When I was a kid, I absolutely hated cutting the grass.
I don’t know if “hated” really captures the pure revulsion I’m trying to communicate. I can only tell you that it usually took escalating threats of violence from my mother, then even more threats from various family members and friends before I’d get up off the couch and crank that lawnmower.
Even then, I’d look for ways to avoid it, including but not limited to: faking a stomach ache, disappearing to a friend’s house and/or pouring the gas out of the lawnmower.
Sadly, I never learned — at least not until very recently — the somewhat paradoxical truth about starting a task: the quicker you start, the easier you finish; and, consequently, the longer you put it off, the more daunting and difficult starting the task becomes.
I’ve been putting off exercise for a long time. I understand the importance of it — my cardiologist won’t let me forget! — and I understand the great benefits I’ll experience as a result. I just haven’t done it.
I’ve waffled about what kind of exercises I want to do. Should I do strength training? Should I just start with walking? I should probably start with walking. So, I’ll need a treadmill to start walking because what if the weather is bad and I can’t walk in the rain and treadmills are how much again? Before I know it, I’m stressed out. I’m dreading the very idea of exercise, viewing it as some impossible, unreachable goal that I might attempt when I have the time, money or both. In any case, I keep putting it off.
I ran across a great quote the other day, and it’s honestly revolutionized the way I think about exercise, writing, work — anything, really.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt
That’s it. It’s ridiculously simple, isn’t it? It’s like an invitation and a kick in the pants at the same time. I want to pull it apart because there is really so much there. I see it as three steps you can take right now to start something great.
Do what you can…
When I would think about cutting the grass, and how much I hated it, our yard suddenly became the grounds of a 50-acre estate. I would look at it and think about the vastness of it, stretching, it seemed, from one end of the earth to the other.
There were, however, two small strips of grass and then a larger piece in the front yard, and then a medium piece in the back. When I would start on that smallest strip and finish it quickly, it was all the satisfaction I needed to keep going.
Doing what you can means selecting that thing you can do right now. For exercise, I had to make a choice. What is something I can do right now? How can I just jump in and get started today?
With what you have…
It’s so easy to put off a worthy goal when we feel under equipped for the task at hand. If I only had this tool or software or shoes or exercise equipment.
Obviously, I don’t have a treadmill, but this shouldn’t be the obstacle that keeps me from a worthwhile goal. What do you have on hand? Are you trying to start a writing habit? You don’t have a computer? Do you have a pen and paper?
Start with what you have.
Where you are.
I think we all get hung up on location, both in the physical and mental sense. When we attempt something worthwhile in our lives, we’re going to face resistance. Our mind will immediately tell us we’re not ready, and point out all the obstacles to keep us firmly planted in our seats. I don’t know why this is so, but it’s a fight you have to take on if you’re going to succeed.
From the physical standpoint, it’s easy to get stuck on where you aren’t. I don’t have a gym membership. I don’t have access to exercise equipment. I don’t have a desk where I can write. What do you have? Start with where you are.
As I said, this quote was truly revolutionary for me. I’d been stalled on exercise for over a year, coming up with an endless list of reasons to put it off a little longer. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the equipment. I don’t have the membership. I don’t have the money.
This quote forced me to think about what I do have, which is a lot, actually.
I do have two legs, which give me the ability to walk. I do work on the beautiful campus of Georgia Southern University, which offers me miles of sidewalks and a constant view of grand buildings and landscapes. I do have two 15-minute breaks during which time I can take a walk if I want.
And so a month ago, I started. I’ve been taking a 15-minute walk at least once a day, every weekday for the past month. The weather has been pristine. The walk is always refreshing. And when I return to my desk, I’m more alert and engaged than when I left. I look forward to it each day.
I know I’m going to have to create backup plans for the days when the weather isn’t great. I’m sure I can invest in an umbrella, and I’m pretty sure I can walk just as easily in a coat. If worse comes to worst, I can always climb some stairs in one of the huge buildings on campus. I have options, and options trump excuses every time.
What is it that you’re putting off, focusing on the obstacles that keep you from success? What can you do with what you have, where you are? How can you start right now?