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Trick Your Brain Into Getting Started

Image by Parallel Studio

You may have a business idea, personal project or an important task that’s been on your mind but you’ve not been able to start. You could spend time analysing why you’re hitting that wall… but instead, in this email we will look at how you can trick your brain into getting started, so you can start to gather some momentum.

How do you feel when you watch the above animation? Will the ball ever go in? Do you find it frustrating? When something doesn’t feel finished, complete, or as prefect as you wanted it to be, it can have a nagging affect on our brains.

This is called the “need for closure” a psychological desire to make uncertain things certain. Designers use this to motivate people to act - think about that red dot that highlights the unread messages you have; it’s hard to ignore. Here’s a snippet from a digital design site recommending how the need for closure can be deployed…

Motivate your users to act by providing subtle cues to completion. As humans, we have an innate motivation to seek away from ambiguity towards closure. By providing small tasks that plays on our need for closure, you can provide small successes for your users and let them feel as if they are working their way out of ambiguity and doubt towards completeness and certainty.”

This behaviour can lead us astray - like getting our unread messages to 0 instead of doing something more important - but we can also use it to our benefit. As long as we are the ones creating these “small successes” for good reason.

I used to swim a lot, and was training to do 5k for charity. This required me to swim 2-3 times a week, for 1-2 hours. The idea of doing so after work was always off-putting. I often tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to train that evening. But of course I did. The only thing that worked was telling myself a little white lie; I’d say: “I will just swim 5 lengths and if I’m not feeling up to it I can leave”. Once I was in the pool that number would go up and up until I’d completed my whole training.

Here I’d created a “small success”, lowering the bar to swimming only 5 lengths and reduced the pressure, which helped get me started. I could then use this momentum to keep going by adding new small targets as I went “just another 5 lengths”.

So what is your “I will just…” that will get you started on your business idea, project or important task?


Exercise - “I will just…”

  1. Write down or picture in your mind the whole goal i.e. swim 200 lengths of a 25m pool.

  2. Decide on your white lie which makes the goal smaller. “I will just…” - here’s some ideas for how you could approach it:

    • Time based i.e. “I will spend 10 minutes on it”.

    • Number of actions i.e. “I will complete the first two steps” or “I will repeat it 3 times”.

    • Reduce the pressure i.e. “I will just create a rough draft and then redo it later”.

    • Task based - Are there some easy tasks that you can quickly do?

  3. Give yourself a way out i.e. “If I get tired I’ll stop” or “After that time/number of steps I will stop”.

  4. Get started - If you still struggle to get going, lower the bar further.

  5. When you reach the point where you’re considering stopping remind yourself of the whole goal and ask “Could I do a little more?”.

  6. Decide on and head towards your next “small success” is i.e. “I’ll do 10 minutes more”.

If you’re someone that can’t stop working you are most likely doing all this already. You have a different challenge. Take a look at the “A Productive Weekend Holiday” blog post so you can relax properly this weekend.

Adam Ellison

Adam Ellison

The founder and course mentor at The Monday Morning Club

This article was updated on March 9, 2023