When Starting is More Difficult Than Finishing

FirstStep

I can win a game of pool, but I’m not very good at starting one. Let’s just be real–I’m terrible at breaking. I can never seem to get enough power to create a smooth and clean strike. More often than not, the cue ball barely moves the rack of balls, and sometimes I end up scratching. The last time I did a decent break had more to do with the extra-smooth surface of the table I was playing on than any of my technique.

Come to think of it, I could never get the hang of serving in a tennis match either. Sure, I could chase after the ball and lob it over the net, but starting the game on a strong note always seemed to elude me.

Why is it that sometimes starting something is more difficult than finishing it? I am very organized in my job and love completing tasks. I love making lists, not only to keep track of what I need to do, but also for that sense of satisfaction when I cross them out. But I occasionally find myself sitting at my desk feeling totally unmotivated to do what I know (and have spelled out) what needs to be done. Eventually I get to work, but making that first step can be more difficult than making the final one.

Is it not knowing how to start or is it plain old procrastination?

Finishing strong is important, but so is starting strong. When I was teaching poomsae (taekwondo forms) I would sternly tell my students that their ready stance (legs straight with toes forward, strong fists in front of the belt) was just as important as the rest of the form. I didn’t want to see any dead, glassy eyes, limp hands, or duck feet. If they went to tournaments the judges would most certainly be looking a that. Our beginning stance is our first impression. Focus and determination happen when you’re standing still.

Maybe finishing a task is easier because we’ve had some time to build confidence from our successes. We’ve had a chance to try things out, maybe even learn from our mistakes. Maybe the expectations on ourselves are too high at the beginning. We think there won’t be any mistakes or setbacks. We don’t think we’ll lose the game. Going into the unknown is scarier than conquering the familiar.

I don’t think I have the final solution to this conundrum, even as a VERY CLEAR (and impatient) “J” in the Myers-Briggs world. It can be helpful, if time allows it, to ease into tasks. Drink some coffee, journal, catch up on news, do whatever pleasant distractions you need to do to get them out of your system. Procrastination happens to everyone, and sometimes the best thing to do is just get it out of your system.

After a little while of working on a task, I find myself picking up momentum and completing what I’d been dreading getting started. This happens a lot with writing projects at work. I feel like I have writer’s block, but after I force myself to get started without the high expectation of finishing it immediately I churn out something that’s pretty good. Letting myself relax when I get started (but with focus and determination) often leads to a strong finish.

So maybe that’s the key–just relax and start. Do SOMETHING. Do ANYTHING. And try to do it well. Trust yourself to do it well. You’ll get to the end in no time.

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In Defense of Complacency: When Good Enough Is Good Enough

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Good enough. Let’s move on!

In new employee orientation at my workplace we play this video with alarming statistics of what could go wrong when 99.9% is “good enough.” Newspapers are missing front pages, shoes are shipped in mismatched pairs, newborns go home from the hospital with the wrong parents, planes crash…you know, fun uplifting stuff. We ask the new employees their opinion and of course they say, no, 99.9% is not acceptable. I work for a healthcare organization, so understandably excellence, use of best practices, and an aim for zero mistakes has a heightened sense of urgency.

(This is the part where I lean in conspiratorially)

…Caring for hospital patients and landing planes aside…Don’t you think there are times when good enough is good enough? Right now you want to say, “No, that’s not true! We should always strive for perfection! We have to always try our absolute best!” But I also know you’re fighting the urge to admit that I’m right…just a little bit, at least in certain circumstances. Ladies and gentlemen, I now take the role of the little devil on your shoulder and will present my argument for why complacency is sometimes the best approach, or why good enough is indeed, good enough.

There are times in taekwondo class that I do revel in the mechanical minutiae and the persistent pursuit of perfection, most often in forms. Forms are my moving meditation and give me the chance to really immerse myself into my practice. Whenever I’m leading a group of students through their form I encourage them to try just one little thing differently the next time they do it. That staves off the boredom that can accompany repetition (I remember those seemingly endless form practices as a child). Compared to fast-paced sparring, practicing forms is a downright luxurious, dare I say decadent (and delicious) deep dive into technique.

And then there’s sparring. I don’t have time to worry about the minutiae during a fight. Hopefully all my training outside of sparring have programmed certain skills, minutiae and all, into my body so it reacts subconsciously anyway. I try my best in each fight, but I don’t necessarily do my best. I’m okay with that. As long as I’m defending myself effectively (for the most part), getting in a few good hits on my opponent (for the most part), and most importantly having fun, that’s good enough for me.

