In his most recent post, James Clear discusses one of the most powerful impediments to creating great work: getting started. He argues that just getting started is the most important first step, because that builds momentum. But, our ability to get started is often hampered by the trap of comparing our current work against the present-day Seth Godin’s of the world.
This piece really resonated with me because I’ve fallen into the comparison trap many times as I set out to begin a project. Misguided by the notion that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, I believe that if I copy the habits, patterns, and systems of the example I’m looking at, then my work will be at the same level as the example. And it’s daunting when the product doesn’t quite match.
James explains, “ … It’s … important to remember that the systems, habits, and strategies that successful people are using today are probably not the same ones they were using when they began their journey.”
He goes on to address the comparison trap. “If you look at their optimal setup, it can be really easy to convince yourself that you need to buy new things or learn new skills or meet new people before you can even take the first step toward your goals.”
Overcoming Inertia: Start from Where You Are
Newton’s first law: An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force; an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
The key to overcoming this comparison trap is to get started with whatever you have right now. It doesn’t matter the skills, the connections, the stuff — whatever it is you think you lack is not important, because you are not at the same place.
It helps if we reframe the challenge. The goal is not to produce the example you see, but to produce your best version. As Dr. Srini Pillay has talked about in his work, you need to start from the notion that you can be the best version of a 40-year-old father of two working a full time job in corporate America. You are in competition, but you are in competition with the self.
What I’ve found in my personal experience is that when I make this switch, it opens up a world of possibility. Anything becomes possible, because I’m less focused on the idea of mimicking somebody and meeting or beating them at their own game, and more focused on making myself better.
Embrace Dynamic Learning
In Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try, Dr. Pillay says this about dynamic learning, “ … the new education is dynamic, giving us the ability to be nimble thinkers and creative problem solvers, to use critical thinking skills to figure out what we don’t yet know but need to know.”
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 64
Dynamic learning is the hallmark of Professor Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset,” a way of looking at life that focuses on continuous improvement of the self. As Professor Dweck’s research has shown, once you make the switch to a growth mindset, it changes the way you view success and failure. And this is the key to getting going.
Once you look at each experience as a new learning opportunity, physics does the rest. Less and less effort is required to move forward, and you find that you can easily gain momentum in whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
As you reflect on the progress you’re making, you’ll learn and grow and self-generate new opportunities that will get you closer to your goals.
Mimicry as the Sincerest Form of Flattery, not the Path Forward
Studying somebody’s moves and using them as inspiration and mimicking them are two different things. Studying is one way of learning and can be invaluable if you take an approach you see back to your tinker space and play around with it. Copying can be a good way to get started so long as it leads to a unique creation. Srini Rao, the creator of The Unmistakable Creative podcast, uses this approach to jump start his writing sessions. Copying a few words from something of interest to him is a way to prime the pump.
It’s important to look at examples and various approaches to doing something. This is a step in the learning process. But each example you evaluate should be modified to fit within your personal system and approach to doing the work. As you adapt an approach to fit your personal system, you’ll learn whether it’s a good fit for you.
This fit assessment is a necessary, albeit often skipped, part of the learning process. When you try something out and assess for fit, you are taking something and making it your own. Ultimately, nobody’s approach to anything will fit perfectly into our own personal system, because that approach worked for that individual under a given set of circumstances. Instead, you have to let go of the desire for a specific result and be open to the possibility that you can create something unique to you.
Gaining momentum and moving forward are often a matter of mindset. Don’t try to be perfect or mimic with precision somebody else’s approach, because you need to take and make it your own.
Develop a mindset that favors dynamic learning over all other things. You will then see that life presents you with an infinite number of possibilities to grow, and when things don’t work out, you’ll be less affected by the results.
Most importantly, just get going on whatever it is you have in your mind and physics will take care of the rest. You’ll be astounded by what you can accomplish when you let go of this idea of perfection and move with the world.