“Beginning often begins with imagining. We think and we visualize and we imagine and we research. And it’s possible to let the research become a stall tactic. But there’s also a lot of value to that research, there’s a lot of value to that thinking time, to that imagining time.”
Last episode we talked about how to choose one task to focus on, even when we are overwhelmed by choices (most of which feel like necessities.) Now that we’ve chosen a task- how do we start? Perhaps we visualize or imagine the very beginning, the very first step. Perhaps, just reaching the very beginning can be enough.
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 23 January 2024.
Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in.
So this week, we're talking about how to get started. Where do we start? How do we get started when we have this push pull, when we have this pressure, when we're stuck behind either a backup of things that we want to do, or also a desperate need to rest.
So let's suppose that we picked something. Last episode, we talked about all the different ways that we could pick a place to start, instead of being overwhelmed by all the other things.
Now, let's suppose you've picked something, you've still got inertia in front of you. What now? So inertia's just this funny thing, right, because it covers both states of rest and states of motion. An object at rest, remains at rest. An object in motion remains in motion, in a straight line at a constant speed, unless a force is applied to it.
For a really long time, I had not heard that last part about the force. And so I was skeptical about this whole inertia thing. I was like, This doesn't make any sense. Because I can stop a ball, it doesn't necessarily keep rolling forever. In fact, it will not keep rolling forever, even if I don't touch it. But yeah, unless a force is applied to it, it keeps moving. And unless a force is applied to it, it keeps resting. Right, that's also part of it.
But people aren't inanimate objects. People are not inanimate objects. And in fact, if we take a more indigenous worldview, like the one that Robin Wall Kimmerer describes, and braiding sweetgrass, even what we call inanimate objects, in the colonized world, are not inanimate objects. They are part of the world. They're a living part of the world like we are. But people especially will get up and move on their own in a way that must have time rocks won't. And so will squirrels. So will cats, so will eagles. So will trees.
I've got several avocado pits started in my house right now, as small trees. And let me tell you, the direction of light matters. They will bend over. Especially the young ones, especially when they're still not sure they want to waste the energy I'm putting out leaves. They'll bend. They're very bendy. So that's, that's interesting, right?
I'm already trying to figure out how- avocados are particularly vulnerable to transplant shock, which I have learned the hard way. And yet, when an avocado seed shows up in my house, already sprouted in the avocado, it feels to me like the avocado is saying, I want to live. How can I just compost that? I can't, I can't.
So I have a bunch of avocado trees right now. And I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to take one that I wasn't sure what's going to live. So I just kind of shoved it in an old sour cream container. And now it's quite tall, and it definitely needs more space. And I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to be able to cut the cup away in such a way that I don't disturb the roots. Or if I'm just going to cut large holes in the cup and let it find its way out. I don't know. I don't know, I just know it's gonna need more space soon.
So one of the things I want to say about getting started is that that kind of thinking, like I just described with the avocado tree, is in fact part of my process. And part of a lot of intensives' processes. Probably part of yours. Where we think and we visualize and we imagine and we research. And it's possible to let the research become a stall tactic. But there's also a lot of value to that research, there's a lot of value to that thinking time, to that imagining time.
For me, my imagination is very good at 3D manipulation. And it's a lot easier than doing it on a computer. So if I'm not actually creating, like, blueprints, it's better for me to do it my head. To lie down, to close my eyes, and to imagine doing the thing. And I do this with everything from designing woodworking and weaving projects, to sewing, to transplanting plants. Like everything. Sometimes even driving places.
I imagine it first. I visualize it first. And yes, elite athletes use visualization to lay down the neuronal pathways they need to do the thing without having done the thing yet or without doing the thing all the time. So there's research and practice around this. But for me, it's not just athletics, it's not even just an unfamiliar task. It's any task.
Part of the way that I lower the threshold between me not doing it and me doing it, is by imagining it. Until it feels like it's easy. And feeling like it's easy could be for any one of a number of reasons, it could be because it feels more practiced, it could be, because I've lowered my anxiety level around it. I don't know exactly why it works. But I do know that it works. And I do know that I do it. And when I do it, what I do is usually better. It's more effective.