And then there’s jump spin kick…and 360 roundhouse (tornado kick)…and 540 spin kick….yeah, y’all gettin’ good enough from me and that’s it. I’d like to think a sign of maturity is not only a healthy awareness of one’s strengths but also of one’s limitations. I’m petite, pushing forty years old, and have a messed up back, hips, and right hamstring. I push myself hard during workouts, but I’m also well aware of my physical limitations. With these types of complicated airborne kicks I just think, “F-ck it,” do my best, and put my energy into activities I can master with both feet on the ground. The kids can jump all they want, and I enjoy watching them fly around in the air. I’d rather play with knives, hand strikes, our hapkido-inspired self-defense techniques, and my trusty forms. Good enough for me.

The question is, “What’s the best use of my energy and my time?”

I naturally do better and more effortlessly reach that 100% of excellence when I’m doing something I enjoy, I feel confident, and I’m being creative. I can get that 100% with things that are more difficult or less enjoyable if I approach things piece by piece, rather than take on the entire burden at once. And sometimes I just call it good enough and move on.

Sometimes it’s okay to accept “good enough.” When time is limited or resources or limited (or capabilities are limited), it’s perfectly fine to give your best version of good enough and move on. That’s a smarter and healthier approach than running yourself into the ground trying to do something that for you is too frustrating, too difficult to be worth the trouble, or infringes on more important priorities. If you’re running in circles, trapped in analysis paralysis, going down a rabbit hole, or in the throes of any other metaphor I see way too often in the corporate world all in the pursuit of absolute perfection I suggest you stop wasting your time, stop stressing yourself out, and accept “good enough.”

Perhaps there’s a fine line between giving your all and picking and choosing your battles. One of my coaching clients compares his approach to his career development and his work as hospital leader to how he approaches woodworking, his favorite hobby.

“I want to make sure I get the measurement just right before I put the pieces together,” he told me. “If you’re careless and you cut a piece too short then it’s too late. You can’t put the piece of wood back together.” I suppose that’s true for major decisions about his career or choices he must make that would have a major impact on employees and patients….but there are other times when you can just slap shit together and call it done.

Complacency, at least in the context of this article, is not giving up. Perhaps a better word would be “Contentment.” You do what you can, and at the same time you also let go and accept what is.

And that’s good enough for me.

Choose Your Priorities, Don’t Let Them Choose You

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Tonight a teenage black belt who should be testing for second dan in October was throwing up one argument after another as to why he couldn’t stay for the extra classes we have on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Finally he said that his priorities have shifted for the summer.

“And what’s your priority this summer?” my instructor asked with a sigh.
“Video games.” The student turned on his heel and stalked out of the training room.

We often think we are at the mercy of our priorities and everything that’s “on our plate,” but the truth of it is it all comes down to choices. Yesterday I talked about how we have a choice in how we feel rather than being a victim and blaming someone else for our anger or sadness or self-doubt. Claiming helplessness in the face of priorities is robbing yourself of your very potent power of choice.

You have a choice in how you spend your time and energy. In EVERYTHING. “But I have to go to work or I’ll get fired!” you might say. Oh really? Is someone yanking you out of bed and shoving you into your car every morning and forcing you to drive to the oil field or the office or the restaurant or do you choose to drive yourself to work no matter whether you love or hate your job? “I have to take care of my kids!” No, you choose to. There are plenty of idiots out there who don’t.

You have a choice in how much attention and energy you devote to that next phone call, email, project, or conversation. Your boss might have told you to do it, but you are ultimately the decider. You could certainly stay home and yes, you might get fired. That was your choice.

You have a choice in how much time and attention you devote to your partner or family. I have never said, “I’m too busy” to someone I really liked or loved. Like everyone else and more times than I’m proud to admit I’ve used the “I’m too busy” line to get out of something that I chose not to do but don’t have the courage to admit it.

Not to be an apple polisher here, but my priority this summer IS taekwondo. Yeah sure, I have a full-time job, but that’s never stopped me before, heh heh! I choose to stay in shape so I have the endurance for sparring, the strength for jumping, and the finer motor skills for forms. I choose to watch what I eat (well, most of the time) so I have a clear head and high energy. I choose to devote my time to my practice rather than doing all those other fun things I could be doing this summer.

I choose it because it is so important to me. I don’t really care about titles or measuring myself against anyone else. I’m doing this for me. The dojang is my second home, and the people there are my second family. Getting a black belt is the icing on an already delicious cake; I just want to be there as often as I can.

If you catch yourself saying, “I want to do that, but I don’t have time,” pause for a moment. Do you really not have time or do you place your values and importance on something else? Either scenario is OK. You have more freedom than you think you do. Everything is a choice, and the power is yours.