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How to Stop Over-Preparing and Actually Get Things Done

The best way to prepare for a new situation? Don't.

by Julie Compton /
When people go into a new situation, whether it’s making a speech or trying a new sport, they tend to make preparation their objective.elenaleonova / Getty Images

Whether she’s getting ready for a new client session or a presentation, life coach Helen McLaughlin has a tendency to over prepare. She says the urge to prepare stems from a fear of being seen as a novice. But, she says, it is often a waste of time.

“I think a lot of it is just general human insecurity,” McLaughlin tells Better. “Not wanting to be laughed at, not wanting to be made fun of — all that stuff we endured as kids — and it still hangs around in adulthood.”

But despite our natural inclination to research, organize and memorize before important events, McLaughlin says the best way to prepare for a new situation is to not prepare for it at all.

Get over “performance mentality”

People who are chronically overprepared tend to suffer from “performance mentality,” or the need to present oneself as an expert, according to McLaughlin.

“You feel like, ‘I need to be ready to get on stage, to be seen, to be appreciated,’” she says. “And I think what I’ve come to see is that that actually sucks all the air out of your presence. You can’t really be present if you’re performing.”

The best way to get over performance mentality, according to McLaughlin, is to accept that you are a beginner and be willing to be seen as such.

The only way to truly learn is from experience

McLaughlin says preparation teaches us little. The best way to learn something, she says, is to throw yourself into it. It’s what she calls “experiential learning.”

“Experiential learning would be actually doing the thing and then gleaning from that whatever lessons there might be,” she explains.

When people go into a new situation, whether it’s making a speech or trying a new sport, they tend to make preparation their objective. They should instead focus on making the experience their objective, says McLaughlin.

Instead of making preparation the objective, focus on making the experience the objective.

Instead of making preparation the objective, focus on making the experience the objective.

“It’s more like you’re showing up, you’re bringing your full presence, you’re deciding that you’re enough just the way you are,” she says. “There’s nothing you need to learn, or do, or be, in order to show up with presence.”

Let yourself be the example

McLaughlin says performance mentality is a common struggle among her clients. She decided to teach them how to enjoy new experiences by teaching herself in the process. In August, she sent out a notice in her newsletter that she would be doing a Facebook Live video for the first time with zero preparation.

“For me it was exhilarating,” she says.

Related

“At breakfast that morning I was sitting with my husband downstairs, and I thought this is really kind of nervy ... I feel really unsure about really following through and truly not preparing at all,” McLaughlin recalls.

She jotted down a short message on a sticky note to remind herself what she planned to talk about, she says, just in case she lost her nerve. But she didn’t make any other preparations.

“So I just made a pot of tea and I went up to my office,” she recalls. “I am certain I had to be sweating and nervous and feeling all those feelings, but I also felt like it was exhilarating. It was like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m going to try to do it anyway.’”

She says it was a success.

When you invite someone to watch you learn, you give them permission to be learners, to be beginners, and then at the same time, you’re teaching and you’re learning.

When you invite someone to watch you learn, you give them permission to be learners, to be beginners, and then at the same time, you’re teaching and you’re learning.

“I was able to really capture that intimate feeling because I went in fully present,” she says.

Allowing her clients to watch her learn helped them learn in the process, she explains.

“When you invite someone to watch you learn, you give them permission to be learners, to be beginners, and then at the same time, you’re teaching and you’re learning,” McLaughlin concludes.

How to be get over the fear of being unprepared

  • Stop trying to perform: People who are chronically overprepared tend to suffer from “performance mentality,” or the need to present oneself as an expert. The best way to get over performance mentality, according to McLaughlin, is to accept that you are a beginner and be willing to be seen as such.
  • Learn from the experience, not the preparation: McLaughlin says preparation teaches us little. The best way to learn something, she says, is to do it. It’s what she calls “experiential learning.” When going into a new situation, instead of making preparation your objective, let your objective be the experience itself.
  • Let others learn from your struggle: Don’t be afraid to be seen as a beginner and invite others to watch you learn.

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