Move the Starting Line
There's a difference between starting over and starting again.
I used to be constantly frustrated by feeling like I was starting over.
Then I realized I wasn’t.
I was starting again. And there’s an important difference. A difference that, once noticed, changes the way you think and feel about starting.
Starting over suggests you’ve made no progress. You’re back at the beginning.
But more often than not, that’s not really true. You feel like you’re starting over in the exact same place as last time, when really you’ve moved the starting line forward. You feel like you’re back at square one, but you’re really at square two, or three, or four.
This is important to notice because once you do, you can make it your focus. Each time you start again, you can concentrate your effort on making sure you move the starting line forward as much as possible, so that next time, you’ll be that much closer to where you want to go.
The best example from my personal experience is exercise.
For a really long time I was caught in the cycle we all know too well. I would get excited, set some goals, and take off running. I would start jogging or going to the gym, find a new program or trainer, and for a while things would go really well. At least for a couple weeks, or even a month or two if I was lucky.
But sooner or later, life would find a way to throw me off track. I’d get sick and fall out of the habit. Cold weather would arrive. Or I’d get frustrated with my lack of progress and quit.
Sometimes months would go by before I mustered enough motivation to start over.
Luckily, I eventually realized I was looking at it all wrong. I wasn’t starting over every time. I was starting again, from where I left off. Sure, maybe I’d gained a couple pounds and lost some strength and endurance in between, but I hadn’t forgotten everything I’d learned from my previous attempts.
I realized that each time I started I was gaining knowledge, learning new exercises, and improving my technique. I was figuring out how to form good habits, making progress, moving the starting line.
That realization made all the difference.
Starting over is deflating. Starting again is energizing.
Instead of my starts getting further and further apart, they started getting closer and closer together. I found myself wanting to start again because I wanted to keep going.
I know it might sound strange, but these days I really and truly crave the feeling of starting again.
It’s a useful mindset when it comes to writing because it’s so easy to feel like you’re not getting any better. I relate very much to Kurt Vonnegut, who said, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
For a long time, with each new page, I felt like I was back at square one. Until I realized that, just like with exercise, it was just a feeling.
I write every day. I seek feedback. I read articles and books about the craft. I follow articulate authors and read good writing. I do everything I can to move the starting line forward.
I now know that with each new page I’m not starting over. I’m starting again, knowing more than I did last time.
You can apply the same idea to just about everything in life.
With your own diet and exercise routine. Every time you start a new job or project. With each new habit or skill you want to develop.
Every time you start, pick up the starting line and bring it with you. Move it forward. Inch it closer and closer to where you want to go.
And when you lose steam or motivation, or other priorities come up, set it down and rest awhile.
Then start again. And again and again and again, until it doesn’t even feel like you’re starting at all. You’re just going.
Off to the races. With not far to go.