By Diana Goodwin, founder of MarketBox, a platform for service businesses looking to simplify scheduling, bookings & payments.
No matter what you want to do—start a company, write a book, launch a podcast—you must develop one fundamental skill: the art of getting started.
It’s the only skill that allows all your other skills, talents and abilities to flourish. Without it, your idea is just that: an idea.
It might sound simple, yet in my experience, it’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many would-be entrepreneurs. I’ve talked with many people, especially young people, who are bright, passionate and full of ideas, but they’re still lingering at the starting line.
I’ve found that the reason behind the seeming inability to get started is often twofold: perfectionism and a psychological phenomenon called loss aversion.
Rarely do you hear someone say “I have perfectionism” but rather “I am a perfectionist,” and it’s this sense that perfectionism is somehow part of who we are that makes it so difficult to overcome. Luckily, hundreds, if not thousands, of resources are available to help you conquer it.
In the context of business, the best piece of advice I give is to ignore the critical voice of perfectionism, and as the author and business exec Seth Godin says, “ship your work.” In other words, get something—anything—out into the world and then edit and make improvements.
If every entrepreneur or inventor waited until their product was perfect, nothing would ever get released! Give it your best shot, but learn to be comfortable with creating something a little rough around the edges on your first try. Nobody is watching you as intently as you might think!
Once you’ve overcome that initial fear and started, that’s when the most progress is made. Then you can begin the continual process of editing, curating, refining, testing and reimaging until your product resonates with your market.
Loss aversion is another sticking point when trying to master the art of getting started. The concept was first introduced by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979 and is based on the principle that we hate to lose more than we love to win.
Loss aversion often manifests itself as risk aversion, which I often see in would-be entrepreneurs. They get so caught up in the risks of a new endeavor that they never end up starting it in the first place.
Successful entrepreneurship requires reframing one’s mindset to overcome a certain level of loss aversion and instead look boldly toward the future. My definition of an entrepreneurial mindset is simple: It’s someone who thinks more about what they stand to gain rather than dwelling on what they could lose. (Of course, nobody should ignore risks blindly!)
To begin mastering the art of getting started, I ask my mentees to try the following strategies for overcoming loss aversion, and I encourage you to try them next time you find yourself held back by the fear of what if.
1. Try fear-setting.
Fear-setting is an idea popularized by author and podcaster Tim Ferriss in a 2017 TED talk, based on the writings of the stoic philosopher Seneca. Ferriss suggests writing out our fears at length, in a structured way, over three pages. The first page asks one to define what could go wrong, then quickly jot down strategies to prevent negative outcomes (or decrease their likelihood) or repair any damage.
The next page is a 10-15 minute journaling exercise answering the question, “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?” The last step asks us to outline the downsides of staying still.
2. Ask, ‘What if it goes right?’
I recommend following up the fear-setting exercise with a journaling exercise about what could go right. Not just a partial success, as Ferriss prompts us to consider, but a full-blown, wildest-dreams success scenario. What would that look like, and—most importantly—who would you have to become for it to happen? What would your daily routine need to be to sustain the kind of business and personal success you’re imagining?
The trickiest part of both these mental traps—perfectionism and loss aversion—is that defeating them is an ongoing process. It’s worth being proactive and working these concepts into your annual or quarterly business planning process from the get-go and making them a part of your strategic process as a leader.
After all, what you stand to gain by getting started far outstrips what you stand to lose.