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  • Writer's pictureSara Broadhurst

You gotta get in the pool, if you want to learn how to swim

Woman starting to swim
Getting started on your goals is like jumping in a pool

One of the privileges of coaching is that I work with people who are motivated to achieve their goals. It’s such a pleasure to be around people who are aspirational and hopeful for themselves. Honestly, it helps me to feel inspired about achieving my goals too!

At the beginning of the coaching programme, we dig into what their goal truly is and get very specific about it. This is so we can choose the right way to approach the goal and measure progress and momentum. And then, a really curious thing often happens... instead of taking action on their goal, they tell me “Oh, I need to go on that course before I start” “I need to read more” “I need to talk to some more people” “I need to reflect more”. They shy away from the goal, stop looking at it and get busy with a whole bunch of other things so they can say they didn’t have time. And to be fair, we all have goals tucked away in our wish list, on which we have taken no action.

Why does this happen? In observing the people I work with, I would say it’s a combination of things. Some of these probably feel familiar to you, they definitely do for me:

  • Fear of failure: The fear of not doing something well enough is a hugely powerful motivator to avoid doing it altogether. I had a goal of building influencing relationships with the Directors of the Board of a company I was working for. However, I couldn’t bring myself to speak up because of my fear that I would look like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Guess what? Didn’t start, goal not achieved.

  • Perfectionism: Some people have strong values and a need for everything to be perfect. This can lead to paralysis, making it difficult to even start a task.

  • Task aversion: Some tasks are simply boring, unpleasant, or even a bit scary. It's no surprise we try to avoid them!

  • Lack of motivation: If we don't see the point of a task, or if the reward for completing it feels distant (um, diet anyone?), it's easy to put it off.

  • Procrastination can become a habit: Unfortunately, the more we put things off, it actually becomes a habit for us and the easier it becomes to fall into that trap again and again.

So what are some ways to help us get going?

  • Identify your triggers: What are the situations or emotions that make you more likely to avoid starting? My one is fear of looking like an idiot. If that’s you too, check out our post on being a beginner. By knowing your triggers, you can create mitigations for them.

  • Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps: This will make the task seem less daunting and help you get started. I regularly say to myself when I’m avoiding going for a run “You just have to put your shoes on” “You just have to walk 1 kilometre” – honestly, by that point, my run is on 100% of the time.

  • Set realistic goals deadlines: Don't try to do too much at once and set achievable deadlines. This is a big one for driven, ambitious people. Often they have simply put too many targets up and are trying to shoot too many arrows in too many directions. Pick one and work on it until it’s done.

  • Reward yourself for progress: This will help you stay motivated and take the next step. Reward is part of the habit loop and makes it so much more likely that you will maintain momentum (and be open to starting future goals).

  • Forgive yourself: We all avoid taking action on a goal or procrastinate sometimes. Don't beat yourself up about it. Just ask yourself “what’s in the way of me starting?”

Finally, the thing I tell people (and I tell myself too) – you gotta get in the pool if you want to learn how to swim. Try taking it less seriously and jump in. You will learn so much about yourself and your goal just by having a go. So - get into that goal, splash around a bit, have some fun and see what happens.

Do you have any tips you use for when you are avoiding starting? Share them in the comments below!

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