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Overcoming Initial Resistance
Defeating inertia when running, reading, and writing
In an ideal world, there would be no resistance when it comes to starting an activity. But in the real world, inertia must be overcome before meaningful progress can be made. Even if you enjoy an activity once you are engaged in it, the first few steps can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help us get started.
On days that I go for a morning run, I feel healthier and more productive all day long, so that hour of exercise pays dividends far in excess of the energy expended. I enjoy the process of running, but only after a mile or two into the run. I do not like the idea of running as I drink my morning coffee and read the paper, nor do I enjoy taking those first steps particularly in the heat and humidity of summer. Sometimes, I even hate it.
My morning run reaches a junction about a mile and a half from home. At that point, I can turn around for a short three miles or I can start on a longer loop. To get started on the run, I tell myself that if I am not enjoying myself at that junction, I will just turn around. No internal recriminations — I give myself permission to quit if I want to for any reason. But by the time I have been running for ten or fifteen minutes, I’m almost always enjoying myself and want to continue. I cannot recall the last time that I turned back even on mornings when I really didn’t want to start.
Similar mental tricks work in other areas such as reading and writing.
I almost always face inertia when I begin researching a new company. This doesn’t make much sense because, like running, I actually enjoy the process of learning about a business once I get started. But for years, I hated the process of getting started which, in my case, always meant pulling the latest 10-K and starting a linear read through the document from the first page.
When I finally stopped to analyze why I faced so much inertia with company research, I realized that it was because of the sequencing of 10-Ks. The always tedious and often endless section on risk factors appears very early in a report, usually right after a brief business description. The language of this part of a 10-K is something only a lawyer could love, and includes everything under the sun along with the kitchen sink … every conceivable factor they can think of along with many that seem inconceivable.
The problem with the risk factors appearing so early in the 10-K goes beyond the mind-numbingly boring lawyer-written narrative. It is too soon to read it intelligently because you don’t know enough about the business yet. It is an exercise in frustration to go through the risk factors line by line so early in the process. I realized that I was dreading that section of the report, and this caused quite a bit of inertia.
The cure was simple: I go through the business description and then jump to the management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A). This might not be riveting reading, although it often can be for the right business, but it is rarely frustrating or boring. The next step is to read the financial statements and notes, and only after that does it make sense to read about risk factors. I’m not suggesting neglecting an important part of due diligence, only altering the sequencing.
If I don’t like the business and decide to not pursue the research further, I may never have to read what the attorneys have to say at all. Taking a part of the process you dislike and making sure that it is not at the beginning, and may not have to be done at all, can remove a source of initial inertia.
Any writer will tell you that a blank page is a dreadful thing to see, and it can be very hard to get started. There is a huge amount of inertia involved in getting past the first fifty to hundred words. For many years, I would prepare an outline for an essay or article and then attempt to write the content in a linear manner starting with the introduction. Of course, the introduction to an article is crucial because many readers will decide whether to continue based on the first couple of paragraphs. There is significant pressure to craft the perfect opening and that makes it hard to start.
The remedy for the blank page problem is to start with a section of the article that is easier to write. For articles discussing a company, I usually find it easier to start with a discussion of capital allocation or the balance sheet, so that’s often where I begin. It is easier to write an introduction after much of the content has been written.
Whether you’re running, reading, or writing, you want to get into a flow state as soon as possible where you are immersed in the activity to the point where you lose track of time and it becomes nearly effortless. I often come up with ideas while running once I get into a flow state. That was the case today. I thought about this article a few miles into my run this morning and had it written in my mind by the time I was finished.
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