beings, Jell-O molds with the gift of gab. When we move at all, it's along a well-worn rut, where the difficulty of getting started is obscured by the dull routine of it all. It's doing the first thing that's the hardest thing. Getting started is life's most difficult moment, the thin, awkward slice of time when you shake off all your cosmic slumber and begin to stir, like a well-fed manatee strolling the boardwalk.
Well, my lucky lads, I have a solution for that butt-widening inertia upon which you've been resting. No. In fact, I have several. It turns out that the rules of engagement, as it were -- the stuff you have to do before you do anything else -- are the same whether you're starting a diet, an exercise program, an affair with Ramona in research, a new hobby, Italian classes or a Russian novel. So get set to move out, men. This is your beginner's guide to beginning.
A. There are six rules you must follow to begin anything successfully. If you don't follow all the rules, your new plan may end up a false start. The first rule is the most complex, so stick with me.
Before you take that very first step, here's what you should know about your new undertaking:
1. Where will it lead?
2. What will it mean to my future?
3. What will it cost in money and time?
4. Will women think it's dorky?
The answer to each of these is unimportant on its own, but if you register a negative reading on two or more, you may want to rethink your ambition. No sense making improvements in one part of your life, only to have them backfire in another.
For many of us, new projects are part of a directed program of self-improvement. If we're fat, we start a new diet. If we're underpaid, we find a new job. Until a certain point in this miserable passage, the area most in need of improvement in most men's lives is our basic spiritual apparatus. But these are secular times, so it's pretty easy to skip over that and go right to where the pressure really builds: the woman area.
Now, it stands to reason that if we take up a new interest, it should ultimately serve to improve the part of our lives we feel most in need of maintenance. That's the beginning of wisdom, but it's also the gateway to trouble, because when it comes to men, the dashboard of a woman's mind has only two instruments on it. One checks a guy's repro level: Can he mate? Can he support life as I know it? Can he feel what I feel? Does he like cats? The other is a nebbish detector. If it registers even a blip, it zeros out everything the other meter says.
So when it's time to plot a new plan, you can exercise or diet or make bookends, and any or all of those things will make for a happy face on the first gauge. But if your new pastime jumps the needle on the dorkometer, you're a must to avoid. This requires explanation, so let's take a look at how women evaluate the kinds of new projects guys typically like to start.
Exercise? A hobby for life, plus it improves a man, buttwise. We all know women are big on hindsight.
Woodworking? Nice, thinks a sensible woman: A man who can build a life.
Fad diet? Many women are suckers for foibles. Guys who snort raw fish and live for weeks on pineapple tops give some women a sure sense of being needed, mama-style. Also, it gives them something to talk about down at Hair Jordain.
Great Books program? Absolutely. Makes you a well-rounded chap, and women go for guys who can think without hurting themselves. The reading glasses are a big plus.
Model railroading? Dork! The truth is, if there were no women on earth, every man alive would be an HO freak, with mining towns in the plaster hills and busy Smallvilles out there on the great plywood plains. Once, during a year-long hiatus from women, I built an N-scale model of the entire town of Salzburg, Austria, in the attic loft of a Southern California bungalow. Every time I invited a woman over to the house, she took one look at Salzburg and said auf Wiedersehen. Then one night, I got lucky. The next day I gave the whole thing to a Boy Scout troop. Face it: Women think guys who fool around with electric trains are dorks.
The point is, don't even think about starting something unless you know for sure that it will improve the part of your life most in need of improvement.
After all, the flip side of Newton's First Law is that an object in motion will stay in motion until it gets a speeding ticket. It should be easy to get something going. But not so fast. Adding a new thing to your life is like changing the decor in a studio apartment. You can't just drag the thing in and leave it in the middle of the room. You have to know in advance exactly where it'll fit.
That means that one of the main things you have to do to get a new project rolling is to find a place for it in the daily routine of your life. The sooner you make your new project into a part of your inertia-driven existence, the better; if you have to rework your entire schedule every single day to accommodate your new thing, the project's dust.
Why? Because it's the same as starting something new every day. Can't be done. To start something new, you have to make it old right away. You have to make it so much a part of your daily grind that not doing the new thing will be the same as starting something new. Remember: Nothing's more disruptive to a well-ordered life than breaking a habit.
Talk about the new thing a lot, and start well before you've actually begun the project. If your new fascination is, say, cross-country skiing, then talk it up big. Make it clear to all that the biggest thing in your life isn't your wife, your children, your career; it's striding on fiberglass across New Hampshire in the dead of winter. If you talk about something long enough, you eventually have to go through with it. That's why boys start talking about sex before puberty.
Let's say you've finally started going to the gym every day. Make sure you make enough of a social investment in the place that your new friendships will drag you along on the days when you really don't feel like showing up. Most of us are decent chaps: We'll do anything for a friend -- even if it means we have to stay in shape to do it.
It's important that when you take up some new activity, you find the source of the most instant gratification. In every human activity, there are many ways of measuring progress. Some are subtle and slow, but highly accurate. Skip those. Go right to the thing that makes you feel best about what you're doing. Example: The first day you start a new diet, weigh yourself just before you hit the sack. When you wake up in the morning, whiz, then jump on the scale again. Presto! Two pounds already! Now you're on your way.
Quitting something is an earned privilege. A guy who can't hit a ball over a tennis net hasn't learned enough about tennis to give up. He hasn't even started. When he gets to the point of beating tennis players 10 years younger than he is, he can quit.
This little injunction has an application to other parts of life as well. For instance, it used to be my rule about cities that you should never leave a place until you learned to love it. Then I moved to Atlanta.
Please consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise program
Wishing You Great Health,
Glen Edward Mitchell
Got a question? Ask Glen