What's Stopping You from Getting into Action?

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
— W. H. Murray

One of the most frequent pieces of advice I have to give my clients is “Stop thinking and start doing.”

Getting into action on any given task or project - moving it out of their head and into the world - seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for many people.

It makes sense when you think about how we're taught and how we are trained in school and at work. Most of what we’re taught is planning, thinking, and studying problems. We’re taught to learn something until we can pass the test. We’re taught to plan carefully in everything before acting and to take the safe path to make sure nothing goes wrong.

From that context, when it comes to starting a new project, endeavor, or enterprise, we naturally hesitate. We learn all we can about it, we imagine it in detail in our minds, we plan it all out on paper, but we can’t seem to actually start it or to take any action towards its completion. Most of us were never taught the “doing” or “being in action” on things we want to create.

Given those limitations, what else can we expect? But there are lots of reasons people have difficulty getting into action.

Two big reasons we hesitate when it comes to taking concerted action are perfectionism and fear-of-failure. These are very closely related in that they both fundamentally come out of our worries about what others will think of us. That’s right, perfectionism, fear of failure, and the resulting hesitation are all fundamentally about self-image:

  • Perfectionism: if it is not just right, someone will be able to criticize it and, in turn, me.

  • Fear of Failure: if this doesn’t work out in the end - if it fails - people will think that I am a failure.

How can we overcome these tendencies?

 

Perfectionism

The main thing to understand to overcome perfectionism is that nothing is ever complete, finished, flawless, or perfect. Nothing. There will always be something to “fix” when the thing is done.

There will always be people out there in the world that will not like something you do. There are people out there that won’t like anything you do. That’s just how the world is. If you base what you do in your life on what any other person thinks you should be doing, whose life are you living?

As Ichiro Kishimi says in “The Courage to be Disliked”, “When one seeks recognition from others, and concerns oneself only with how one is judged by others, in the end, one is living other people’s lives.” Live your own life and do the work you’re meant to do and stop worrying about what anyone else will think.

I recently read “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon and I love this idea from his book: “Sometimes when people hate something about your work, it’s fun to push that element even further. To make something they’d hate even more. Having your work hated by certain people is a badge of honor.”

If you worry all the time about what other people think, you’ll never be able to accomplish anything. How’s that working out for you?

If you are not living your life for yourself, then who is going to live it for you?
— Ichiro Kismimi, "The Courage to be Disliked"

Fear of Failure

Failure is a mental construct. It is a concept that is viewed differently by different cultures. Where does your idea about failure and what people will think of it come from?

For example, they say that in Silicon Valley the big investors won’t even talk to you if you haven’t failed in at least two start-ups. These investors understand that failure contains the lessons that you need to be successful in a future. Without those lessons learned, the chances that your new venture will succeed are much smaller and therefore too risky to invest in.

Alternatively, here in Switzerland, I often hear the opposite: that if you fail at something, it is a black mark on the rest of your career and no one will ever loan you money for a start-up. Who would ever step out of line and try something new or different in that environment?

There is deep learning in failure. Think about it: if everything always went perfectly, how would you learn anything? And how much fun would that be anyway?

There are things that cannot be studied or learned except from within the action that you take. As soon as you get into action toward a goal, you start to see new aspects and learn new things about the project. You meet new people and new challenges and that is where you learn deeply about the thing you are trying to accomplish.

As W. H. Murray said in his famous quote: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” (see full quote below)

 

So, stop with all the intellectualizing already and get into action toward your goals now!

 


Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
— W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951