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Stop Starting

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Working with people each and every day around the issues of stress I hear a lot of “I’m gonna start” statements.  I’m sure you say them yourself:

I’m gonna start going to the gym.

I’m gonna start going on date nights with my spouse.

I’m gonna start connecting with people more.

I’m gonna start coming out of my office and engage with my team more.

I’m gonna start planning for retirement.


As a task list goes, that’s a pretty strong and positive list.  One would think a SMaRT coach would champion a list like this.  Unfortunately, this type of list creates disappointment, guilt, and even more stress than most other kinds of statements. We call is the:


Start-Stop-Regret-Avoid Cycle


Really, Why?

Too Generic.  Declarative statements are certainly impressive.  They express strong decision making.  The reason they often fail us is that they are too generic.  They lack the stepping stones or how-tos of getting us from point A to point B.  Saying, “I’m gonna start going to the gym,” has no meat to it so it’s easy to disregard.  Do this often enough and you’re just plain lying to yourself for temporary gratification.

Revolving Door.  So you’re going to engage with your team more.  A week goes by and nothing has changed. Now, this week you’re really going to engage with your team.  Friday night, again, and no engagement.  Now darn it…THIS time you’re going to engage your team.  The revolving door effect perpetuates our sense of failure and creates feelings of guilt.  The constant in start mode, out of start mode, back in start mode eventually weighs you down.

Self-deprecation.  You mentally tell yourself you’re going to start.  If you’re really brave you share it publicly with friends via social media or in-person for an “accountability buddy.”  Then it doesn’t happen.  People ask you how it went and you have to give some reason that doesn’t make you feel totally crappy.  Slowly but ever powerfully the self-deprecating language creeps in.  Your stress response causes you to avoid discomfort and run away from painful situations.  Ultimately you decide why bother to start that again when it didn’t work the first, second, or third times.  The end result: nothing changes, you feel stuck, and this experience has taught you not to start that again.

Note: Due to some serious, psychological components called the Theory of Self-Deception and Metacognition, it can be very difficult to hear the self-deprecating language we use during the Start-Stop-Regret-Avoid Cycle. It whispers in our unconscious mind and comes out as excuses, defensiveness, passivity, insecurity, or even humor.

Answer This

How would you feel about crossing these two bridges?





At first glance, A. makes one want to say, “Oh, HELL NO!” Your heart races, sweat pools in your palms, your brain is sending impulses to your feet to turn and run in the opposite direction.

Bridge B. has a different effect on your senses, body responses, and internal dialogue. You still might not be a fan but the stress response isn’t driving you away as quickly. You may even find it thrilling, adventurous, and fun to walk across or stop in the middle to jump and sway the bridge, testing its strength and your resolve.

Why is this?

When we actively move forward the brain looks for certain, let’s say, reliable cues to ensure we aren’t walking into a threatening situation. This is true for all situations; physical like a bridge or emotional/psychological like changing our behaviors and achieving goals. When there is a direct path that is secure and our steps are laid out in smaller, equal parts it’s vastly easier for our brains to trigger us to confidently move forward. When the laid path is scattered with mis-matched, ragged steps and the supports are inconsistent we are very apprehensive about taking even the slightest movement because our brains are seeing these situations as threats.

It is this concept that answers the question of why people get into the Start-Stop-Regret-Avoid Cycle in the first place. It can be easy to start something with excitement and true commitment. We only continue on the journey when our path is safe, direct, supportive, reliable, and predictable- bridge B. We stop when our brain sees the situation as threatening.

How to Build Bridge B

  1. Be specific.

It’s the details in our action statements that allow us to move forward with confidence and security. Being specific means you answer the who, what, when, where, and how questions surrounding what you plan on starting. Then you continue to answer these questions as you take each step along the way. When we have clarity in our action steps we are able to check off the tasks more easily and find security in our footing.

  1. Take smaller steps.  

When we break down our “I’m gonna start…” statements into smaller pieces they are easier to complete.  For example, instead of, “I’m gonna start planning for retirement,” it becomes:

I’m gonna read X book on retirement planning every night 15 minutes before I go to sleep over the next 3 weeks.

Tomorrow, I’m gonna follow Mr. Financial Guru and Mrs. Retirement Expert on social media to see what they say and recommend.

I’m gonna take 2 free, online webinars this month to get some basic understanding of the subject.

Taking smaller steps, instead of the lunging and leaping tendency, might feel like you’re taking a slower pace to achieving what you want.  When you consider that you have a higher chance of completion over the generic “I’m gonna start” statements, you actually get there faster.  Go slow to go fast.

  1. Navigate the unexpected.

When you start to cross those bridges, you naturally look around for anything unexpected coming at you; birds, tree limbs, unidentified flying objects…anything reasonable and unreasonable that can throw you off balance. Rarely do people do this naturally while starting a new task or behavior. Excitement and confidence clouds the warning system which prevents you from looking around for those unexpected elements. To stop starting it’s vital to be versatile enough to navigate the unexpected.

  1. Redefine

When we say we are going to start something, most people swing the pendulum; going from nothing or little to maximum or intense.  If you currently spend little to no time exercising and you start your plan by going to the gym 6 days a week for at least an hour, that’s swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other.  Threading a new behavior into your life isn’t about the intensity by which you do it that matters, it’s about the consistency.  Redefining how you approach what you’re starting in a way that allows you to feel successful, while having sustainability, will keep you from having to start over again and again.

Key Takeaways

In order to stop starting, we have to be specific, take small steps, navigate the unexpected, and redefine how we approach what we’re starting.

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