I am, by nature, a planner. I research, study, sort, plan, organize, color code my findings, and then plan and research some more. This is often a good thing. It made me a kick ass student for one. My travel itineraries are amazing.
The main reason I am drawn to running marathons is it means I can lay out an 18-week schedule and enter it into my calendar (which is color-coded, of course).
But I’ve recently come to see the downside of my planning and analytical nature
I’ve been starting many new endeavors lately. This blog for one. And I’ve recently started writing my first book.
While I love the excitement that comes along with these endeavors, they also come with a fair amount of mood swingy emotional roller coaster rides as well.
One moment I think I’m doing amazing, I’m so happy that I’ve accomplished what I have, proud of all I’ve done and where I am. Then I’d suddenly think I am stupid to try. Why do I think I can possibly accomplish anything? Why would I stand out from the crowd? Why would anyone want to read a book I wrote?
Then the mood-swing pendulum would swing back to great.
But then I noticed a pattern:
The down times were always when I was thinking about a project. Planning something, researching something. Thinking about how I should do something or how something should be designed or structured. My regular research endeavors would end in my doubting my ability to do just about anything.
The up times were nearly always when I was taking action – however small.
Actually writing or editing a draft of something. Actually going for a run or doing a workout.
Inaction and overthinking = lack of confidence.
Action = felt better (maybe not confident exactly, but better).
My Twin Troubles
My analytical nature creates two different, but related, problems.
Being a researcher and a planner, it is way too easy for me to sucked into doing ‘one more’. Reading one more book or article or watching one more how-to video. The potential research is never done (spoiler: you can never do ALL the research, I know, I’ve tried).
Doing this research is a perfect cover for never actually having to do the work. If you are reading about doing something, you don’t have to actually DO the thing. So much easier.
Endless research is a way to avoid action and is one of the symptoms of what Steven Pressfield in The War of Art calls the resistance.
My lack of confidence moments almost always arise due to overthinking. I start to think about the what ifs. Considering if there is a better way of doing what I’m doing.
Overthinking is when I start comparing myself to others and what they are doing. I never fare very well in those comparisons, regardless of my successes.
Overthinking makes me hesitate to take action since maybe I don’t know something. Maybe the one thing I need to know on that day is the one thing I haven’t researched. So I research some more. The cycle continues.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Luckily the cure is very simple: take action.
Here is what I have come to realize: I don’t gain confidence from planning and researching. Confidence comes from taking action.
Even the tiniest of actions move me in right direction. The smallest action is so much more effective than the best research in the world.
And I’m not talking about life-altering actions either. The smallest actions- 15 minutes of free writing on a blog post, running around the block.
Just starting. Taking action, however small, however imperfect, makes me feel better, more accomplished and more capable 100% of the time.
And yes, with that, I occasionally (gasp!) don’t know something. I occasionally get something wrong.
And yet I’ve always come out better for it.
I may very well be a very extreme example of this process, but I know the resistance is very real and stressing out while overthinking is also is very common.
Here is my challenge to you: if (when?) you find yourself doubting your ability or questioning if you are doing the right thing, or if you are stuck in productive procrastination mode – Do something.
Take action. Put down the google machine, and actually do something.
Stressing out about if you can run that 5K next month? Put on your shoes and run around the neighborhood.
Not sure about the viability of your side hustle? Take out your pencil and draft a business plan. Don’t just think about what would go into your business plan, actually draft one.
Think you are stupid to even be considering writing, painting, or taking up pottery? Worried about what friends or family will think or how there isn’t a viable market for your work? Take out your pen, paint, or clay and do some work.
Maybe you won’t find all of the answers that you need, but I guarantee that you will feel better.