[Click here to listen to the podcast of this post.]
“Just Do It”– Nike’s famous slogan.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”– Michael Jordan
“What is worse: making the occasional mistake or having a closed mind and missing opportunities?”– Sir Richard Branson from his book ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It‘
Skateistan is a story of a couple of awesome Aussies who saw an opportunity to take skateboarding to Afghanistan, in the process supporting hundreds of young Afghans in overcoming barriers around education, healthcare and racial, gender and political intolerance. After the films we held a panel discussion and Malcolm Middleton, the Queensland Government Architect made the observation that a common theme across the films was taking action. As he said “if any of these projects had waited to gain permission or figure out the details they never would have eventuated.”
We all know the quote that it’s “better to ask for forgiveness than to seek approval” and there are so many examples (like the three that I saw yesterday) where this kind of action can lead to really powerful and meaning change. Yet so often we just don’t do it.
When we are faced with a challenging situation, and the opportunity to take action, some very interesting things happen at a conscious and unconscious level.
For me, I firstly feel something in my body. Usually a pang of anxiety or adrenalin somewhere in my chest. Then there is a voice that pops into my head that says “Uh oh, should we really be doing this? It seems dangerous or risky.” I blogged earlier in the year about feeling the fear and acting in spite of it but we should remember that fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Fear operates at a primal level to protect us and those we care about. It’s a well-intentioned kind of fear. This kind of fear can protect us from danger and harm and allow us to make intelligent decisions. However, in my experience, 99% of the time this fear is protecting us from “failure”. That is, protecting us from taking action that provides a result that is unexpected and unpleasant.
Here’s a concept to consider:
There is no such thing as failure, only learning.
Imagine if we could shift our vocabulary and mindset to replace the word “failure” with “learning” (I dare you to try it for a week!).
But this isn’t just a game or a trick to play on our mind! Consider the possible scenarios around taking action:
If I don’t take action:
- Nothing changes. I will never know what could have happened. And I learn nothing.
If I do take action:
- Things could go “right” or as I expected. No surprises but also a pretty good outcome (by the way, in my experience things pretty much never turn out how I expect or hope!)
- Things could go “wrong” (what we tend to call “failure”). But in going wrong I learn an incredible lesson that will propel me closer to success next time and expand my reality. We always learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
- Things could turn out in an unexpected way, leading to outcomes and opportunities I never could have imagined.
I can think of so many examples in my life (flying to Egypt, approaching a certain stranger, making a certain phone call etc.) where taking action has resulted in incredible learning. I can also think of plenty of examples where I haven’t taken action and I’ve gained nothing except wondering “what if?”.
The only failure is inaction.
Sure, it’s easy to say, just do it. But sometimes we just don’t have the motivation or courage to act, or our rational mind talks us out of it.
I’d like to share a story about how using a “moonshot” and an unrealistic timeframe can be used to whip ourselves into action!
In November 2008, my good friend Martin McDonald (aka Son of Sea) introduced me and my friends to a thing called Nasoalmo (National Solo Album Month). The challenge (read: moonshot) was to write, record, mix and release an album in the 30 days of November 2008. The impossibility of the challenge made it all the more surreal as I raced to cram time in before and after work to write and record. November 2008 also became one of the biggest months of my life as my Grandfather passed away, I came out of a long-term relationship and began a new one amidst a series of epic sub-tropical Brisbane storms.
The result was my most productive songwriting period ever and an audio diary of some of the most significant experiences of my life; the album ‘My, What a Big Black Cloud!‘
Four years later, last November after Marty and I had eventually caught up on the lost sleep, we decided to try our hand at Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), the challenge this time being to write 50,000 words of fiction in the thirty days of November.
Even though I have very limited writing experience, the process I went through to reach this goal was very similar to the album in a month.
Firstly, I spent the first 10 days of the month planning, deliberating and structuring what I wanted to achieve as an end result (read: procrastinating).
Then, on day 11 I had a minor freak out / panic attack and released I could procrastinate no more! I just had to get started. So, I joined the Queensland Writer’s Centre ‘Rabbit Hole’ weekend and surrounded myself with other people who were taking action. On that Saturday I remember setting myself a goal to just write 1,500 words whether it was good or not (just do it!). I remember going through this subtle shift where I let go of the quality and just wrote. Once I stopped judging the quality of what I was doing, words started to come quite easily.
I’d made a start! And that was the hardest part. Then, all I had to do was chunk it down into bite-sized daily pieces (2,500 words) and then find the time to reach the word target each day. It’s amazing because I just became more and more efficient at producing the words in small blocks of time. I’d write before work, squeeze 600 words in during the bus trip from home to work, 1000 in my lunch break and then a few hundred more when I got home.
You’d think that the quality of my writing would be terrible using this approach but in fact it was the opposite (a paradox!). By switching off my critical mind I was able to write more freely and creatively and really live in the moment of my characters’ experiences. This was so much fun too because writing at this pace also felt like I was reading the book in real-time.
I ended up reaching the goal 2 days early and writing 60,000 words!
While it’s easy to say just do it, it’s not so easy in practice. Here are a few suggestions from my experience:
- Set a task or a goal (moonshot) and make sure it’s unrealistic and crazy enough to inspire you to awesomeness!
- Tell everybody you know about your goal! By doing this you are making yourself publicly accountable to achieving it, and sewing seeds of support that you will need along the way!
- Create an arbitrary but seemingly impossible timeframe to achieve the goal (make sure it’s short so you can go hard without burning yourself out),
- Take the first step immediately toward the goal. Or, for an extra adrenalin rush, procrastinate within your already limited timeframe to the point where you can’t delay action any longer!
- Small-chunk the challenge down into daily accomplishments and feel the sense of achievement as you start to believe that you can do it.
This is not the kind of thing you can keep up all year round; it’s adrenalin-rush kind of stuff. You have to be willing to put it all on the line for a very short period of time and live and breathe your goal. The beauty is though, that the universe will come to your rescue; you’ll find that people come out of the woodwork to support you, that little chunks of time appear out of nowhere and your efficiency goes through the roof! And then, once your short burst of effort is over you can sit back, chill out and bask in the awesomeness of your achievement.
I’d really love to hear any stories that people have of these kinds of experiences. Have you worked on an exciting project within a crazy timeframe? Share your experience in the comments below.
Til next week Be Awesome. Just do it!