Don’t let mental roadblocks get in your way

I often find it hard to get started (examples: getting out of bed; writing a strategic plan; picking up the phone; starting a report; going to the gym; writing a blog….). Once I do start something, I get easily sidetracked for a while (must stay away from Twitter!!). I’m full of good intentions, but sometimes (often!) I need a push to make things happen. For example, I want to write a regular blog post, but it can be really hard to think of something to write about.

There is rarely a good reason for this behaviour; its just the way my mind works. However there comes a point when, suddenly, I can focus and the mental blocks disappear. It’s happening right now, as I right this blog, and the words start to flow.

Anyway, and here is the point of all of this rambling, I suspect I’m not alone in this behaviour. Here’s a few ideas, therefore, to help you overcome your roadblocks. Its been inspired by a response I got via Twitter when I asked for ideas to blog about. Thank you to @miascape for this response; “How about a blog on getting through the mental road blocks young entrepreneurs face. Making the jump.” I hope you think it fits the bill.

‘How to start a business (or anything really).’

Set an easy first milestone
I’m not very good at maintaining ‘to do’ lists, but it does feel good when you can tick something off a real or virtual list. Choose something that you know you can accomplish, like asking a few people what they think of your business idea (that’s called ‘market research’, sounds good when you put it like that, doesn’t it?).

Break tasks down into manageable chunks
Don’t try to write an entire business plan in one go; start with an outline, fill in details as you go along. Set some milestones along the way, preferably with deadlines. (I don’t know about you, but I am very good at meeting deadlines, even though I’m not very good at starting.) For example, for early market research, plan to speak to 20 people about your product idea. Do a search for your local competitors, then start to look at more distant, maybe even global, competitors – there are always competitors somewhere. Start thinking about how much money you will need and identify some possible sources.

You should not expect everything to work first time. I’ve managed to run a couple of 10k races now, but I couldn’t have done it without practising. Same applies to business skills.

Don’t think that you have to start at the beginning
Who’s telling you where the starting line is anyway? Sometimes its hard to see where you should start, and that makes it hard to take the first step. You don’t have to have incorporated a company in order to conduct some market research, or even to have sold a few products. You can always do that later (but don’t leave it too long).

Don’t wait until you have all of the answers
Planning is good, but are you using the writing of a perfect business plan as an excuse that puts you off actually doing something? I used to work with someone that had to have every final detail in place before making a decision. It used to drive me crazy! Although attention to detail is important, sometimes you just have to go with what you have got, and adapt as new information or technologies come to light.

Ask someone for help
When you are starting out in business, or starting anything, its easy to think that everyone else knows exactly what they are doing, whilst you know very little. That is probably the biggest mental roadblock that you will have to overcome, and it’s simply not true. So take a little time to think about all the things that you do know. Whatever your idea, it hasn’t just dropped out of the sky. You thought of it because its something you know about, and you probably know more than most people. Be aware of what you don’t know, however, and simply find someone who will help you fill the gaps in your knowledge. That could be a business partner, but could also be a sub-contractor, or a business advisor, or a willing mentor.

Go for it!
Stop reading this blog post, and go and do something that you have been putting off. Nothing is truly stopping you, is it?

If you are a student based in Scotland, contact SIE for help with your business idea (shameless plug).

Disclaimer: I am sure that it is pretty clear to you that I’m speaking from personal experience, and that I am not a behavioural expert. However I hope that you have found this post to be of use, or at least a mildly interesting read. Please do share your own thoughts on how to overcome your mental roadblocks in the comments section below.

My next blog post will be on “the psychology of writer’s block and crowd-sourcing a solution to the problem”. Thanks to @sciencebase for that suggestion.

Published by Fiona

Fiona was once a hands-on scientist and still has a curious mind. She combines strategic thinking with an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to make great connections. She also takes photos.

8 thoughts on “Don’t let mental roadblocks get in your way

  1. I liked this post as sometimes I struggle so much to get started. One technique I employ is my imagination. I pretend . For example if the house is messy and I just can’t get motivated I pretend in my mind that someone is coming to visit and then I can fairly whip through the work. Pretend that you are an organised mean machine, visualise it and you can sometimes translate it into action. ha! sounds crazy but…
    To get children to spend time tidying rooms is not possible, shut the door and recover mouldy cups, smelly socks etc. when you have time to don breathing apparatus.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, and your great tip on using your imagination. I do try that sometimes, but I know I’m trying to fool myself so it doesn’t always work for me. I will definitely invest in breathing apparatus for the kids’ rooms!

  2. I use the 5 mins example given above often… in fact shared it with my clients at this morning’s training…

    Also works for things you might be a bit fearful about… can I do this for 5 mins, 30 mins, an hour…

    Some folks hate networking but if you get them to reframe and ask could they do it for an hour they normally say “yes”… and off we go! 😉

    1. It works in the gym too! I tell myself that I can run for just another 5 minutes, then when I’ve done that, I set myself another target, like running for another .5km. I find that is much less daunting than the thought of running for 30 mins, when I’ve only been on the treadmill for 10 mins. My biggest challenge is usually getting to the gym, the rest is easy. (failed tonight, but walked the dog instead)

  3. Good advice Fiona – one I’d add, learned from Dan Heath last week, the kitchen timer method.
    Set a timer (probably on your phone rather than kitchen timer for most readers!) for 5 minutes & start that difficult task (tax return/clean out garage/….?) ONLY commit to the 5 mins and feel free to stop at 5 that day, guilt free.
    Guess what? You will almost certainly get so engrossed you carry on to completion.
    This seems too simple to work – but it truly does.

    1. Thanks Thor. I completely agree, and its something I often do myself. However I’ve yet to find a way to get my children to spend more than 5 minutes tidying their rooms 😦

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