This means that sometimes I have to do the very unintensive thing of reading the instructions first. Not just doing it along with the instructions. I'm very kinesthetic, I like to like just read a lot of the instructions and execute them. But that's not always the best thing.
So. So where I'm going with this is that beginning often begins with imagining, it doesn't necessarily begin with doing. Now, there is a danger, an opportunity, a thing- a fun thing about brains is that they don't distinguish very well between things that we imagined and things we actually do. So your brain may get all of its dopamine and satisfaction from imagining doing it and then you won't want to do it anymore, or then it won't be as fresh.
Like I don't imagine what I'm going to write before I sit down and put the words on the page. I let that happen immediately because it will only come fresh once. I don't like to write stuff out and draft and redraft and redraft. To me that feels like the life leaks out between the words. So there are things that I don't do that way.
But for example, I'm learning how to make button down shirts. Which if you've never done any sewing: button down shirts are complex, rabbits warren of tiny, tiny little pieces of fabric that have to be sewn with great precision. In a way that everyone recognizes. Right?
There's a very recognizable visual to a button down shirt, whether it's a flannel, or a dress shirt. And if you don't meet those recognizable little tiny details, then people will get that uncanny valley feeling about the shirt. Now, some people really want a shirt that stands out, and that's fine. But a lot of times when you're making a shirt like that, you just want it to blend in, you just want a shirt. And the only variation between that shirt and a shirt you'd buy at the store is that the one that you make for yourself fits you better.
So I've, I'm learning a new technique, I'm learning a lot of new techniques. And I'm learning a new system for assembling shirts. Because this one is based more on commercial techniques. And so I have to actually read- there's a very thick instruction book with this pattern. And I have to actually read the instruction section like three times. And really wrap my mind around what's going to happen before I do it. And that means that I can't start the next section when I'm tired.
I really wanted to finish the sleeves two days ago, and I can't finish the sleeves until I create the space to sit down and be with this pattern book. And really understand how this person is suggesting that I assemble the cuffs and the plackets. I've never made a sleeve placket before. I'm gonna have to figure this out.
So imagining, visualizing. Seeing in your mind's eye the the pitfalls, the challenges. You know, where could that go wrong? What would I do wrong? How would this? How can I mess this up? What can I do to prevent messing this up? And over time you develop, you know systems that help with that, hopefully.
So when you go to start, the first thing you're going to do is you're just going to imagine the starting point. Even with writing, I imagine sitting down on my computer and putting my hands on the keyboard or sitting down with a pad of paper and picking up the right pen. Because we've talked before on this channel about right paper and right pen for right task.
And sometimes it's a computer and sometimes it's a tablet. And sometimes it's pen and paper with like old fashioned ink of a particular color and like all of that stuff. When I picture it, I'm like oh right, I shouldn't start this with with a fountain pen because this is something that I feel the need to type.
So a lot of early stage troubleshooting can happen in that initial visualization. And then you don't get discouraged or sidetracked. And you can just keep rolling forward.
Sometimes when I open my email to write an email, like I talked about last time, I have to keep saying to myself: "email to Person X email to Person X email to Person X." Because if I don't keep saying that in the back in my head, I will get distracted by the 80,000 other emails that feel like they're urgent as soon as I open my email box. "Email to Person X."
So whatever you need to do to keep yourself focused, you'll know more about that when you envision doing the thing. And it might not take more than a second.
If I envision getting my paints out, I just have to know where my paints are, and envision pulling the drawer open and then envision the the weight of the tube in my hand. And if you can't imagine things that are a lot of people out there, and it seems to me, like extra numbers of people that I know.
So maybe it's a neuro divergence thing, maybe it's an intensives thing. But I seem to know an awful lot of people who are aphantasic; who can't imagine, who can't picture things in their head.
So if you can't picture something, remember, use your memory to remember some sensory details about it. Remember, what it feels like to touch wood.To touch metal. To touch a plastic tube of paint, the weight of the paint in your hand. It doesn't have to be visual.
So once you've imagined, in whatever way you can imagine, and if you can't just keep going. This step is not- none of this is a rule, right? These are all suggestions. We all have different ways of doing things. Our brains are all different. You need to adapt everything all the time anyway, especially if you're an intensive.
