We all put ourselves through the cruelest form of mental torture.
We place ourselves on a pedestal and act as the center of the universe while simultaneously taking poor care of ourselves when it comes to our long-term goals.
You develop this weird self-inflicted anxiety.
You’d think that you’d have your own back. As much as you obsess over your life, you’d think you’d be able to muster up some motivation, but you when you try, you shoot yourself in the foot. Then you beat yourself up for doing this. Then you beat yourself up for beating yourself up instead of just bouncing back.
Damn. Being a human being and just existing is stressful.
You’re susceptible to living your entire life like this — constantly sabotaging yourself and living in this limbo your whole life where you have dreams but you don’t do anything about them. Double damn.
Like I always say, no listicle is going to solve your problems. But use these little koans to spark the thoughts and behaviors that will.
We think a hesitation is a safe stop-gap measure. You think your inaction is just…inaction. You’re not doing anything about reaching your goals but you’re also not harming yourself, right? Wrong.
Hesitation creates fatigue.
Think of a situation where you have some chore you want to do. The more you hesitate to do it, the more stress builds up. You keep avoiding it but you also keep thinking about it. If you just did it, it’d be over with.
How do you solve this hesitation problem on a macro level?
You’ve been thinking about starting your business for years. You’ve spent weeks or months mulling over starting that workout routine. Hell, your whole life seems like a giant period of hesitation where you never move in the direction of your purpose.
You solve this problem on a macro level by solving it on a micro-level.
You can use little tricks to minimize the time between thoughts and actions until it becomes a philosophy for your life.
Don’t want to workout? 5 seconds. Begrudgingly put your shoes on, get in the car, go to the gym. Ok, now you’re already inside the gym. Might as well work out. Or just turn on the home work out video. Just click the button. Then, you’ll have to exit out of it without working out like an asshole if you want to avoid it. Don’t want to write? Open up the computer and start physically moving your fingers, typing.
Level up and make bigger decisions more rapidly. I wanted to join a competition to do a TEDx talk. I quickly filled out the form without thinking all that much. They accepted my application, meaning I had to show up to the ‘pitch night’ event or be a wimp who has to formally chicken out of it. You can see my audition here. I was so nervous. Right before I got on stage, I didn’t want to go up, but what was I going to do? Just leave?
Find ways to write checks your ass has to cash and try to ‘jump in’ as many ways as possible. You can train your brain out of hesitation, gradually, over time. The more you begin to ‘do’ the easier it is to keep doing.
Let’s say you’re on an exercise and diet routine. The first few weeks go well, then you have one day where you slip up. You don’t go to the gym and you eat a little bit of crappy food.
This pings your subconscious mind and whispers to you, “See. I told you. Dumbass. Why would you even try to start this routine in the first place? You always fail.” So what often comes next? Do you decide to get back on the horse the next day?
Nope. You just say fuck it. Not only do you break your streak of good habits, but you go into this downward spiral, this tailspin, where you ramp up the level of bad habits as some weird way of both punishing yourself and masochistically confirming the identity you want to cling to so badly.
You binge eat. You drop your exercise routinely completely. This spills over into other areas of your life and you see a drastic drop in your productivity altogether.
This spiral effect applies to more than just fitness and dieting. Every time you start to achieve some long-term goal and reach a tiny hiccup, you’re prone to abandoning the goal altogether and raining on your own parade with habits that are even worse than the ones you had prior to starting.
You want to make sense of why you failed. If it’s just a matter of you slipping up, then it’s still on you to fix. But, if you prove to yourself that you’re a true loser by going through this spiral, it confirms you had no shot in the first place. Which, in a strange way, makes you feel better.
So, what’s the remedy? Use the rule of two.
Never have two terrible days in a row. Wipe the slate clean and start over the next day. Easier said than done, right? But having that awareness that you’re sabotaging yourself to confirm that identity helps. When you realize it’s much deeper than you just getting into a funk, you can attack the problem by confronting that blindspot upfront.
Without knowing you, I know you have strong opinions about the way the world works. Also, even though it’s literally impossible, you believe you have a totally objective view of reality.
People have a hard time changing their lives because it often requires accepting concepts that contradict with the way they see the world.
Confirmation bias is so extremely powerful that the level of effort required to combat it is usually too much for people. But it’s the only way.
What worldviews and beliefs are getting in your way of changing your life?
We all have these worldview mismatches. I have them. Often, my worldview is too optimistic and skews too far to the idea that the playing field is equal. I know it’s not. I know it’s harder for some than others.
Whatever your situation may be, understand that there are useful thoughts and counterproductive thoughts. A thought can be true and counterproductive, e.g, I’m oppressed and it can be naive and useful, e.g., I’m going to be the exception.
It just doesn’t do you any good to have a worldview that makes your life suck. Do the hard work to change it. Find enough counterexamples to your way of thinking to the point you can’t logically argue against them.
