The Focus Course

Jumpstart Momentum

There’s a unique challenge that comes with starting over, like getting back into a routine of regular exercise or picking up a creative endeavor that has sat dormant for too long.

Maybe it’s going back to work after vacation or recovering from an injury or illness.

Restarting is hard because it’s a reminder of what you haven’t been doing. Or, it’s a reminder of what you used to be able to do, but now only wish you could.

Starting something new comes with excitement and novelty. You’re pulled into momentum.

Restarting is old hat and feels more like pushing a boulder uphill.

Whatever your past abilities or accomplishments, that was yesterday, and this is now. The only thing that truly matters is what you are going to do today to move in the right direction.

Don’t let your past shame your present. You are not yesterday, you are right now. So let’s do something about it.

If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way


Let’s be honest, there may be some challenges to getting back on track.

Maybe you’re out of shape, out of practice, or coming off a big life transition. If you’re like me, there’s probably a list of reasons why you can’t do X.

The best way to regain momentum quickly and overcome your list of obstacles is to focus on what you can control.

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

The biggest obstacles are self-imposed.

“I use to be able to…”

”What if I never am able to produce X again?

As long as you are staring at what you used to do or have done in the past, you won’t be able to focus on what you can do today.

Let go of the obstacle of comparing yourself with yesterday. It’s time to do something new. Today has a whole new set of circumstances and challenges of its own.

Getting Started

The fastest way to build momentum is by tasting success, so when it comes to getting started, tilt the odds in your favor.

1. Redefine the Win

Start by redefining the win. What is your gold standard of the thing you are trying to accomplish? If you were doing the thing perfectly, what does that look like?

If the gold standard is running a half marathon and beating your personal best time, then today’s acceptable standard is getting out the door and doing a 15-minute run where walking is allowed.

If the gold standard is writing with complete focus for 3 hours a day, then today’s acceptable standard is setting a timer for 15 minutes and writing without distraction.

If the gold standard is 21 meals per week that are vegan, start by meal-prepping a vegan snack.

The win isn’t you arriving at your dream. The win is you making a small decision that moves you a little closer to where you want to be.

2. Set Yourself Up to Win (i.e. Cheat)

Redefining the win helps you get started, but now it’s time to win by actually doing the thing.

Early mornings have become a bit more challenging in recent months. At the moment, we have a 3-year-old, 15-month-old, and a 1-month-old. Getting up early is hard, but it’s also the only time our house is (usually) quiet.

Instead of making things complicated and difficult, instead of giving in to noble obstacles, finishers stack the odds before they even start. — Jon Acuff Finish

To stack the odds in my favor for an early morning run and quiet time, I do a few things.

First, I set out my morning coffee stuff the night before. That includes weighing and grinding the coffee beans, filling the kettle, and setting out the scale, pour-over rig, and coffee cup. It’s ready and waiting for me. All I have to do is turn the kettle on and make my coffee.

Second, I set out my running stuff. Because stumbling around my house at 5am to find my running shoes, socks, watch, heart rate monitor, shorts and a shirt is way too hard.

And if I’m really on the struggle bus, I text a friend and tell them I’ll meet them in the morning for a run.

Things one and two are usually enough to lure me out of bed 80% of the time. Public accountability works 98% of the time.

Point being, if there’s something you want to be doing but are having a hard time following through with, stack the odds in your favor. Cheat.

Sometimes stacking the odds is buying two of your toddler’s favorite stuffed animal so the world doesn’t end when she inevitably leaves one at a rest stop outside of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. — Jon Acuff, Finish

Which leads to my next point.

3. Focus on One Thing

The whole cheating thing does something for you. It allows you to focus on one thing.

Eliminate dual focus at all costs.

My night before routine helps me focus on doing one thing. Get out of bed, put on my run stuff, and start running. Turn the kettle on, make coffee. That’s it.

Don’t sit down to write and decide what you’re going to write about at the same time. Words are hard enough.

Single focus helps you ride that wave of momentum you’ve already created for yourself. You’ve already decided what’s important, so now just do it.

Keep it Going

Getting that first burst of momentum is often the hardest, but keeping it going is also a challenge. Here are a few tactics I employ to help me keep showing up when I’m just not feeling it.

Track Progress: Especially in those first few days and weeks of getting back into something, it’s really gratifying to be able to see progress. Tracking progress helps you feel like you’re winning, and that’s addicting. Here’s an example of tracking progress for me right now.

Track Progress

I hadn’t run for close to four months due to buying a house and having our third son. I needed that sense of accomplishment of seeing my achievements on paper. The times and distances weren’t important — I just needed to see progress.

Find ways to track progress on the thing you’re trying to build momentum in.

Public Accountability: Tell other people about the thing you’re trying to do. that way, when you want to quit or let yourself off the hook, other people are watching your progress. You’ve not only made a commitment to yourself, you’ve made a commitment to others.

Don’t Evaluate: A fast killer of momentum is over-evaluating. Don’t do it. Give yourself permission to stink. The point isn’t to be perfect — it’s just doing the thing.

I’ve given myself the rule when getting back into running that I won’t evaluate anything for eight weeks. I have to run consistently for eight weeks before making any assessments. It takes about that long to form any sort of habit or routine anyway. One of the biggest pitfalls to building momentum is evaluating too quickly.

Commit to the Process: Evaluating says I’m not there yet. Exactly, that’s why you’re doing the work to begin with. You don’t simply arrive at your goals, so commit to doing the work today. Every time you show up to do the work is a win.

Learn how to enjoy the work itself vs. just the end result. Otherwise, it’s going to be a miserable ride.

Set Milestones: This sounds like a paradox after the last point, but milestones are helpful. How will you know when you’ve achieved what you set out to do? The milestone isn’t the be-all-end-all, but it’s something in the distance you are working toward.

But you should also know when you get there. It shouldn’t be so vague that you never know if you’ve actually arrived or not. There should be a clear quantitative aspect.

  • Specific amount of words written
  • Sign up for a race with a friend
  • Prepare X amount of meals per week that are completely vegan
  • Sleep X amount of hours per night for so many weeks.

Milestones help keep us moving forward.

Set a Reward: Let’s be honest, we all love rewards, so if you’ve set a milestone, set a reward for yourself.

  • Finish remodeling the bathroom, buy a new record.
  • Hit your word count goal for the year, get a new pair of shoes.
  • Complete a huge work project on time, go out for a fancy dinner to celebrate.

Rewards are not only motivating, but also gratifying. You could always buy a record or new pair of shoes, but there’s something about earning them that makes it a little sweeter. If that also helps you stay on track, then it’s a win-win.

Photo by Darren Bockman via Unsplash.

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