What Are You So Afraid Of?

I get a lot of questions from people who read my articles or visit my site asking me if I can give them some specific steps to follow to get started making changes in their lives.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a step-by-step program for self improvement, so as much as I’d love to help, I can’t really tell them much other than to just get started.

But I’m also happy to give that very simple piece of advice, because getting started is the hardest part of… well, anything. And it’s the most intimidating. There’s a fear of the unknown that likes to creep its way in and it often leads to another overwhelming fear: failure.

And that will often stop us right in our tracks. I’ve seen it absolutely paralyze some people.

And that’s a shame because it’s really a pretty irrational fear, if you think about it. Failure should actually be something we embrace, because failure, believe it or not, is the best teacher.

Think about it. When have you learned and progressed the most during your life? I’m going to go right ahead and guess that it was after making a mistake and realizing that that was the wrong way to do it.

If you’re like most people, then that’s how it’s done. And then if you’re smart about it, then you’ve taken what you’ve learned and made the necessary course corrections, and continued on, never to make that same mistake again. Congratulations.

I really only view failure as failure if someone insists on doing things the wrong way over and over again without really caring or paying much attention to what’s going on. But most people don’t do that.

Most people learn from their mistakes. So you might as well go ahead and make them. But that means getting over your fears and finally getting started.

All you really need is a little bit of confidence. But true confidence doesn’t just come out of nowhere for no reason. Confidence comes with experience. Most people build their confidence by achieving small gains along the way. Once they see that they can do it, then they become confident enough to move onto the next step in their development. Then they complete that one, build a little more confidence, and start working towards the next step. And so on.

I like to call it the upward spiral.

Stop and think about the things you’ve already done, like learning to ride a bicycle, or drive a car, or any job you’ve ever had. At first, you didn’t know how to do them, and you were probably pretty nervous, but little by little, you got it, and eventually it became almost second nature – almost like you could do it in your sleep – and any nerves you may have had about it disappeared.

So if you really want to get things done, and really change your life for the better, then at some point you’re going to have to risk falling off your bicycle, so to speak.

To add a little color, I’ve included this quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Well said, Mr. President. Here’s another example: When I first started learning kung fu way back when, I was extremely nervous. My only goal that first day was to not fall on my face and make a fool of myself. Luckily, I didn’t, and I survived, and I kept going to class. The more I went, the more comfortable I got with it. And eventually I came to realize that it was silly of me to have been so concerned. Of course, it certainly helped that it was a good environment to learn in.

You see, success is not an all or nothing proposition. Your only choices are not to be a colossal failure or a colossal success. It doesn’t work that way.

OK, I’m repeating myself here, but real success is made up of smaller successes and achievements that build confidence and slowly get rid of that fear of the unknown. Which kind of means that you need to let yourself ride the wave, rather than looking only at the end goal. You’re never done growing, so you might as well let yourself enjoy the journey, rather than looking at everything as a fight for you to win or lose.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Slow and steady wins the race”? Well, when it comes to personal growth, it’s absolutely true.

Look, I get it. I know how intimidating a new venture can be. I’ve been there. I still go there sometimes. But I’m telling you, it’s really just that initial phase of fear that you need to get over. For most of us, once we’re up and running, it’s pretty easy to continue. The momentum’s already there.

So let’s say that your goal is to lose 50 pounds. Well, everyone already knows that to do that, you’re going to have to eat differently and get some exercise, but they don’t always know exactly how to get there. The billion or so choices they have in weight loss programs can be confusing and intimidating. And then don’t forget how tough it can be to make such a big lifestyle change (and it is a big one).

As a result, a lot of people give up before they start. So I try to make it simpler by telling them that if they want to lose 50 pounds, then lose 50 pounds. I understand that it’s not quite that easy, as I’ve just described, but making the decision to do so actually is. You won’t lose 50 pounds by tomorrow, but you can start today by doing your research and finding out the proper foods to eat and exercises to do to make you healthy, and not giving up when it seems overwhelming. You could also try talking to a nutritionist or a health and fitness expert for guidance.

Then you just gotta get to it, and stick to it. You’ll get there eventually.

The same principle holds true for any changes you want to make. If you want to find a new job, then find a new job. If you want to quit smoking, then quit smoking. Get started right now. There are plenty of experts who can help to guide you in the right direction, but at the same time, no one else can really do it for you.

So yes, you’ll probably make some mistakes along the way, but what does that really matter, as long as you’re still working towards your end goal?

Once again, Teddy Roosevelt has it right: “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.”

About the author: Mark Yarrobino has taken what he’s learned from studying and teaching kung fu in New York City, and he’s started the website http://learntochangeyourlife.com, with the goal of helping it’s visitors make the changes they’ve always wanted through articles, videos, and audio recordings of interviews with industry experts.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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