In sports, many teams lose games because they start getting conservative after they gain a lead instead of doing the things that got them the lead in the first place. They play to not lose, so they lose.
This mentality affects all of us. It’s called loss aversion. We’re more sensitive to losses than we’re excited about gains, Why are we like this? Just insert an armchair analysis of evolutionary psychology and you have your answer.
How many times have you sabotaged a future opportunity by inaction?
Again, what’s the remedy? This is an especially difficult bias to deal with.
For me, I focus on what I’m missing out by failing to be proactive. I flip loss aversion on its head and act like I already have the outcome then go back to the present moment and realize I’m losing that outcome right now if I don’t act.
Then, as you develop the ability to bet on yourself even more, you can see the ROI clearer, which makes betting on yourself again in the future a lot easier in the long run.
The more you make a big theatrical deal out of starting a new long term goal, the lower your odds of following through with it. I’ll use the gym again as an example. Ideally, you’d just go once, go more often gradually, and then build a solid routine,
But what do many people do?
They go to buy some running shoes and new gym clothes. They buy some Tupper wear and stock up on dry ass chicken breast and vegetables. Their meals are all planned out and they have this meticulously planned routine before they even start.
Next thing you know, they’re tired of eating dry chicken and they can’t live up to their super strict new routine.
The same thing happens to people who make this huge deal out of starting a new business. If I see someone creating business cards and registering an LLC before they have a customer, I know they’re finished before the start.
If I see someone who does create that much content but has an insane level of production quality for the few things they did create, I know they’ll fail. I see bloggers who are worried about advanced strategies like SEO. Toast.
You haven’t set high standards for yourself for most of your life.
Why then would you start a new long-term goal or project with such standards for excellence? You’ll fall short, which will throw you into a downward spiral, which will make it even harder to start again.
Committing to a small singular act, to begin with, works better. Write a blog post. Go to the gym once. Record a video. You haven’t earned the right to be on your purpose yet, so don’t even try.
Why do people tell their friends and family their ‘big ideas’ when they know that they’ll pour ice-cold water all over them?
You subtly want them to convince you not to do it.
All of the ideas in this piece center around that idea. You want to sabotage yourself. You want to fail.
That’s the trick you play on yourself. You tell yourself that you want good outcomes, but you don’t, because getting those outcomes require you to be alone, at least psychologically.
If you succeed, you’re no longer similar to your friends, family, and the general public. That’s why you bounce your ideas off people in the first place.
You want to know whether or not you’ll still be accepted if you follow through. And for the most part, you will. People don’t overtly sabotage your dreams. But you won’t be a ‘part of the club’ anymore.
I barely told anyone about my ‘big ideas’ when I first started. I just worked in silence. The people I did tell didn’t believe in me at first, including my own wife at the time. One advantage I’ve had in life is the fact that I don’t mind standing out and being contrarian.
If you’re not wired that way, the remedy to this is understanding that if you want to in and be like everyone else, you get to live the life they live.
It seems simple and subtle, but just look around, ask yourself, do you want to be like the people you know? Sure, you seek their approval, but do you want to be like them?
If the answer is no, keep your mouth shut, do the work, and announce it later. When you have results, people can’t say a damn thing to you.
You’ve had moments of triumph in your life. You’ve had moments where you’ve been confident, have achieved a goal, and sustained an above-average level of effort.
But all of a sudden, when it comes to a new challenge, you delete all past evidence of your success.
Next, you distort reality. You make all these assumptions with no basis in truth, mainly the idea that everyone in the outside world can read your mind and knows how insecure you are.
You’re left with little to no confidence and a bunch of reasons why you’ll fail. You fix this by questioning this logic to death.
I do this often, sometimes out loud like a crazy person. See, even though you know you’re lying to yourself, you still have to unweave that logic as ruthlessly and as often as possible.
I saw someone on Twitter mention this exercise where you say all the negative thoughts you have about yourself out loud in front of a mirror. Doing this helps you see how ridiculous these thoughts are.
As cheesy as it sounds, remind yourself that you’re capable and powerful. Go out of your way to highlight the things you’re good at, proud of, and like about yourself. You have these things in your life, but you just forget about them when you face a challenge with a different context.
And deep down, you do think you’re awesome.
You wouldn’t have delusions of grandeur if you didn’t. Part of you does think you’re amazing. Part of you knows that if you just had that follow-through, the talent you have would carry you to the finish line.
The process of evolution is slow. You have to overstate all your evidence of being a winner just enough to win some more and then you stack those wins on top of wins until you create a self-perpetuating feedback loop. That’s what confidence is.
Most of us get stuck at the starting gate because we don’t understand this truth. You just have to get to the tipping point. You don’t need to have all the confidence and plans upfront. If you just got to that traction point, the rest is just a matter of time.
I can’t start for you. But I can tell you that you have more than enough to get started.