How to Stop Preparing and Start Doing

Are you a chronic over-preparer?

I am. Really, I used to be—but I say “I am” because, as with any addictive behavior, recovery from that persistent feeling of needing to do more is a slow and lifelong process. We don’t decide just once to quit over-preparing; we decide day after day, with each and every presentation, product launch, coaching conversation, and article submission.

We decide every single time we have the opportunity to over-prepare. Which means every single time we feel the temptation to return to the familiar. Tweaking the font for the hundredth time before we’ll allow the webpage to go live. Rehearsing and rehashing the stack of index cards on which our talk is written. Researching just a bit more before we’ll launch that creation of ours that we already know will help people greatly.

Instead of continuing to coddle ourselves with all the non-threatening, non-exposing, low-risk tasks of preparation, we decide enough is enough. This—this thing we’ve created—is enough. We are enough.

So, how do you reach this decision?

Well, I can tell you only how I reached it for myself (rather, how I ‘reach’ it on a case-by-case basis—because, as I said before, this work is constant).

I make experience my objective. Experience over preparation. And I allow the learning that comes from the experience to be just as valuable, just as laudable, as the effects that over-preparing and compulsively polishing something might yield.

But, in order to do this, I have to value experiential learning first.

I have to value my own learning experience—and I have to be willing to share it with transparency—if I’m going to forgo the habit of chronic over-preparation.

Because that’s the thing about over-preparation: It serves us insofar as it protects us from on-the-spot learning, and the public failure and shame that might result. It gives us the opportunity (infinite opportunities, if we allow ourselves to be mired in that state of analysis-paralysis) to perfect our thing before we’ll share it. It might be said then, that over-preparation is a symptom of a performance mentality. Of believing it is our job to present ourselves as authorities, as experts, who live somewhere at the far end of the journey, closer to destination than anyplace else.

A story from my own life: Back in late August, I decided to host a morning gathering for tea on Facebook Live. It was maybe a few weeks prior that I’d joined Facebook at all (I know, I know—definitely not an early adopter there), so you can imagine just how unfamiliar I was with all aspects of the platform. Well, regardless, I decided I wanted to connect with my readers in a real and meaningful way, so I announced in my Tuesday newsletter a morning gathering for the following Saturday. I knew that if I announced it, I had to do it—whereas, if I waited to announce it until I felt adequately prepared, it might never happen.

Now, what I could’ve done was to pick a specific topic to speak about and create some airtight takeaways for the folks who might join me live (you know, to make it ‘worth it’ for them in exchange for some of their Saturday morning); I could’ve written up an agenda and run the whole thing like a well-oiled meeting; I could’ve gotten myself worked up about being on live camera and, therefore, spent extra time in the mirror with my concealer stick.

But, I didn’t. Instead, I made experience my objective. I decided I wanted to learn about Facebook Live by doing Facebook Live—no dry-runs or dress rehearsals or obsessing over providing value. I decided I was willing to be an amateur at this thing I’d never done before. (You get that, right? I was, in all ways, an amateur at Facebook Live…so, why would I struggle to present myself as anything different?)

I carried a pot of tea upstairs to my office, sat in front of my laptop with slightly-damp hair, clicked the “Go Live” button, and had my first ever experience on live video. Five women from my community showed up and I talked with them for 45 minutes. Entirely unscripted, absolutely transparent about being a newbie, and prepared to learn. It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in a long time, and I attribute that to being fully present to the opportunity before me—the opportunity to try something for the first time and to share that ‘first’ with my viewers, in an act of trust and bonding—instead of meeting the opportunity with rigid anticipation and polish, both of which can create some distance.

Maybe the question you and I (and the other recovering over-preparers out there) need to ask ourselves is: Is it my objective to perform this thing, as though it’s fixed, for an audience? Or, am I open to experiencing it as a living, breathing thing, at the same time that I’m sharing with my community what I know about it thus far?

Start there. As equal parts teacher and student.


Helen McLaughlin is an action-oriented life coach and writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin. She works with highly-motivated women who are fun, resourceful, and creative as hell…and need a plan for going after and getting what they want. Find out more by subscribing to her newsletter and by joining the movers and shakers in her Facebook group, Action Oriented.