Should I [insert dream here]? How to overcome your self-limiting fears
By Joshua Moayer | January 9th 2017
Here's a few quotes to get in the right frame of mind. Read them aloud and let them soak in for a few seconds.
Whew, that was a lot of quotes. I’ve never really been a big quote guy - I swear. I feel like quotes are often misused or overused. Ironically, I say this as I rattle off three in a row. But these quotes, especially the last one from Steve Jobs, bring tears to my eyes nearly every time I utter them to myself. Embarrassingly enough, that’s a near-daily occurrence.
Have you been wanting to strive towards a dream or goal but find it perpetually eluding you? Maybe you'd like to be your own boss, learn a foreign language, or lose some weight. If you find yourself avoiding your true passions, it’s time to check in with yourself and understand what emotions are driving your actions, or lack thereof. Do any of these feelings sound familiar to you?
- “I don’t know where to start.”
- “I don’t know how to do it / everyone seems to be better at it.”
- “Aww, someone else did that already. I bet it’s too late now.”
- “What if I don’t succeed?”
It’s important to realize what’s actually behind these feelings. At Sellzee we call it a four-letter word. It happens to also start with F - Fear. Fear is a powerful emotion. Primitively, like most features of the human design, it’s built into our physiology to help us survive. But thanks to fancy technology like houses and food, in many ways fear is an obsolete tool. In general, you’re safe from being gobbled up by a giant dinosaur — they peaced out a while ago. Your friends, if they’re good ones, love you for who you are, not how quote “successful” you are. Like most self-perceived limits, just about every single thing you’re afraid of is just an illusion.
To prove it, let’s look at the feelings above one a time.
1. “I don’t know where to start.”
The short answer is - it literally doesn’t matter. How do the great authors write novels? Is there a perfect formula? I bet if you could see inside the process of five famous authors not named Danielle Steele, you’d see they all have a totally different process.
Every math problem has many ways of being solved. That’s the beauty of it all - no matter what, there’s a nearly infinite number of ways to accomplish a goal. And that includes the most arbitrary thing of all: the thing you do first! If you think there’s a magic first-step, it’s just a very sophisticated way of your subconscious mind acting out its fears and procrastination tendencies. Become aware of it, and then tell yourself you’re in charge - and you will be. More likely than not, whatever you do is going to change in some way or another, so just get started!
Here’s a neat mind trick I’ve found when it comes to productivity. You probably have a task list. It’s always staring you in the face, constantly growing. Some of your tasks feel really daunting. Here’s a few from mine:
- Write our next blog article
- Build a Pinterest board
- Book a flight to visit a good friend I haven't seen in a while
Here’s a very simple but effective trick: give yourself permission to get started. Reword the action verb at the beginning of all your tasks to:
- Start writing our next blog article
- Start a Pinterest board
- Start looking for flights
Amazing things happen when you do this. You’ll actually get started! Starting is probably the thing most getting in your way. If you're a student, or have ever been one, you know exactly what I mean. That book is staring you in the face and it feels like the hardest part of studying is just opening it. But usually, once you do, you’re immersed. By doing this, you’re making your goals smaller (which is another good practice in general) and you’re taking tons of pressure off yourself. Taking pressure off yourself is key because creative thoughts happen when you’re most relaxed. Try it - it works, I promise.
Here's another neat trick I picked up from Thomas Sterner's book "The Practicing Mind". Sterner points out the key to developing focus and discipline in your life starts with changing the way you think about achieving your goals. Instead of obsessing about the end product, focus on the process of what you need to do to get there. To reach a calm and steady mental state, Sterner advocates the four "S" words:
1. Simplify. Many of your goals may seem insurmountable when you think about the end product or goal you're aiming for. Break up your goal into a series of very simple steps that all build up to your final goal. (Use Asana for this!) Breaking your goal up into a series of very simple actionable steps gives your mind a great amount of relief and really helps you focus on one thing at a time.
2. Small. Only think of your overall goal as a rudder to steer you throughout your process, but do not let your mind wander and judge how "fast" you're getting the job done. Instead, break down your goal into very small steps so you can have focused bursts of attention. (The Pomodoro technique works great with this!) Making your tasks as small as possible is a way of achieving simplicity. For example, let's say you need to build a website. Instead of having one giant task called "Build the website" which makes it easy to let your mind get frustrated, try something like:
- Start a rough sketch of the layout only (no content or copy)
- Start a 1st draft of the copy I want to convey
- Start thinking about where to position each piece of copy
- Start coding up the unstyled HTML (no CSS)
- Start styling the HTML with CSS
- Start tweaking it to be responsive on iPhone
Once you've started on each of the tasks above, you can set off on sibling tasks like "Put finishing touches on the HTML", etc.
3. Short. Short goes hand-in-hand with simplify and small, but try putting a time limit like 45 minutes on each of your tasks and tell yourself if you focus on the task for the full time-frame you're going to be happy. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish from training yourself for this type of consistency.
