Have you been procrastinating and getting nothing done? Maybe you’re spending countless hours reading and researching something so you won’t fail or make mistakes? Or maybe you have a big vision of what you want to do, but don’t know where to start?
Why is it so easy to procrastinate?
Most procrastination, whether it’s putting something off or never starting or finishing something, is at its core about fear. Fear of failing, fear of making a mistake or messing up, fear of looking foolish. While fears can be powerful, they’re also a product of your own mind, and often aren’t even real (and even if they are real, the consequences typically aren’t as bad as you imagined).
If you’re like me, you were raised and taught to avoid making mistakes. In school, from kindergarten through college, we’re taught to find the right answer and not to mess up. Mistakes are bad and to be avoided. So we become perfectionistic: “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Later, when we start our careers, those lessons are reinforced. So basically, we’ve all grown up with a worldview of trying to get the right answer and avoid mistakes.
Problem is, learning, success, achieving goals, or whatever the end product all require taking action, making mistakes, and learning from them to improve yourself before you can succeed.
But most of us are still stuck not wanting to fail.
In fact, Stanford professor Baba Shiv believes that there are basically 2 types of people: those with a fear of failing and those with a fear of missing an opportunity. People who fear failing are cautious and don’t like to try new things. In contrast, people who fear missing out on an opportunity are NOT afraid to try things in an effort to seize an opportunity. That might be simplistic, but it’s an interesting way to look our motivations. My hunch is that people who take action and try things–even if they make mistakes–are more likely to succeed than people who sit on the sidelines wringing their hands worrying that they might mess up.
How can you get past your fears?
To be successful, you have to try things and experiment–that’s the ONLY way you’ll learn. Contrary to what we’ve all been taught in all our years of schooling, learning happens through experimentation–by trying things out, seeing the results, and then adjusting based on the results.
After all, that’s how you learned how to walk. When you were a toddler, you experimented by trying to stand, pulling yourself up on furniture and putting weight on your legs, and learning how to balance. From there, you took a step, crashed, got up, and tried again and again and again, until you got it. Your first steps were halting, swaying, stumbling like a drunken sailor, and you still fell sometimes. As you practiced, you got better and better. Experience is a fantastic teacher.
In the process, you were motivated by the excitement and achievement of walking. If you got hurt when you fell, it didn’t stop you from getting back up and chasing after the thrill you got from walking. You didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to walk. The fear of falling and getting hurt was less than your motivation to walk–even if you did toddle around like a drunken sailor.
So, you didn’t burst out of the womb fully able to walk, talk, read, and play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. You experimented, tried things, and adjusted what you did based on the results you saw or experienced. You took action and improved as you kept trying and experimenting.
Use this Jedi mind trick on yourself
Getting past your learned fear of failing is easier said than done though.
Here’s a little Jedi mind trick that can make it easier: Change your paradigm of failure. Actually, there is no failure–only learning. Each time you try something and it doesn’t work out, you learn from it, and can improve using what you’ve learned. You iterate your way to improvement and more success. Failure does not exist. What you used to call failure is just data collection. When you experiment, you’re getting more information on how to do it better next time.
When I approach problems as experimentation, I’ve noticed that my attitude toward the problem is different. Instead of feeling frustrated that I have to deal with something, I actually find that it’s fun to be creative in fixing the problem. It’s the difference between dealing with a pain in the butt versus tinkering with something like it was a hobby. Which would you rather do?
Lower the bar to make sure you succeed
Now that you’re ready to experiment, the next step is to make things easier so you ensure your success. Start with something small–really small. Once you show yourself you can do that first super-easy and tiny step, you can move to the next step toward your goal. If things aren’t quite working out or you run into trouble keeping at it, remember that your just experimenting to see what works best for you. You can always adjust and move forward.
Whether the project is starting an exercise habit or starting a business, the same approach can be used. For example, if you want to start exercising, don’t start by trying to run a 5k; start by lacing up your running shoes. If you can do that–and if you feel like doing more–just try getting out the door. If you can do that and feel like you want to do more, walk around the block. And on and on. But first, congratulate yourself for lacing up your shoes. Seriously. By taking that tiny step and seeing that it wasn’t so hard, you can build your way up to doing more difficult things. Along the way, take stock in what you’ve accomplished, since the more you see that you’ve done, the more your motivation will snowball.
Build on your successes
You can use the same process to overcome big, scary tasks–especially tasks and projects that can catapult you toward new growth and ways of seeing the world. Essentially, it’s the “journey of a thousand steps” approach, but the trick is in making the first steps really tiny and easy–laughably easy. Seeing that you can do those tiny tasks shows you that the big project isn’t really that difficult, and taking action on those tiny tasks builds momentum and motivation to do more and persevere.
Ready to lace up your shoes?
Whether you’re changing careers, starting your own business, or making your dream a reality, the process is the same. Starting small will give you quick wins, boost your confidence, and show you that you can make things happen when you take action.
And even if you toddle around like a drunken sailor after you put on your running shoes, congratulate yourself. You’ve started your journey.
So, what do you want to achieve? What’s your first tiny step going to be?
Greg Miliates tottered around when he started a consulting business in 2007, but was able to quadruple his former day-job salary, and teaches how to ditch your day job on his blog (www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com).
Photo credit: ‘Limbo‘ by Big Stock