I want you to be one hundred percent honest with yourself.
If you knew in your heart of hearts that everything you tried would work out well, you’d never fail, and you’d have absolute certainty throughout the process, would you be living your life the same way you are now? Of course not.
That litmus test can be used on almost anyone. Put “content” people through this test and all of a sudden their ambitions would change. You show disdain for the things you can’t get because it’s too painful to admit you can’t get them.
But here’s the thing, you can achieve the outcomes you want. You’re just getting in your own way. We all do this. You think about an outcome you want to have and you feel like you’re going to work toward, but you hesitate. Why? Because “you have to think about it.”
The smarter you are, the worse off you are, because smart people are better at calculating risks. When you’re smart, and you likely are, you can see all the downsides to a situation before you even try.
What if you fail? What if you embarrass yourself? You could lose time and money in the process of trying to pursue a dream. Your efforts might go to waste and time is the only thing you can’t get back in this life.
You think, think, and think some more, but usually, nothing ever gets done.
Thinking is For Suckers
You have this strange idea in your mind that somehow thinking about the future at length is going to reveal this magical answer or solution that’s going to motivate you to pull the trigger. If you just amp yourself up enough, eventually, it’ll happen. But thinking is the worst way to get the results you want.
See, there’s thinking and there’s creating a plan to make a decision. Thinking is “I should start a business.” Creating a plan to make a decision is “I’m building my website on Monday,” and then when Monday hits, you start building the site, even if only for a half-hour.
The process is simple — you create a plan to pull the trigger on then you pull it and hope for the best.
You don’t necessarily even know what your future self wants, so sitting there getting your ducks in a row isn’t even useful. You make your best guess, you start to ‘do’, and then the truth reveals itself to you through the results. Even if you fail, at least you get to find out instead of wonder.
I’m not saying to follow every impulse you have or make no plans for your future whatsoever. I do, however, encourage you to realize the thinking part of the equation covers ten percent of the process. The doing makes up the other 90.
I’ll use my own experience as an example. I thought about writing for years. I read blog post after blog post on starting a writing career. Before I’d pull the trigger, I weighed the pros and cons in my mind. For a while, the cons won out.
“Nobody knows who you are. How will you stand out?”
“Writers don’t make any money.”
“Quit kidding yourself.”
A friend asked me to write on his website. The minute I acted on my thoughts and wrote something, my life changed. In the process of actually writing, actually learning how to grow a blog, and actually doing, I learned techniques I never could’ve by “studying” writing.
Now, I spend my time reiterating this information to new writers and people who are aspiring to do anything at all. You have no idea how much progress you can make if you just start. Do you have to think to start? Yes. But titling the post “stop overthinking, start doing” isn’t as compelling,
Show disdain for thinking altogether so you can think less and act more.
Trust me, I understand what it’s like to be at zero. You have nothing. No foundation, no refined skills, no network, no audience, no product, no momentum, zip, zilch, nada.
You want to start, but just thinking about everything you have to do to be successful makes your head spin and you get overwhelmed. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, trust me when I say it’ll get much easier after the initial rough patch. Get through that patch and you won’t quit.
Even after everything I’ve just said, most of you are going to find it difficult to impossible to start and follow through with a major goal. Why is this so hard? Why aren’t you capable of doing the most for the person you care about most?
The Reason You Have Problems Doing
This isn’t all your fault. Since a young age, you were trained to be reactive and wait for directions. It’s cruel what they do to us really.
The schooling environment we grow up in gives us a predictable structure to every aspect of our education, teaches us nothing about the unpredictable nature of the real world, and then thrusts us out into the real world to fend for ourselves. At age 30, it fully sunk in that most people of all ages have no idea what they’re doing.
I’m reminded of an experience I had in college. In my sales class, the teachers gave us an open-ended assignment. No rubrics, no guidelines, just a subject and license to create any form of a presentation we wanted. This excited me because I hated structure, but most of the students were uncomfortable with the assignment.
They wanted to know the rules and guidelines:
- “Should we do PowerPoint?”
- “How many points will the assignment be worth?”
- “There’s no rubric?”
The teacher refused to provide any overt answers on purpose. He was trying to teach us a true life lesson — there is no rubric in real life, no grades, no guidelines. There’s no formula for standing out and being remarkable. There are principles you can act on. That’s how self-improvement works.
I can’t tell you exactly how your life will turn out, but I can give you mindsets, habits, mental models, strategies you can use to apply to different situations.
You’ll learn much more by taking a suggestion I give and trying it out for yourself than you will by reading all of my blog posts. I don’t want you to read all my blog posts. I wanted you to read them until you’re ready to take the leap for yourself.
You grew up in a system where the answers were clearly spelled out.
You were trained to take tests and lack creativity. Society trained you to become a thinker. But the world belongs to the doers.
Thinkers work for companies doers own. Doers have freedom. Thinkers are restrained. Doers don’t need the answers beforehand because they know they’ll find them through experience. Thinkers think until they die.
The Framework I Use to Stop Thinking and Start Doing
Luck plays a role in your success. When you learn to seize and spot opportunities you put yourself in a position to be lucky.
A chance event sparked my writing career, a friend asked me to write for his website, but I seized the opportunity because I’d already been studying self-improvement.
I won’t lie, after the first few articles, I knew. And I just kept writing and never stopped. You might not have a serendipitous moment like I did. You might have to conjure up that moment for yourself. But keep your eyes open and when you find something that seems compelling, just try it.