4. Slow. When I initially read this one, it felt a little counter-intuitive. Go slow to go fast? Doesn't make any sense right? The point of this is to give yourself permission to go slow, not to deliberately do everything slow. What you'll start to notice is that by being okay with going slow while you do your task, you'll become immersed in the task itself. It will quiet all chatter in your mind about what you forgot to do in the past or what you need to do in the future.
2. “I don’t know how to do it / everyone else seems to be better at it.”
It’s safe to say it’s hard to know how to do something without trying many times, and failing many times. This fear is the opening act of the next fear “What if I don’t succeed”. This one comes first and tries to prevent you from even getting started.
3. “What if I don’t succeed?”
This one is also really ironic. Look at any really successful person and you’ll see before they succeeded they had one or more giant failures. There’s a really big assumption built into the fear “What if I don’t succeed”. That’s the idea that there’s no reason to expect yourself to get it right the first time. Why would you? That’s going to be very difficult for anyone. Just think of it like an athlete getting warmed up for the real thing. Don’t you want a warm up? Give yourself permission to make "mistakes", because that’s where you’re going to learn the most. A fairly successful dude by the name of Einstein once said “Failure is success in progress”. You’d just be a really good guesser if you got it right the first time, and that luck won’t really feel very rewarding anyway, because you won’t really know why it happened. Let yourself make mistakes so you know what doesn’t work. You can acknowledge what doesn't work peacefully (like a rudder) without judging. There's a fine line between acknowledging and adjusting and judging yourself - but it most certainly exists. What you don't want is to be saying negative things to yourself like "This is taking longer than I thought", "I'm not even doing this right, why am I trying?", or "Bobby did this way better than me and everyone's going to laugh at me". Enjoy the process of practicing and the kinks will all get worked out naturally.
4. “Someone else did that already. NOW it’s too late.”
This is the craziest one of them all and applies very well to entrepreneurial settings. How did you ever convince yourself that the demand for the thing you want to do is exactly met by the few people who’ve done it already and no one wants any more of it, in any fashion whatsoever? What about doing it more specifically, more uniquely, or for a different audience? Did the person you’re comparing yourself to solve everyone’s problems? Probably not.
I’m going to call on a great example here from the business of private label products on Amazon. Greg Mercer, the founder of Jungle Scout, is the boss of launching private label products on Amazon. He also seems to be a really cool dude, although I haven’t yet met him personally. Greg has this rule of thumb for evaluating a market (he calls it a niche) to launch a private label product into. He looks for 3,000 units of sales in the top 10 competitors of that niche. He says, and I agree, that it’s extremely risky to enter a niche with little to no competition. So much so that he’s looking for not 1, but 10 competitors! And not just some weak ones - he wants to see there’s strong demand for this product, thus the 3,000 units.
Think about that for a second. Why would you ever tell yourself not to do something because someone else has already done it? On the contrary, Greg advocates for understanding the product's reviews and improving on complaints, or making a slightly different version that solves a more specific problem better. It makes sense, but it’s crazy how we can delude ourselves into thinking we should only do something if no one else has done it before. We should be thinking in almost exactly the opposite fashion!
becoming aware so you can change
The psychology of fear is both fascinating and well documented. Here’s a few tell tale signs you might be getting in your own way:
- You start lots of projects but find it “hard" to finish any particular one
- You find yourself talking to your friends about what you’re going to do rather than just doing it
- You second guess your decisions a lot
- Just when you feel like you’re on the verge of success, you convince yourself something has happened that ruined it all
The talking to your friends one can be tricky because many times if they give you validation, it can mimic the feeling of actually accomplishing the goal, thereby discouraging you from following through. If you find yourself in any of these situations or mind states, just be thankful that you're aware and gently tell your mind to get back on track.
Why I care about this so much
I lost my best friend, Aaron Anderson, in 2011. Ever since the day he left, I’ve truly felt like I have nothing to lose. Why? Because the feeling Steve Jobs expressed (see quote above) really sunk in for me in that moment. Whatever it is I wanted to do, I better get started doing it. Humans are like Shamrock Shakes - we’re here for a limited time only. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s so obvious and true when you really let yourself confront it. So if you want something, ask yourself what’s really getting in your way from going after it. 80% of the time the truthful answer will be simple - you. You are getting in your own way, and you have been this whole time.
- “I don’t have enough money” - excuse.
- “I’m not smart enough” - excuse.
- “I don’t have enough time” - BIGGEST excuse ever.
Go get started and figure the rest out as you go.
Here at Sellzee, we’re totally serious about being your spirit guide to success. We don’t want to just be another interweb soapbox, spouting off the latest gossip and parroting the same advice everyone else seems to be giving you, often with a very obvious agenda in mind. We know that the biggest battle of achieving your dreams takes place in your own mind.
When you move onto the next world, don’t you want to feel no regrets? You can spend your time in an infinite number of ways. The world around us is a remarkable sea of opportunities. Happiness is the journey, not the destination. Once you make the switch in your mind that the pursuit of your dreams, not any particular outcome, is what makes you happy, you’re on the fast-track to success. Great things just tend to happen when you’re having fun.
Are you ready to persistently follow your dreams, no matter what happens, and take full accountability for your success? Join us in our journey - leave us a comment and share what you’ve been itching to do. We’ve got your back!