“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which, more than anything else, affects its successful outcome.” William James
How helpful these words of wisdom are! As the father of American psychology, the brother of novelist Henry James, and an accomplished writer himself, William knew a lot about our psyches and how they affect the results we reap. And he also knew a lot about the writing life.
How we start a challenging project is how we finish it—there’s a lot of truth to this isn’t there? If we start strong, we’re more likely to finish strong. If we’re hesitant and halfhearted, we’re more likely to falter along the way and reap less-than stellar results.
So how can we cultivate a winning attitude at the onset of a project—especially one that’s difficult? A few strategies I’ve found helpful:
Commit to completion: When you make a commitment to yourself that you’ll finish a project no matter what right at the start, you release a tremendous amount of positive energy. You also relax: you know in advance the level of effort you’re willing to expend—whatever it takes.
Create enthusiasm: “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” Emerson said it long ago and it still holds true. When you bring enthusiasm—passionate zeal and ardor—to your work, it becomes totally absorbing and engages all your inner resources. You find the will power and the want power to go all out.
Prepare carefully: When we launch into a major project—one that promises to really give our “little gray cells” a workout—planning is key. If we tumble into it in a slapdash way, it’s easy to feel early on that we’re in over our heads. Confidence comes from preparation: If we’ve laid the groundwork for it, if we’ve marshaled our research and other resources, then we begin with the feeling that we’re off to a strong start.
Find joy: There’s nothing more satisfying than grappling with something difficult that you really care about—as my good friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert puts it. You can find joy in taking on something big. You can find joy in little wins that you’ve earned. You can find joy in knowing that the person you’ll become by doing something difficult is often even more important than the outcome.
What strategies do you find most helpful at the start of a challenging project? I’d love to hear and share them as we all write on!
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