Why it’s Hard to Start Projects and What to Do About It

Why it's Hard to Start Projects and What to Do About ItMy kids adore roller-coasters. Last year my husband took them to an amusement park and they had a blast going on ride after ride. I think one of the most interesting things about roller-coasters is how after pulling you up one really big hill, they can whip you around corners, up and down hills and through loop-de-loops. This all happens at break-neck speed.

The funny thing is that there’s no motor in the car. All the motion comes as a result of the momentum that’s built being pulled up the first big hill. Once your car is at the top of that hill, you can fly along and make it to the end. The hard work for the roller-coaster is getting started.

I, too, have a hard time getting started.

I look at a crazy long list of to-dos and can’t figure out which one to tackle first. Or the kitchen is a mess and all I really want to do is ignore it all and read a book. Unfortunately, that kind of attitude doesn’t help me accomplish any of my goals or make my home a very pleasant place to be. I need a way to climb that first big hill and gain some momentum. That’s just what I’ve been doing lately using some ideas I learned about in a fantastic book called Switch.

In Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath give us a metaphor for two aspects of our brains. They describe a rider and an elephant. The rider is our logical, analytical side. The rider does the planning and makes the decisions. The rider sits perched atop the elephant. The elephant is our emotional side and it is the part of us that actually does the work. The rider is in control but there is a precarious balance between the two. If the elephant gets fed up with the rider’s direction, he can revolt and take off in his own direction. (This is what happens when we decide to abandon a resolution to eat healthy and instead indulge in chocolate cookie dough ice cream. The elephant threw off the rider and left him in the dust!)

If we are struggling with motivation, we can use this knowledge about rider and elephant to make things easier.

For me, it can be difficult for me to start a project (or an article or even a chore). I am frequently plagued by indecision. It seems that my rider is overly analytical. Ahem. But I also know that once I get started on something, it’s usually not hard to finish up. I just need to give my rider some direction and the “elephant” in me is happy to get to work. Once I am started, momentum takes over and I sail along. By the end, I’m thinking, “this wasn’t so hard – what was the big deal?”

So, for me, the important thing in finishing my to-dos and reaching my goals is to get myself started.

It’s nice to know this fact, but this knowledge doesn’t always make the beginning easier.

So here is my strategy: when I don’t know where to start on something or I don’t really feel like working, I make a list of what needs to be done. This really helps me jump-start. It gives the rider in me direction. I can see the steps I need to take. All of a sudden, my project doesn’t look so overwhelming and the end is practically in sight. What a relief!

Of course if you are facing a more complicated project, you’ll have to start and stop many more times.

There will be more decisions to make. But the same principles apply.

So remember:

  • The hardest part is getting started.
  • Momentum can carry you a long way.
  • When you are stuck, look for a jump start – my favorite strategy is to make a list.

If you are looking for ideas on how to motivate yourself (or others) at home or at work, I highly recommend the book, Switch. And if you need an illustration of how important momentum is, remember the roller-coaster.

How do you like to motivate yourself to start a task? Do you have any tips on getting started?

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4 thoughts on “Why it’s Hard to Start Projects and What to Do About It”

  1. Again, I love your metaphors! Sometimes when I don’t want to do something, I set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, depending on my mood. Usually (especially if it’s housework), I’m either finished or almost done when the timer buzzes.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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