Hint: Get started. Forget the externalities. And focus on getting better.
A truism in the personal development sphere is that you have to act. Don’t wait to feel motivated or invested. Don’t wait to have it all figured out. Just act, and that’s how things will start to come together.
It’s not new information — and its truth is fairly obvious. But it’s also easier said than done.
But where do I start? How do I start?
What if I’ve already tried, and it didn’t go anywhere? What do I do now?
If you’re feeling stuck and sinking deeper in the “I-need-to-just-get-over-myself-and-do-it-but…” quicksand, here are a few boosters that might help carry you over the threshold:
1 | Embrace the reality, and take the long view.
When I first started running, I was insecure about what people on the street would think about how I looked. I wasn’t sure if I was wearing the “right” running gear. I wasn’t sure if I looked stupid. I wasn’t sure if I was embarrassingly slow.
It’s the same story any time I’m nervous about approaching a person. I think, “what if they’re irritated by the things I want to talk about?” “What if they’re just humoring me and trying to be nice?” I doubt whether I have anything to add, whether it’s worth striking something up.
The reality is that any time you start something new, you are incompetent at it. Sometimes you’ll pick it up more naturally than other times. Sometimes you’ll discover more capability inside yourself than you expected. Sometimes (often times) you’ve catastrophized the situation in your head and made it way worse than reality.
But then sometimes, you really are just going to suck. When you’re new, you’re more likely to do dumb things — to make rookie mistakes.
Guides and mentors can help, but eventually you have to take a step on your own. When you do, you have to embrace the likelihood of being… unimpressive. And step forward anyway.
You get a choice:
- Give into the discomfort of incompetence and quit. Hold back. Spend all your time consuming more information — then complain because it’s not changing anything in your life.
- Move forward anyway. Embrace your incompetence. Do your best to improve, while acknowledging that you’re not there yet.
Life is long.
It’s easy to say “I suck at this; therefore, I’m not going to do it” and to hide.
But what about 10 years from today, when you’re still in the same place as you are now? How much worse will that situation be?
Compare it to what things would be like if you push through the discomfort of incompetence now — spend 5 years being terrible, all the while learning and slowly improving, until you begin to break through and become all you wanted to be. Will the initial embarrassment really follow you for that long? Will it matter if it does?
Honest question: will your quality of life be improved 10 years from now if you embrace the discomfort of incompetence now and just learn anyway? Or will your QOL 10 years from now be less because of the embarrassment you suffer by stepping forward incompetently?
Life is long.
What does it mean to spend it hiding from the things you care about doing?
Take a long view, and embrace temporary incompetence.
2 | Appreciate the gift of human consciousness… and then throw it out the window.
Consciousness serves a good purpose: it makes us aware of things beyond our self. It opens us up to things we don’t understand. It makes us aware of the damage we do, so we don’t repeat the mistake. It corrects us. It helps give life meaning.
But all good things, when overextended or misapplied, become the weapons that work against us — and consciousness is no different.
As adults, we’re inhibited by…
- others’ perceptions (really, it’s our feelings about others’ perceptions)
- others’ accomplishments (and the gaping chasm between where we are and where they are)
- the legitimate potential for danger & loss
So what if you just… ignored it? (of course, this is after you’ve taken care of the true dangers — financial ruin, destruction of an important relationship, etc.)
Acknowledging the fact that your consciousness is the only thing separating you from “blissful ignorance” and courageous forward-movement, what would it be like if you acted as if you didn’t have that awareness? As if those small nagging questions about what someone else will think didn’t matter at all?
Some of those concerns you’re carrying around aren’t even facts — they’re fantasy drummed up by your hyperconscious mind.
What if all of those things that your self-obsessed brain is telling you are problematic for your reputation — what if you just said, “so what, Consciousness” and acted anyway?
What if it didn’t matter what’s going on in the periphery of your life? What if you remained focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing — why you’re shooting for what you’re shooting for — and said “to hell with the rest.”
Maybe your Consciousness is right, and maybe it isn’t.
Either way, forget the debate. If it’s not truly life-threatening, then it doesn’t need a seat at the table. Act as if it doesn’t matter whether it’s right or not. It doesn’t matter whether all of your fears turn out to be justified or not — it’s just irrelevant, distracting information. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the periphery — let that awareness go and choose to focus on things that matter.
