Do you remember the excitement you felt that day last December? You told yourself that this was the year you would just go for it. You were finally going to pursue the dream that’s been simmering inside you for so long. Was it starting your own business or making a career change? Maybe it was getting into the best shape of your life.
We’re now a few months into the new year, so how are you doing?
Are you making steady progress towards your goals or have you already fallen by the wayside?
Maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe you still haven’t taken that first step.
That first terrifying step
On any journey you undertake to do great things, there are bound to be challenges but if you say you want something and haven’t taken the first step towards it, this is probably the reason:
You lack self-belief.
You see, as much as you say you want it, at some level within, you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t do it, you can’t have it or you’re not up to the challenge.
So how do you get past that barrier? How do you go from someone who’s afraid and hovering on the edge to someone who’s confident enough to go for it?
Here are three mistakes you’re probably making and how to overcome them.
1. You judge your ability to accomplish your goal based on your current capability
If your dream is big enough, it is going to stretch you. It is going to demand of you more than you’ve ever given before.
What you do, however, is compare who you are right now to the person your dream requires you to be. You get fixated on the gap that exists between the two, that could be skills, resources, capabilities or wherever else you fall short. The voice of self doubt comes to life in your head: ‘ This is too hard.’, ‘I’ll never figure out how to do this.’ ,’I’m not smart enough, not qualified enough’ ‘This is impossible’, the list goes on.
Now one of three things will probably happen here:
- You get so discouraged by how big that gap is, how insurmountable the hurdle seems that you just give up without even trying.
- You downgrade your dream to what is comfortably within reach and continue plodding along knowing that you’ve just settled for a knockoff.
- You know that it’s going to be hard and you will be challenged. You don’t know how to get to your destination right now but you have the confidence that you will be able to figure out what you need to when you need to. You go for it.
If you’ve opted for 1 or 2 in the past then how do you make a different choice? How do you begin to see option 3 as really the only option?
You need to change your thinking.
What is your mindset?
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her 2007 book Mindset explains that what sets successful people apart from everyone else isn’t their intelligence, talent or education but rather their mindset. She goes on to say that we have one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
With a fixed mindset you believe that you were born with a particular set of skills that you can’t change. When faced with a challenge to your skills and abilities, you believe that you’re just not smart or talented enough to achieve your goals and will stick to what you know.
With a growth mindset on the other hand you believe that with effort, perseverance and drive, you can develop your natural qualities and overcome obstacles. You trust that by learning from experience you can work towards your goals.
How do you change your thinking?
Believing you are empowered to influence your life’s outcomes is essential to achieving your goals. Having a growth mindset is critical to feeling able to take the steps you need to get to your destination. Your dream may feel out of reach now but you understand that your lack of skills today is not a reflection of your ability to accomplish it. Where you are now is just a useful reference point from which you will have to improve. Instead of looking at the gap as an impossible one to close, ask yourself this question:
‘What skills do I need to acquire or develop in order to move towards my goal?‘
You don’t have to figure it all out right now, just what you need to do next.
- Identify your goal and why you want it.
- Break that goal down into smaller tasks and make sure they’re concrete and measurable.
- Create a plan for learning and yes, write it down. Schedule it in with start and end dates.
- Identify the things you either need to learn or do to accomplish each task.
- Pre-select your rewards for reaching each milestone. It’s critical to celebrate your victories along the way.
- Take action.
Guard against perfectionism, the seductive voice of fear that fools you into waiting for the right time, the perfect plan and needing to get it exactly right. Perfection is your mind’s way of keeping you locked in your comfort zone and stops you from actually doing anything. So be aware that the goal here is not to get it perfect and not to know everything but rather learn what you need in order to get started.
I can remember sitting at my computer one December a few years ago convinced that before I could launch my first blog, it had to look perfect. I was adamant that it needed a custom logo and a fantastic design before I could put it out there and even sketched out mock-ups of what I wanted. So in addition to trying to figure out how to use the software and actually write the content, my mind convinced me that the blog needed to look a certain way too.
Two things got me past that need:
First, my why. Why did I want to create the site? What was I really trying to achieve? What was really important? It became clear that how it looked was secondary, what was more important was the content, the message.