Crazy how all self-help advice boils down to just try it, right?
I can’t come to shake you or force you to do anything. I can tell you what it’s like to go through the process and inspire you to try for yourself. That’s about it. The good news? Things can just click for you out of nowhere. I’ve gone from being unmotivated to highly motivated. The same can happen to you. Give this process a try.
Become a Learning Machine
You’re on the right path right now by reading a post like this. When I was lost, I just started learning as much as possible. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the information, but reading books and blog posts, watching videos, listening to podcasts, etc, did start to open my eyes up to possibilities.
I slowly learned about this online business culture and knew I wanted to try something in that vein. That mental training helped me spot and seize the opportunity to write.
Keep doing what you’re doing until you see a potential opportunity then take the next step. Odds are, you already have something in mind, but you’re scared. In either case, there’s a simple framework you can use to try and alleviate your fears.
Truly Consider The Downside
Get in the habit of asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
You’re afraid of uncertainty and unknowable outcomes because your fears are vague. Most people never fully logically consider the downside to their actions and connect them to their emotions at the same time. Spelling out the worse possible scenario, deeply feeling how it would actually feel to fail, makes the decision you’re about to make crystal clear.
In most cases, you don’t have anything more to lose than a dent in your ego or someone saying no to you. Although neither are pleasant, they won’t kill you.
You may want to avoid opportunities that have a considerable financial downside and/or the potential for extreme duress in your relationships. Often the two come in a package. Aside from that type of scenario though, you don’t have that much to lose. You know this, but you don’t know this.
I always say the same thing — self-improvement is the process of deeply emotionally embracing the things you already know to be true. You just have to feel all the way into it somehow and understand you’re going to be okay.
Fortunately, most opportunities today are affordable and have low barriers to entry. Look for things with a lot of upsides and low downside. In my case, when I wrote a book I realized I couldn’t sell negative books. The financial downside was known and I was willing to risk the investment.
Whatever it is you’re trying to do will likely have the same level of risk, which is not that much at all
Adopt the Why Not Attitude
Even after you’ve done your due diligence and something looks promising, you’ll experience the moment of hesitation.
I could attempt to give a concrete answer for overcoming it — the ten-step bulletproof recipe — but it doesn’t exist. Ironically, all self-help material can’t account for the tiny gap between the thought and the action.
In my case, when I’m doubtful or afraid, I ask myself “why not?” I’ve developed a conversation in my head where I realize there are no good reasons for not doing what I want to do with my life.
I remember how short life is, how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of it, and how much regret I’ll feel if I don’t do what I want to do. Life has a game-like quality to it. The more you understand that you develop a ‘screw it’ mentality. Fail? It’s like you died in a video game but you get to restart it.
You do whatever you can to bring yourself to attempt this new experiment of yours. Then, you run the experiment.
How to Become a Mad Scientist
Many of the world’s greatest discoveries are accidents. Penicillin, Pacemakers, and to round off the top 3 most important ones, Instagram.
They’re all a result of people who were doing, trying, and testing.
From now on, consider yourself a scientist. There is no success or failure. Life is your laboratory and your goal is to experiment and see what happens.
Just like a scientist, you develop a theory and test it.
The key to succeeding is simply taking the first, simple, and most obvious step.
Take my speaking at the TEDx conference for example. I started with just filling out the application.
They invited me to join a pitch night where I competed against 23 other speakers for a limited number of spots at the conference.
So then I focused on coming up with the required 3-minute pitch — not an entire talk. They invited me to speak, so I prepared my speech and worked with their coaching team.
Every step was done without too much thought of the future. I doubted I’d get chosen, but I figured why not. By that point, I learned to “throw my hat in the ring” whenever possible.
With an experimental mindset, I don’t take success or failure as a definition of who I am but rather feedback as to what I should do next.
A good experiment has the following:
- A hypothesis
- Parameters and timelines
- No marriage to positions
Let’s use a random example.
You want to sell handmade jewelry on Etsy. You read a few blog posts on the subject and find the top-selling Etsy retailers use content marketing and social media well.
Your hypothesis could be — “If I create an Esty store and market it well on blogs and social media, I can begin to make a side income.”
Next, define the parameters. You’re not going to get rich overnight, right? You have to give yourself enough time to see if your strategy works. You could set parameters with manageable expectations — make your first $500 in sales in six months from now.
Run the experiment. Put your heart and soul into building your store for six months without judgment of the results. Apply the methods you studied online.
Once the trial period ends, view your results. Here’s where most people mess up. They’ll conclude the experiment was a failure and they should stop because the process was difficult.
You should never quit doing something because it’s hard. Nothing worth having comes easy. Judge your results based on how you feel about the path or process itself. If you enjoy what you’re doing, yet things haven’t clicked yet, it means you have to refine your strategy.
If, however, you discover your heart isn’t in it and it’s truly not worth your time, quit. I’ve toyed around with other ideas besides building a career around my writing, but the passion just wasn’t there. I don’t want to get rich doing something I hate.
If you truly love hawking those handmade earrings, keep trying new methods, accepting feedback from the market, and repeat the process until it works out for you.
That’s what doers do.
Ayodeji is the Author of Real-Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. Grab your free checklist here — The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Natural Talents and Strengths. Wanna keep in touch? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.