Why don’t we act on our dreams? We think about acting on them all the time! From thought to action—without that transition, nothing would ever get done. Whether we’re talking about bringing our dreams to reality or just doing something for work, it isn’t enough just to wish it to be.
We can focus on what we want to happen with all of our intellectual might, see the results in our mind’s eye, and use all the positive thinking in the world, but if, at the end of the day, we don’t take action, it will all be for nought.
I don’t think any of this is controversial. We can all agree that to get something done, we need to actually do something. The question I set out to investigate was why I so often have such a hard time making that transition.
1. It’s Too Hard
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours
of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with
being a world-class expert—in anything.”
~ Daniel Levitin
One can look at this quote and either be inspired or defeated. How will I ever manage to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice??
I choose to be inspired because I firmly believe that talent is simply countless hours of practice that have been attributed to some mystical phenomenon we don’t understand, and so label “talent.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s original thesis is, in fact, often misstated as: “You have to have 10,000 hours in a subject to be an expert.” This is absolutely not what he said or meant. He meant that if you spend 10,000 hours at something, you will be such a world-class expert that people will often refer to you simply by your first name, like Peyton, Tiger, Venus, Kobe, or Oprah.
Having said that, there is no point staring at the mountain from the valley and simply never taking that first step because there are 9,999 more steps to take before you reach the top. You have to focus on what’s in front of you. What is the first step, how do I take it, and what is the path up the mountain it is leading me toward?
Is taking a single step hard? Definitely not. So then, take it! And after that, is taking another single step difficult? Certainly not. Rinse, repeat.
In practical terms, you need to break down your mountain of a goal, your ultimate desire, into doable steps. What is the first step?
Let’s say you want to meditate for an hour, every day. Maybe it’s a simple goal to some, and others very lofty. Don’t let others judge your goals, though that’s a separate note for everything you choose to do in life.
The first thing you should do is break it down. Let’s try to meditate every day for 15 minutes. But wait, before that, how about meditating three times a week for 15 minutes each. Break it down into steps you feel confident you can accomplish. After you’ve done those easier steps, you’ll feel even more confident and be able to take that next step.
You want to be a famous singer? That’s a lofty enough goal to intimidate most people. First things first. Take vocal lessons. Learn technique. Read books on the voice about how it works. Understand it. Set goals with these things in mind. Small goals, little steps, that in the end will lead to mastery.
2. I’m Too Old (or Too Young)
I used to tell myself that I was too old for acting or singing. Why bother learning it? It’s perfectly normal to feel this way. Lots of us do.
So what changed things for me? The simple realization that I’m never too old to enjoy my life. I wanted to enjoy my life now, not later.
If that doesn’t help, think about this: what sort of example do you want to set for others, like your children? That they should give up on their dreams because they discovered them too late? What advice would you give someone else who felt this way?
Regret is a painful thing. If you already regret not starting earlier, think about ten years from now how you’ll regret not starting today. You could be a master at it, by then.
Regardless, I say to you: do what you love, and do it now! Forget about your age. You deserve to be happy no matter how old you are.
3. I’m Too Busy
I found this was just me making excuses. Either what I wanted to do wasn’t very high priority for me, or I was afraid for some reason.
I think the “I’m too busy,” excuse is an epidemic that needs to be squashed out of existence. It’s a polite reason to give a friend or family member, perhaps, but it’s not the truth. I think we should start being honest with ourselves and with everyone else.
Now, there are lots of reasons for being “too busy.” My reasons aren’t the only ones. Maya recently penned an article related to this topic of being too busy for everything you want to do.
For me, the reality was that I wasn’t too busy. I just chose to give everything else a higher priority. I needed to figure out what else was going on. If I didn’t want to do it, why not? In which case, I would now refer myself to excuses 7 and/or 8.
4. Other People Think I Shouldn’t/Can’t
As you can imagine, such a system is bound to fail, or at the very least make one miserable trying to please everyone. And, of course, it failed for me.
