Why Getting Started Is The Hardest Part (and what the dishwasher has to do with it)

A few mornings ago, I found myself avoiding a dishwasher full of clean dishes. The “Clean!” light was on, flashing for attention, but I ignored it (if I don’t look at it, it’s not on, right?).  I ignored it while making breakfast, while emptying the dish drainer, and while tidying up the rest of the kitchen.  I ignored it while having breakfast, and when I dumped my rinsed but dirty breakfast dishes into the sink, and as I sat down to start my work.

An hour or so later, I stepped into the kitchen to reheat my coffee. Ah yes…still blinking!  My standard coffee re-heat time is either 1:11 or 1:23, depending on my mood.  [I run many miles at a time, but please don’t ask my fingers to move an inch more than necessary over that microwave keypad…]  I briefly considered how to spend the next 71 seconds.  I could…

…stare at the microwave. [Boring.]

…eat pineapple tarts.  [Tasty, but I have a 2-tarts-per-day limit, and I didn’t want to eat my whole allotment before 10 AM.]

…clean up the…nope, the kitchen was already tidy, see above.

…well, since by that time there were only sixty seconds left, I figured that it wouldn’t kill me to empty a few items out of the dishwasher.

So, I pulled open the door (take that, flashing light!) and got started.  In fact, I got the whole bottom rack emptied, dishes put away, before the microwave finished.  And guess what? It wasn’t so bad.  [Shocking, right?]  In fact, it was so “not bad” that I decided I would just go crazy and empty the whole thing.  Not doing so just seemed…stupid, really.  And about 2 minutes later, I was finished: Order was restored to the kitchen, and I had a hot cup of coffee.

So what’s the point?  [Because I know that you didn’t come all this way just to read about my dishwasher.]

The point is that, sometimes, you just have to start. Whether your goal is to empty the dishwasher, tackle a work project, do some home organization, or get out for a run  – just start.  Set a timer for 2 or 4 or 10 minutes, and dig in.  Make the first part seem as easy and accessible as possible, to help conquer your initial reluctance.  Once you get started, you’ll probably find that whatever you’re doing isn’t so bad, and you won’t really feel so inclined to stop.

My muse.  And we're actually quite spoiled - very, very few people in Singapore have one.

My muse. And quite the luxury here – very few people in Singapore have one.

I’m a science-nerd at heart, so when I think about this phenomenon, I think of two science concepts.  Let’s take a quick look (don’t worry, this will be painless!):

Concept #1: Energy of Activation (of a Reaction)

The starting materials (reactants) are on the left.  Some initial input of energy (upslope) is required to get the reaction started.  Then, the reaction begins (peak), and as it progress (left to right), it releases energy.  The products are at a lower energy than the reactants, so this is a spontaneous reaction.

The starting materials (Reactants) are on the left. Some initial input of energy (upslope) is required to get the reaction started. Then, the reaction begins (peak), and as it progresses (left to right), it releases energy. The Products are at a lower energy than the Reactants, so this is a spontaneous reaction.

Concept #2: Static Friction > Kinetic Friction.

Friction is the force that resists two object moving against each other.

Static friction is friction between two object that aren’t moving (a heavy box sitting on the floor).  Kinetic friction is friction between two objects that are moving in relation to each other (that same box sliding along the floor).

Static friction is generally greater than kinetic friction – In other words, a greater initial force will be required to start the box moving, but once you’re sliding it along the floor, less force will be required.

Both of the above examples involve situations where a higher input of energy is required to get started, then a lower level of energy is needed to maintain the activity.  It works in chemistry, it works in physics, and it will work in your life.  So what are you waiting for?  Just get started!

Is there anything hanging out on your To-Do List today that needs a “just get started” jumpstart??

11 thoughts on “Why Getting Started Is The Hardest Part (and what the dishwasher has to do with it)

  1. Lisa @ Jogging on Coffee

    I can totally relate to the dishwasher problem! I don’t have one at the moment but I used to hate emptying it for some reason. I think it’s a great example of how once you actually start doing something it’s not so bad. I go through this with cleaning my apartment pretty much every week – I’ll procrasinate forever but I feel so much better when it’s all done 🙂

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Absolutely! 🙂 I use the same trick with my timer for cleaning: “I’ll just work on the bathroom/dusting/mopping for TEN MINUTES.” Of course, after 10 minutes, I’m too far in to get out again, so I might as well keep going… =)

      [Thanks for stopping by! :)]

  2. Silas

    Quite so. This is good advice, I think, but I’m mostly just going to comment on microwave times. I am also lazy in this regard, so my two go-to times are 1:47, because it gets me closer to the start button as I go, or 99, because it’s already there, and a good amount of time. Sadly, I have probably spent more time thinking about optimizing this really pointless thing than I have probably saved doing it… that, and our new microwave has quick start buttons, so I don’t really use it any more, either.

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha! I honestly never thought about optimizing to FINISH near the start button. I think that, on our current microwave, that might be 1:59. Which might over-cook my coffee, but hey…cooling the coffee doesn’t require much work at all! 🙂

  3. Kim

    I have all of these boxes of papers just sitting in my apartment. The other day I cleared 2 boxes. There are still about 5 or 6 left, but getting 1 done so quickly let me get another done in a short time. Now to find an enzyme that will lower the activation energy of cleanliness…

    1. Holly KN Post author

      When you find it, can you send me some?

      Speaking of which…I’m not ignoring your offer of your anti-itch stuff – but I found a good replacement that I’ll be posting about soon. It contains a lot of the ingredients you described as in yours, and seems to be working pretty well on a few newly-acquired itchies! 🙂

  4. Kristen L

    haha. I’m the same way when pushing buttons on the microwave. Ours actually has a +30 seconds button (that automatically turns it on, so you don’t even have to press start), so I almost always just use that one.

    I’m always the worst about starting to wash the dishes that can’t fit or just can’t go in the dishwasher. Similarly, there aren’t usually a ton of them so it doesn’t really take all that long, but I usually let them sit for a while. Thanks for the motivation to just get started.

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Alternatively, I could send you some of our ants. Singapore is pretty ant-ified, so if we leave anything with food on it out for too long, we have an ant party. In the absence of anything else, this is a pretty good motivator to get those dirty dishes washed… =)

  5. Jean

    Ahaha, this is a surprisingly insightful post. Which is what you intended, of course ;). I definitely use the “just give it 30 minutes” method, especially to get me studying. Works every time!


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