Start Small

How to overcome inertia and get started

March 30, 2023

An Introduction

A common problem arises when ambitions exceed ability. With desires both big and small, we might select a goal only to become overwhelmed by the reality of what is required to achieve it. This common problem has a simple solution: start small. Find the smallest action that elicits the response “that’s so easy, sure I’ll do it”, and often momentum will help carry us the rest of the way.

Starting Small

When dragging a heavy object, the first step is usually the hardest. This is caused by friction which is a force that resists the motion of sliding objects. Friction is great. For example, it keeps my lamp stationary on the desk. But there are certainly circumstances where it’d be nice to have less of it. Friction is by nature oppositional and is at its strongest when objects are motionless. That’s why it gets easier to push a heavy couch after it starts sliding.

Naturally, we can apply the concept of friction in the physical world to our mental one. Indeed, it is merely one of many physics terms to have been anointed a place in our psychology, notable others include: vibes and energy. Similar to how static friction is stronger than kinetic friction, the mental opposition toward effort is at its strongest when we haven’t yet started. The solution? Start small. Smaller than you think is reasonable. So small in fact that the thought of not performing the action seems foolish. It’s much harder to rationalize avoidance when merely challenged to walk outside for 5 minutes, and if that feels daunting then go even smaller.

Starting small isn’t simply a tactic to trick ourselves into unpleasant work, I believe it is essential to performing any novel activity. As a principle, starting small reduces the potential reward, but it also reduces risk. Embracing discomfort and uncertainty is vital to growth, but there are real dangers in the unknown. So whether you’re sending it on a new jump at the terrain park or going on a run for the first time in a decade, it’s best to start small.


Here are a number of examples from daily life of starting small. From chores to exercise, these first steps demonstrate how to get started whittling away at what can often be wearisome tasks.

Get out of bed

Start by wiggling your fingers and then moving your arms.

Write a blog post

Start by brainstorming, outlining, drafting.

Work on a project

Start by setting up the environment, open up relevant applications, clean the desk.

Go to the gym

Start by getting dressed in workout clothes and walking out the door.

Go on a run

Start by walking outside for a couple of minutes.

Fold laundry

Start by separating clothes into distinct piles.