I can’t stress enough how what other people want should not take precedence over your own needs and wants. Put yourself first. You’ll feel better and suddenly you’ll have more time, other people will respect you more, and you’ll feel happier and more fulfilled.
5. It’s Not Realistic
Do you think the iPod seemed realistic back when people were using tapes or CDs to listen to music? What about when Michael Jordan was 6, was it realistic for him to want to play professional basketball? Kobe Bryant?
If someone tells you, “Be realistic. You can’t do that!” it’s them placing their own fears and doubts about themselves upon you. They believe they can’t do that, so why can you?
If you love it, do it. Realism (which is a word most people are substituting for making money) will come. If you a truly passionate about what you do, then you will become good enough to make a good wage at it. Also, if you like doing something, undoubtedly there are others that also like it and are willing to pay to see you doing it, or learn from you.
You want to succeed in life? Forget realism for a moment, and dream big about something you are absolutely passionate about.
6. I’m Afraid
I’m talking about a fear of failure. I struggle with a fear of failure quite often. I lean toward perfectionism, and it’s something that I constantly struggle to overcome.
What helps me here is reminding myself of my reasons for wanting to take action, writing them down, and posting them up. If it’s really important to me, I remind myself of the goal and the reasons on a daily basis.
Ultimately, I read about the great failures of others. I remember that you must fail to learn. In fact, asking a question, which is itself a failure to know something, is the greatest tool a human being can possess.
7. I Don’t Want To
I don’t really want to do it. There are any number of reasons here. I may not agree with why it should be done or the desired purpose. I may not agree with the method, or I may know of a better way to achieve the same result. When it comes to your dream, there might be something you need to do along the way that you don’t want to do.
This used to happen to me more often, when I would fail to speak against someone else’s desires. I wasn’t putting myself first. I was ignoring how I felt because someone else wanted something done. Somehow, their needs had taken precedence over my own.
Of course, the situation can be very complex. Sometimes, we need to do things we don’t want to do. So how do we move past this?
The answer is quite simple. We need reasons. I need reasons to do the undesirable. Now, not just any reasons will do. I need reasons that speak to my values and personality. They have to be good reasons, which leads me to my final point.
8. I Don’t Know The Reasons For Doing It
This is closely related to the previous point. To find motivation, we need to make the reasons intrinsic.
When I lack motivation, I sit down and go through my reasons for wanting to take action. I make it as personal for myself as I possibly can.
If I’m still not motivated after reminding myself of my reasons, then the reasons are not enough for me. I don’t ask other people for reasons, because it has to be insanely personal. And who cares if my reasons don’t make sense to others. They don’t have to take action, I do.
Need to do laundry? Well, I want clean clothes and appear presentable to others, so those reasons are enough for me. Need to take out the trash? Well, I want a clean and sanitary house that doesn’t smell, and those reasons are sufficient. The reasons have to speak to you.
Just to emphasize this very important point, I need to make sure I know the reasons for me. The reasons for other people are irrelevant and are not going to help motivate me into doing it.
If there are no reasons for me to do something, I simply don’t do it. If the reasons I find aren’t sufficient in my mind, I don’t do it.
For example, if your boss needs you to do something immediately, and you can’t find sufficient personal reasons (perhaps money, etc. are not sufficient motivational reasons – which they might not be), then probably the job isn’t right for you. I’ve been there, so I know what that’s like.
* * *
There are lots of reasons why we don’t make the transition from thought into action. Sometimes they’re quite simple, and other times very complicated. I’ve shared with you some of my struggles, and I hope it helps you with your own.
My hope with this is to inspire you to do something, not just think about it. Pick something you’ve always wanted to do, and do it. If you can’t, figure out why. Take an active part in your life, and live it on your terms.
In the end, I hope we all arrive at life’s “finish line” bruised, battered, and exhausted saying, “Now that was living!”
What excuses do you find it difficult to overcome? Was this article helpful?
(Photo credit: Severin Sadjina)
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