How often does it happen? We have an idea. We get curious. We find more about it. And then nothing happens! Fear of failure and perfectionism are the most common reasons people don’t take action. We fantasize about the outcomes, but we never really do anything beyond that.
So how do we really overcome them? Let me show you my approach to get past these roadblocks and take action.
The first issue is paralysis by analysis. For most of us, the very first step is to start by researching. Sounds logical. But as time goes by, we try to account for every possible scenario. Because we want to be perfect. We want to make sure that we are ready before we start.
But then we start to confuse our research with actual work. We feel that as long as we are researching, we are making progress. In reality, nothing changes! Look, the information is abundant. But the willingness to do something with that information is a major challenge.
The second issue for many of us is the fear of failure. And, it’s a bit tricky. You don’t want to ignore your gut feeling, but it is better to explain it. So, every time I am getting this feeling, I go into deep self-inquiry mode.
You see, we rarely applaud people for avoiding failures. But we almost always applaud people who deal with them with courage and move forward.
A lot depends on how you think about failure. Do you see failure as the end of the world, or do you treat it as an opportunity; to learn and improve? This choice makes a big difference.
A lot depends on how you think about failure.
If we take action because we want to achieve something, it is best achieved with conviction. But we don’t get a conviction out of nothing. I used to get overwhelmed because I focussed too much on the goal. But the goal doesn’t happen by itself. We must follow a process to get to that. For example, we cannot keep thinking of a flower if we want to grow one. Instead, we must think of seeds, soil, pot, water, sunlight, and so on.
The Hindu monk Swami Vivekanand once said, “One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life is to pay as much attention to the means of work as to its end. The goal is so much more enchanting, so much more alluring, so much bigger in our mental horizon that we lose sight of the details altogether.”
So when we follow the process, taking action becomes easier, and the goal becomes more reachable.
Follow the process so that taking action becomes easier and the goal becomes more reachable.
One of my colleagues in HSBC often used to remind me that we should be careful of who we listen to.
Especially now, it is important to be careful of who we follow on social media and who we listen to. But unfortunately, there is so much well-meaning but bad advice available that it is becoming one of the main causes of inaction.
You see, people advise from their experience and their perspective. Experience is fine, but perspective can become a problem. And it is a problem because everyone’s situation is different. Our circumstances are different. So, what works for them may not exactly work for you. Whatever was best for them might be irrelevant for you.
Be careful of who you follow and listen to.
So, whether it is paid or unpaid, from the internet or in-person, I always take every piece of advice with a pinch of salt.
Do you know that a lot can be told about you by looking at who you hang out with? It is because our environment, our friends have a massive influence on how we behave.
If we hang out with high-performing action takers, we are more inclined to become action takers. And if we hang out with people who always crib and give excuses, we start to reflect the same behavior.
If our friend circle or community is not aspirational, our action ability to take action significantly decreases. Which is why I constantly assess my surrounding for any such negative influences and adjust accordingly.
Be a part of a community with similar goals and aspirations.
A much better option is to be a part of a community with similar goals and aspirations. Then you will see a drastic change in your performance.
We often hear people talking about failing fast. But that doesn’t mean we are actively promoting failure. We are not looking to fail at things intentionally.
But the fact is, we are not perfect. Our ideas, our actions, always would have some imperfection and room for improvement. So the key here is to get those imperfections out of our head and lay them bare open for improvements.
I came across an interview with Ed Sheeran. He’s got an interesting perspective to this.
The fail-fast approach is essentially the same. Getting imperfections out of our system and making way for better ones. When we resist failures, we are stopping this wastewater from coming out. So, we never get past that to see the positive outcomes.
Once I learned to be prolific, it became easier for me to take action. So now I follow a simple rule. Whenever I need to decide between taking action and doing nothing, I prefer to take action unless I foresee irreversible consequences. And for taking action, my first step is not to research but to act.
Make "taking action" your default choice.
This is particularly interesting and counterintuitive because we tend to research first and then act. But when we start with research first, our scope becomes far too wide. However, if we start with action first, our research depends on what is not working. And that makes it more directional and effective. It helps in focussing on findings that matter instead of trying to understand each and everything.
So, if you were to take just one learning from this video, take this: Firstly, whenever you have a choice between “do something” and “do nothing,” select “do something” as the default option. And secondly, “act first” before starting the research.
Act first before starting the research.
During my first year in engineering college, one of my seniors told me about this 25-40-60 rule.
The idea was whenever we were writing an exam paper; our first target was to secure 25 marks. Now, why 25? The university had a rule that we were eligible for grace marks if we scored between 25 and 40. So, the first milestone when writing the paper was to get to a point where we are eligible for that help.
Once we were sure of a minimum of 25 marks, the next milestone was to get to the 40. That means clear the exam without any help. Once we could secure 40, the next milestone was 60. So we don’t only pass the exam, but we would get first class. And then, once we had 60 marks secured, and if there is still some time left, do whatever the hell you want.
The point is, whenever we face an overwhelming challenge, breaking it down into manageable milestones is the best idea.
When we visualize a bigger end goal, we feel that it is unaffordable, out of bounds. If that happens with you, try this strategy.
Break down goals into manageable milestones and actions.
And always keep in mind that help comes only to those who first help themselves. So, take action. Small, bite-sized action. Get to a point where others can help you.
Everyone wants things to happen. But only a few do the work to make them happen. And I feel we need to become better at taking meaningful actions.
There is a famous quote by Augustine Mandino. He says, “Never has there been a map, however carefully executed to detail and scale, which carried its owner over even one inch of ground. I will act now.”
Never has there been a map, however carefully executed to detail and scale, which carried its owner over even one inch of ground. I will act now - Og Mandino
So far in my experience, taking consistent action always results in non-linear and exponential outcomes. What it means is that your efforts will stack up over time, and what seemed to be slow in the beginning will start ramping up as you progress. As long as you follow the right process, your actions will yield positive results.
Now, I often get asked about how to apply the fail-fast approach in reality. And, more importantly, how to learn experimentation? The art of experimentation is something I will cover in another article.
But until then, take action – start before you feel ready!
Start before you feel ready.