But these are not rules. These are just things to try.
So the next step is to get the first object and bring it to the place where you're going to use it. Get the first object and bring it to the place where you're going to use it. What does that mean?
For me, it means getting out at least one tube of paint. Although probably once I have the drawer open, I'll get out at least three tubes of paint, and a pallet. And dragging the little rolly cart that I think will be where I put my paints over next to my pad of paper. And setting it up. Just like putting the stuff there.
And then looking at it and thinking Okay, what else do I need? I need water so I don't walk away immediately because I'm thirsty. Okay. What else do I need? I need a paintbrush, and a jar of water to put my paint in that somehow visually different, and ideally, tactile-ly different from the jar that I'm drinking out of.
I have a little bit of an advantage in that I'm terrible about knocking things over. So everything that I drink out of has a lid. And obviously, the thing that I dip the paint brushes and can't have the same kind of lid. I wish there were a way to do that, there's probably a way to get close. But I have to be careful. Because I don't want to spill things. And I spill things all the time.
So setting it up for success. And then that might be enough of an emotional lift that you have to walk away and like go get lunch. I know it's excruciating to be patient with yourself around things like this. But it's also a relief. If you notice in your body that you're building tension, and you're building resistance and you're feeling maybe a little off, a little nauseous: Take a deep breath, go for a walk, get some lunch, work on an email, do something different.
There's a really funny cartoon going around and I'm sorry, I don't know who to credit. That's a guy standing on the doorstep of a house and the guy is selling the "Writers' Cleaning Service." And the deal is that writers who are procrastinating on writing will come and clean your house. And, yeah, I mean, there's so much that we will do to procrastinate doing something.
But also sometimes we need spaciousness.
Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need that in breath and that out breath. And so maybe the emotional effort of taking out the paints, of laying them out, of getting a brush, of getting one jar of water to drink out of and one jar of water to dip your paint brushes in, and hoping you don't mix them up- that might be the whole morning's emotional lift. You might need to go do things that are not that hard. That are easier, that require no thinking.
You might need to get some input instead of some output. Listen to a podcast, listen to a piece of music. I often find that when I'm feeling depleted, the best thing I can do is put some stuff in. Recognize that my cup is literally empty, and I need to listen to somebody else's ideas or somebody else's beauty for a while. And then maybe it won't happen again until tomorrow, maybe it won't happen again for a week, but at least the brushes are there.
So in a lot of ways, this is also the thing where we intensives have to borrow from expansives. Not because they were right, and we were wrong. That's not how that works. But because sometimes getting over something that's hard, works better in little bites. And each little bite is its own task, as far as we and our brains are concerned.
Unlike an expensive who can be like, yes, this series of little tasks makes up a large task. We're like, No, this little task was the whole task. And now that little task is going to be the whole task.
But you know what that saves us from? Is the 80% problem. Because if we have enough momentum to get all the way through the end of the task, because it's such a small task, then we don't get 80% of the way in and decide that we could do it, we know how it could be done. And so we're not interested anymore. We don't, we don't have to, we don't have to do that to ourselves.
Because by the time our brain starts to realize that we should have stopped 20% ago to be 80% consistent, it's done. It's finished. "Brain, you can hush." And sometimes that means that we run off the cliff, Wile E. Coyote style, from the old cartoons. Sometimes it means we run off the cliff with so much momentum that we don't notice that we're no longer on the cliff. And then we look down and we fall. And so the thing is, to know that you're going to need something to run into.
You're going to have a little extra energy to burn, what are you going to do? You're going to lay out the paints, you're going to recognize you're at the end of your energy. You still have that like momentum, but you're not actually producing any new energy. You're gonna go in the kitchen and get yourself a snack, and pet the cat, and put away the spoons. And take a nap and write an email and download, but not upload or approve, the latest bank statement from your bank.
If you, like me, have a financial management software that requires you to do manual download downloads. I'm working on finding a better one, but I don't have a better one right now.
You're going to allow yourself to blow off that extra built up energy without putting any more energy in. Just blow off the existing momentum. And all you've done is set it up. But that's the beginning and it counts. And you get to count it.
Thanks for tuning in. Talk with you soon.