Second, I forced myself to set an ambitious deadline. I decided that I was going to launch in the first week of the new year and I committed to making that happen. Having that time pressure helped me to differentiate between what was really needed to get the site out there on time and what could wait.
So the lesson here? Identify the task you need to do and set a deadline. Learn just what you need to, and start. Start even when you don’t feel ready, you can perfect it later.
2. You compare yourself to the ideal and get discouraged when you fall way short
You compare yourself to someone who appears to be doing the very thing that you are aspiring to and they are amazing. This person is dynamic, confident, knowledgeable, has a million followers on Facebook and YouTube and thousands of likes on their articles. You get disheartened. ‘I can’t top that!’ ‘I’ll never be that good.’ That person represents what you so badly desire to be but feel so far away from.
Without the right perspective it is really easy to convince yourself that you need to be perfect to get started. The truth is you will have to, as your idol did, learn, grow and evolve. The smooth professionalism, tools and techniques they are using now are probably not what they were using when they got started. Don’t lose your way by falling into the comparison trap.
How do you evade the comparison trap?
You first have to understand that you are comparing yourself to the finished article while in reality you are only a baby starting your journey. Success won’t come overnight, you have to put the work in to get there.
Use successful people and their achievements in a more empowering way. Learn from them and use that knowledge to improve your craft, maybe do some things differently or better. Sometimes others’ ideas can accelerate your progress and spark your own creativity. They can inspire, encourage and keep you motivated when you falter. You think, if they can make it this far, so can you. If they have made it through challenges, you can too.
So the lesson here? Never compare yourself to other people’s achievements or popularity, it stops you from even trying.
3. You don’t identify with who you want to be
In your mind you visualise your dream self and very quickly realise that you are not that person. You can see your dream body, for example, super fit with the glow of good health, you can even imagine how that person feels. Yet you look at yourself in the mirror and the reality is so different. You can’t yet see yourself as that person, there is a disconnect between that dream image and the one you live with every day. You get so discouraged by that you don’t even try.
Your current behaviours are really a reflection of your current identity. To become the person who is living that dream life you have to start identifying with that future version of yourself.
How do you start to identify with your desired future self?
It starts with believing new things about yourself. That’s right, decide the type of person you want to be then create and cultivate that new identity by taking action to reinforce it. Gradually prove to yourself that you are indeed that new person.
Here’s an example:
Dream: I want to be a writer and my dream is to write a book.
Current State: I do some writing now and then, usually when I feel like it.
Desired Identity (who do I want to be): I want to be a writer. What does a writer identity mean to me? Someone who writes consistently, at least two hours a day.
Action (how do I start to prove to myself that I can be that writer?): If you’re yet to start, writing everyday for two hours will feel daunting. This is why the first step has to be small, a quick win. My action to start proving this to myself, to start living the identity of a writer is to spend 15 mins writing every day. Now I have to do it consistently.
James Clear writes extensively about this approach and I have found it to be a very powerful tool in getting past the fear and hesitation to take that first step. Instead of just setting performance based goals you focus on becoming the person you want to be first, once those habits are established you start improving performance. Your self belief may start very small but with each action you perform it increases. Every small task accomplished is a small victory. With each small victory you gain confidence and your self belief grows. You slowly, methodically become that new person.
So the lesson here? You don’t think your way to a new identity, you act your way to it.
That first step can be daunting, but your future self is waiting for you to take it
It’s easy to get caught up in all the places you feel less than but that doesn’t predict what your future will look like. Remember you get to choose the person you want to become and you have all the tools to get there. Adopt a growth mindset, knowing that you can always learn and improve as challenges come. Stop comparing yourself to others and use them as a source of inspiration instead. Take action in line with the person you want to be and adopt a new, more empowering identity. As you do these things you will see your self belief grow in ways you could only imagine before.
And somewhere down the line you will look back at the person you are today with a smile. You’ll thank her for taking that first step even when she was so afraid.
Now over to you.
Are you hesitating to take that first step?
How can you let the vision of your future self pull you forward?
Let me know in the comments.