How to overcome the fear of starting

One of the things that makes us procrastinate most is the fear of starting. It feeds into our perfectionism and makes us think something isn’t worth attempting. Being afraid to start is the biggest barrier to creative accomplishment and the thing that’s usually holding us back from accomplishing our goals.

In today’s blog post, I’m going to offer my advice on how to overcome the fear of starting, and I hope that you’ll leave some advice of your own in the comments. We all have a lot to learn from one another.


One of the things that makes us procrastinate most is the fear of starting. It feeds into our perfectionism and makes us think something isn't worth attempting. | HOW TO OVERCOME THE FEAR OF STARTING | HONEYBEE JOYOUS



“Just start” isn’t always easy advice to follow

When people give advice on how to be more productive, a piece of advice they often give is “Just start.” This is honestly the best way to make sure a task gets done, but nobody ever talks about HOW to actually get started.

It can be really scary when your to-do list is miles long, you’ve got projects due, papers to write, midterms to study for, or maybe you’re a parent and it’s hard to even find a minute to think without your kids calling your attention away. No matter what your life situation, finding the energy and mental fortitude to just start is no easy task.


Why we fear getting started

The fear of starting is rooted in perfectionism. It’s scary to realize that once we start, at some point we’re going to have to stop, and that is probably going to be before our desired outcome is absolutely perfect. Although I’m definitely a firm believer that done is better than perfect, it can be difficult to implement that mentality in practice.

Even if we know getting started on a project will relieve our stress and help us get everything done quicker and therefore give us more free time, we still resist starting! We resist because of our fear that it won’t go the way we want or turn out perfectly. The fear of starting is a manifestation of our deeper fear of failure. We think, “If I don’t start this project I can’t fail at it.”

This mentality is obviously flawed. If you’re trying to start on a passion project, your fear of starting will mean you’re never able to pursue something that would make you happy because you’re afraid you would fail. If you’re working on something for school or for your job, this mentality becomes even more toxic because you have to do the thing eventually! So putting off starting because you’re afraid of failing just leads to extra stress and a subpar product because you left it until the last minute, too afraid to begin.


So what can you do?

Even though it’s difficult to do, I think “just start” is still excellent advice. I think the people who give that advice are very well-intentioned, but their suggestions often lack nuance. So, I’ve come up with three different options for how to get started. I think they suit different tasks and different people, plus I think it never hurts to have different options for how to get un-stuck.


Option #1: Start with the smallest task and work your way up

If you’re staring at a to-do list, trying to figure out what to do first, it can be a great idea to sort your to-do list based on how long a task will take you.

It’s a lot less intimidating to start with something that you know will only take two minutes than to start with something that may take half an hour. When I’m feeling really overwhelmed, sometimes I just start by answering emails. I keep my email inbox really organized, so I usually only have a few emails to go through at a time. This is always a great task to tackle first because it makes me feel like I have accomplished something, gives me a sense of control, and helps ground me when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

I’ve found that after you have tackled one small thing, it becomes easier to tackle another slightly bigger thing, then another even bigger thing, finally working your way up to the biggest thing on your list.

I find this option works best when I’m trying to work myself through an overwhelming big to-do list, but it can also be used when you’re trying to tackle one big project. You’ll just want to break down that big goal into smaller tasks you can do one at a time to work toward finishing your project.


Option #2: Start with the most fun task

This option works best when it’s difficult to figure out how long your individual tasks will take or when many tasks will take about the same amount of time. You can motivate yourself to get started a lot easier when the first thing you’re doing is the one you enjoy the most.

In my experience, so much of the fear of starting can be overcome simply by building momentum. If you get one task done, you realize that things aren’t as hard as you built them up to be in your head and it’s waaaaay easier to keep going with your to-do list once you’ve gotten the ball rolling. Starting with the task you’re going to have the most fun with is going to distract you from how hard it is to get started and ease you over that hump.


Option #3: Eat the frog

I know what this sounds like, but the phrase “eat the frog” just means to tackle the most unpleasant task first. This is probably the most difficult option out of this list, but it is really effective if you’re able to turn it from just an option into a daily habit. Starting your day by accomplishing the most unpleasant task you’ll have to do that day is extremely empowering and makes completing everything else on your to-do list so much easier.

I always breathe such a sigh of relief when the task I’ve been dreading is finally done. Imagine being able to breathe that sigh of relief early in the day instead of late at night. Starting by “eating the frog” can also keep you on track so that you accomplish the things you set out to and don’t have to stay up late because you put off “the frog” by doing things like procrasti-cleaning.


I aspire to tackle my fear of starting by “eating the frog” every day, but as long as I just start I am satisfied. The most important thing is to remember that the fear of starting comes from the fear of failure and from perfectionism, so it’s important to constantly remind yourself that done is better than perfect.

{How do you motivate yourself to get started on a project? What holds you back from starting? Tell me in the comments below! I read and respond to every single one.}



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