Act as if you were oblivious to the outside world.
Act as if you were oblivious to the outside world.
Act as if none of those peripheral forces matter. And just focus on building whatever you’re trying to build.
Is this thing worth giving a shot? Will you be ok with yourself at the age of 95 if you never gave it a try?
Have you taken the basic precautions to make sure this doesn’t completely destroy you?
Then it’s time to do it, and accept the stuff in the periphery for whatever it turns out to be.
You have to be ok with being seen as a fool, without getting sidetracked or distracted. If you’re not, then let go of the dream — you don’t want it badly enough.
3 | Play With The Monster
One lethal mistake we often make is expecting it all to happen quickly.
Then, in the times when it doesn’t, we’re unequipped to handle the slow progress.
We thought that if we came in guns blazing and attacked this mother, the outcome would be an equal measure of the force applied.
There’s this monster in front of us — this huge thing that intimidates us, that we desperately want to beat, but we’re scared or overwhelmed by the idea of confronting it… and then when we don’t immediately succeed, we slink back to our hole to nurse our wounds, reassuring ourselves that we did everything we could. We brought everything to the table and attacked, and that’s all that can be asked.
That’s a dumb approach.
The guns-blazing strategy works when you’ve already invested the effort in getting to know the enemy.
When you haven’t yet done that work, then a wild attack is a fool’s errand.
Instead of trying to start with an attack…
Start by playing with the monster.
Playing with the monster means making quick jabs here and there — learning as we do so who the monster is and how it thinks and operates. We push the boundary a little over here and see what happens. We start messing with that weird thing over there and see what happens.
This gives you the beat ROI on your effort.
We’re not going in for the kill shot yet — we’re not good enough for that in the beginning. Right now, we’re just getting to know this thing. We’re exploring. The purpose is to understand what happens when I ____?
You’re mapping out the territory.
You’re understanding how things work.
Because you can’t destroy this thing before you understand it.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a new challenge, consider a reframe: maybe the answer isn’t to fight — maybe the answer is to play.
4 | Keep your eyes on the prize & relentlessly "follow the yellow brick road"
The Target: What are you aiming for? Why are you doing this?
Whatever your specific reasons are, your target involves a desire to gain a new capacity.
The target is to be able to do this thing well. To make it better. To use it to serve others. To use it to make the world a better place. The target is some form of competence.
The Path: What’s it going to take to get there?
The sneaky thing is that the path toward developing competence is the path of incompetence.
The path to getting to your target involves a lot of stumbling. It involves a lot of inefficiency. It involves asking for help. It involves doing things that don’t make sense to the people watching, because you’re trying to figure it out. It involves inconveniences and failing to live up to a standard.
You have to not stop walking until you’ve reached the destination. Whatever it takes, whatever happens along the way, whatever you’re feeling as you stumble through this new world — just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Follow the yellow brick road.
You have to be ok with doing whatever it takes. And “whatever it takes” is inefficiency and failure.
…You are perfectly normal for not liking that experience. If you’re breathing and aware of the effect you have on others, then you’re not happy when your current capacity isn’t returning positive outcomes in the universe you inhabit. Or worse — when you’re in some way dragging others down.
It’s good to want to be a net positive force in the world.
But there’s only one road that leads to the Emerald City, and that’s the road of failure and falling short. If you’re not willing to walk it, then you need to stop dreaming about arriving.
Keep your eyes on the target, and remember that this is what it takes to get there. If you want to develop this new capacity, then the road to getting there means sucking at it until you don’t suck anymore.
Piecing It All Together
When you’re doing something new, the answer is to act.
- Competence dissipates fear.
- The only path to competence is through exploratory incompetence.
- Your best shot at success is to embrace your current shortcomings and to act anyway.
- And to play with the situation in front of you as a means of learning more rapidly.
How To Get Rid of Fear (When You’re Doing Something New)
Fear dissipates with familiarity.
Familiarity is gained as you explore the territory (read: act).
Don’t wait to feel it — act. The feeling comes second.
How do you begin to step forward when you’re incompetent?
You step forward incompetently.
When it’s new, it’s not going to pay off the way you want it to (yet). That doesn’t mean you stop doing it.
Keep your eyes on the target, and remember that this is what it takes to get there.
Don't wait to feel it ― act.
Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.
To receive the next publication, sign up below: