How To Get Started On Anything

How To Get Started On Anything

There's an experiment called the "High Bridge Study," that was conducted in 1974 that led to the Two Factor Theory of Emotion, which is a contemporary theory in social psychology that attempts to explain the link between physiological response and human emotions. The study was setup as follows:

…an attractive female experimenter asked male passersby to complete a brief survey. She intercepted potential subjects either at the end of a bridge or on the bridge itself. The footbridge used was long, narrow, and spanned a deep ravine. Following the survey interview, the experimenter gave the subjects her telephone number in case they had further questions. The dependent variable in this experiment was the number of telephone calls received from the subjects after the experiment.

If the theory was correct, more subjects would call if they were interviewed on the bridge itself. By being in a state of physiological arousal while being interviewed (due to the hight of the bridge), it was predicted that subjects would misattribute their physiological response as an attraction to the female experimenter.

This was exactly what was found in the study. Around 50% of the male subjects interviewed on the bridge called the experimenter, while only around 15% of the subjects interviewed on the side of the bridge called.

Using Coffee To Trick Your Brain

I usually work on multiple projects at the same time, and whenever a new project comes along, I find it really difficult to actually get started. Once I've begun making progress, I'm able to move smoothly without any problems. It's the getting started that's really difficult, especially if it's something I'm not really interested in. At an intellectual level I know I have to get started, but I'm not able to summon up the motivation to begin.

For the last few months, the most reliable technique I've found to help me get started is to take the work to a coffee shop and begin while sipping coffee. I've found that this allows me to get excited about whatever is in front of me at that time. My brain appears to misattribute the physiological response to coffee as excitement about whatever I'm working on at that time.

Of course, once I've started on the project, I get into a state where I'm chugging along well after the coffee has worn off. The interesting thing is that the excitement remains.


Well, you have to be ok with drinking coffee to begin with. The more interesting caveat is that you have to remember that you're basically disabling the filter you use to determine if something is exciting or not. Everything appears exciting if you couple it with drinking coffee. Sometimes this leads to incredibly bad ideas appearing spine-chillingly good.


I've read most of the stuff around dealing with procrastination. I've read Getting Things Done. I've done all of that, but I've found that those techniques wear off in a week or so, and you're stuck with a book, some shiny new tools, and more frustration. For the last four months this technique has worked wonders in helping me simply get started on different projects. After that it's a simple matter of keeping the momentum going.

This works for me, I'm not sure if it's for everybody. I think it's worth a shot. Note that this technique requires coffee only when you're starting off, so you'll never really get used to the caffeine if you only use it for this.

I've tried this with coffee, but I'd love to hear from people who have tried this with other activities (such as vigorous physical activity) that introduce a positive physiological response.

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