I was lifting with the owner of my gym. She was doing clean and jerks. I was squatting.
In between sets, I asked if she had ever competed in an Olympic weightlifting meet. “You should do one. They are a lot of fun and you’re definitely built to be a weightlifter.”
“That’s what everyone tells me, but I don’t know,” she responded. “Competitions make me kind of nervous. I just think: what if I miss this lift and all of these people see it?”
Let’s pause for a moment.
Remember, this is someone who OWNS a gym. She misses lifts every single week and sees hundreds of other people do the same. And yet here she is, letting her fear of being judged prevent her from doing something that she’d like to do.
This little conversation reminded me of why I hate “fear–based decision making” and got me thinking about the importance of overcoming fear. Let’s talk about how you can get past fear and self–doubt and do the things that you want to do.
Fear–based decision making is when you let your fears or worries dictate your actions (or, in most cases, your lack of action).
- “I’d love to visit Africa, but what if something bad happens while I’m there? I’ll go somewhere else instead.”
- “I’d love to write a book, but what if people hate it? Maybe I should read more before I start writing.”
- “I’d love to get in shape, but what if I look stupid at the gym? I need to lose some weight before I go.”
The unfortunate result is that you don’t do the things that you say are important to you.
Just to be clear, I’ve made this mistake many times myself. In fact, for two years I came up with all sorts of reasons for why I shouldn’t start this very website. I’ve also come up with excuses for not building businesses, not starting projects, not applying to schools, not applying to jobs, and on and on.
In other words, this is a mistake that we all make. But, that doesn’t mean it’s alright to continue making it.
After all of my mistakes, there are a few rules of thumb that I now try to keep in mind…
1. Don’t pick goals where the stakes are low.
When the gym owner chooses to avoid competition and only miss lifts in her home gym, it’s a way of keeping the stakes low. But failing in a safe zone is just a clever way of holding yourself back.
If you fail inside your comfort zone, it’s not really failure, it’s just maintaining the status quo. If you never feel uncomfortable, then you’re never trying anything new.
In other words, feeling stupid is a good thing.
2. Nobody is rooting for you to fail.
Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll fail. For the most part, nobody cares one way or the other.
This is a good thing! The world is big and you are small, and that means you can chase your dreams with little worry for what people think.
3. Just because you don’t like where you have to start from doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get started.
I wish I was a better writer when I started writing. I wish I was a smarter entrepreneur when I started building businesses. I wish I was a better photographer when I picked up a camera. But more than anything, I’m glad I chose to start even though I wasn’t very good in the beginning.
Feelings of fear and uncertainty have a way of making you feel unprepared.
- “I should learn more before I take this test.”
- “I should practice more before I compete.”
- “I should get this degree before I start this business.”
Here’s a tough question that forces you to consider the opposite side: How long will you put off what you’re capable of doing just to maintain what you’re currently doing?
4. Stop making uncertain things, certain.
Who says you’re going to fail? Just because someone else got rejected from that job doesn’t mean you will. Maybe the publisher hated your friend’s book, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hate yours. Maybe you tried to lose weight before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lose it now.
You’re not destined to “miss that lift.” In fact, maybe you’re destined to succeed.
Stop acting like failure is certain. It’s not.
5. The only real failure is not taking any action in the first place.
We all deal with feelings of fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability. And unfortunately, most of us let those feelings dictate our actions. For this reason, the simple decision to act is often enough to separate you from most people. You don’t need to be great at what you do, you just need to be the one person who actually decides to do it.
You can enjoy a lot of success by doing the things that most people make excuses to avoid.
A version of this article first appeared on JamesClear.com.
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