You Will Never Win If You Never Begin

As I fired up Bloomberg this morning, I was greeted with a powerful quote of the day.  “You will never win if you never begin,” suggested early 20th century journalist Helen Rowland.

Sounds easy. 

I’m in the process of developing my own business, working with financial advisers and institutional investors using technical analysis and behavioral finance. 

I will tell you that taking that first step was the most difficult moment.  I was nervous, skeptical, excited, anxious, passionate, terrified.  Basically, I was overwhelmed by the scope of the effort, yet underwhelmed by my own capabilities.

In the end, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  But it was not an easy decision.

So why is it so difficult to begin?

First, Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  This is known as the law of inertia.  When my 11-year old daughter came home from school recently and taught me about the law of inertia, I asked if she thought there was ever inertia in our behavior, where we get stuck in a certain pattern and have difficulty breaking out of it.

She paused for a few moments, and then asked quietly, “Like with my chores?”  You got it, kiddo.

But once you do recognize the gap between where you are and where you can be, taking that first step feels much more meaningful.

We tend not to start new things because sticking with the current routine is basically just much easier.  When I work with financial advisers to improve their investment process, they have to realize that first step of acknowledging the gaps in their current process.  That is, they’re not perfect and need help.  Not easy to admit.

But once you do recognize the gap between where you are and where you can be, taking that first step feels much more meaningful.

Second, making a change is scary.  Fear is a fantastic motivator, as we see often in the financial markets.  Stocks fall because investors are scared of losing everything, and stocks often rise because of FOMO- the Fear of Missing Out.

Taking a new step in a new direction generates fear and anxiety.  It’s just easier to stay the course.

Finally, it’s a question of prioritization.  Let’s say you have five tasks on your list today.  Four of them are more routine tasks like checking e-mail, and the fifth task is something involving significant change such as creating a new presentation or listing specifications for your new website.

How likely are you to go for the task involving a change from your routine? 

Those big, important tasks that will improve your process or reinvent yourself or your business are often pushed aside because they’re difficult and there’s some sort of risk involved.  We tend to gravitate toward the easier tasks that can be completed quickly and crossed off our list, even though we should be prioritizing the tasks that involve meaningful improvement.

So how do you set yourself up to take that first scary step?

1. Write it in your calendar.

My favorite part of Stephen Covey’s scheduling approach is to define your key tasks for the week, then schedule them directly in your calendar.

Don’t just write it on a list, because then you’re likely to choose something else.  By setting a specific time to complete the task, you’ve given that important first step its appropriate level of prioritization.

2. Put it in your web browser.

A friend of mine pointed out a Google Chrome plug-in called Momentum.  When you first bring up Chrome in the morning, it will ask you what you want to work on today.  You enter the task, and then every time you open a new tab, you’re greeted with this key task for the day.  Once you complete it, you get the ultimate satisfaction of being able to check the box.

Remember that this first step doesn’t have to be a gargantuan departure for you.  It could be one small step in the new direction.  What small step can you take today?  As Robert Maurer points out in One Small Step Can Change Your Life, a series of small steps can lead to massive change for the better.

3. Tell a friend.

My wife convinced me of the value of knocking out One Big Thing every day.  Every weekend, when we plan out our weeks, I tell her what my One Big Thing will be for each day.  I do that because I know she will randomly ask* me if I’ve finished my One Big Thing today. 

James Clear mentions the importance of getting support from an accountability partner. 

Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator.  You are less likely to procrastinate or give up because there is an immediate cost.  If you don’t follow through, perhaps they’ll see you as untrustworthy or lazy.  Suddenly, you are not only failing to uphold your promises to yourself, but also failing to uphold your promises to others.

As investors, we love to stick with our routines.  Developing new and better routines can be uncomfortable as it forces us to face our fears.  Taking a first step, even a small one, can lead us in the direction of meaningful change.

You will never win if you never begin.


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.

* …and it’s definitely not nagging, honey.  Definitely not.