Why do most people not start companies or work on that one big idea they’ve been dreaming about forever? Mind you, the question is not why most companies fail, the question is why they are not even started in the first place?
This Forbes article lists down 7 reasons why it happens but I believe fundamentally there are only two – Fear of failure and/or inertia. And these don’t just hold true for businesses not getting started but for almost anything significant that gets thought about but never happens.
So, how do you get over that fear or break out of inertia?
By starting small.
Think of someone who has won an Olympics medal. Podium at the Olympics is beyond comprehension for most people. But when you rewind that athlete’s journey and you divide it into micro-tasks that were accomplished right upto when they first set foot on the track, this incomprehensible feat starts seeming possible. If you zoom in enough, you understand that the journey to that Olympic medal wasn’t one giant overnight leap; rather, it was made up of a lot of small steps, spread over a long period of time.
That’s how it is with anything significant in life.
The only problem is that we don’t look at our goals this way and there’s a reason behind it. Generally, we set out ambitious goals, we attach too much importance to the ‘big’ end result, and we seek instant reward. This can be a dangerous combination. Dangerous because the bigger the ambition, the longer it will take to reach there and the farther it will seem. And the farther it is, the more patience it requires.
This problem is fairly modern. For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors were too busy gathering food and procreating. Most of them were dead by the time they would have turned 30. They never had to set long term ambitious goals. Moreover, instant reward was necessary for survival then but life is different today and when all you do is seek instant reward and attach too much importance to the big end result, you can’t really practice the patience required to see how small-tasks would compound to anything big. That is even when accomplishing those small-tasks is a rewarding experience in itself.
It’s also important to understand why fear and inertia exist. Fear exists because of risk and inertia because the brain wants to conserve energy and it’s difficult for it to see a reward bigger than the one you are already getting by continuing to be in your present state.
Surprisingly, starting small is the solution to fixing both.
Divide your goals into milestones and those milestones into the smallest possible units of tasks. Want to build a meditation habit? Start with simply sitting in a quiet environment with your eyes open for 1 minute and do it for a few days consistently. Then progress to closing the eyes for 1 minute and increase this time gradually.
The big ‘end’ goal starts looking achievable when we take some of that importance away from the end result and attach it to the tiny accomplishments that are necessary to get to that goal.
The size of your ambition, your timeline and your present situation determines how quickly you need to check the items in that list of tiny tasks. Regardless, every goal, no matter its size, is achieved this way and when you have a conscious realization of it, starting small proves to be a much more powerful way to operate.
Want to build a spaceship? Start by picking up a piece of paper and a pencil and writing down what needs to happen tomorrow.
Thanks to Pooja Vaswaney, Mary Gibson, Rajan Goyal, Ashvendra, and Munish Nanda for reading drafts of this.