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10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Own Way

[ 7 ] January 29, 2011 |
Roller derby girl: ain't nobody getting in her way!

Image by Joe Rollerfan on Flickr,
licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

You want to do something, but… you put it off, you think about all the things that could go wrong, maybe you talk yourself out of trying at all. If you would just get out of your own way, imagine what you could accomplish! Here are ten tips to help.

Identify your motivation

Why are you trying to get yourself to do this in the first place? Is it something you want to do? Is it something you think is important? What will you gain if you do it?

If you have no compelling answers to these questions, quit trying to make yourself do it and spend your energy on something you value instead.

Be alert to any “have to”s in your answers. The fact is, if you’re an adult living in a free society, nobody can make you do anything. For instance, you don’t “have to” go to work, you go because you need money to pay for your housing and food. You could instead find some other way to pay for those things, and/or reduce the amount you spend on them. It may not seem like much of a choice, but it is a choice.

If you’re trying to make yourself do something because the consequences will be too bad if you don’t, acknowledge that you don’t like it but have good reasons for making this choice. Then do it. Meanwhile, be on the lookout for other ways to solve this problem as soon as you can.

Reasons with “should” in them are also bogus. A “should” is always a statement opposed to reality. (If something is, you don’t say “should.”) “Should”s against other people are usually judgements; “should”s against yourself are usually motivated by guilt or fear. Neither is a good reason to do something.

On the other hand, if the thing you’re trying to accomplish is something you enjoy, matches up with your values, or gets you something you want or need, those are good reasons. When you have good reasons for doing something, think about them often—visualize them if possible—and use them to motivate yourself.

Own your fear

Better yet, pwn it. Everybody is afraid of failing, wasting effort, looking foolish. What sets apart people who do great things is not a lack of fear. They’re afraid, just like everyone else. The difference is they do it anyway.

The worst thing about fear is the more you give in to it, the stronger it grows. Pretty soon, instead of being afraid of jumping out of airplanes or driving really fast on mountain roads, you’re afraid of applying for jobs or choosing the wrong kind of toothpaste.

Fuck that! Take action. Whenever you encounter something you’re afraid of, especially if it’s something very small, take the opportunity to do it. Now the score is 1 for you, 0 for fear. Keep doing that, and you’ll keep getting stronger and braver. The more you see yourself defeating your fears, the less power they have over you.

Change your mindset

Aside from generalized fear, fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles to doing something, especially something big. It’s time to rethink that. If you try to do something and it doesn’t turn out as planned, use the experience to learn and grow. Many of the worst setbacks turn out to be the keys to later success.

One example of this is Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple. He co-founded the company—how devastating to get fired from it! But instead of taking his toys and going home, he started NeXT and Pixar, and used the process of starting from scratch to innovate and develop new ideas. Those ideas were instrumental in his later success.1

Another of my favorite examples is the adhesive that makes Post-It Notes work. The scientist was trying to create a super-sticky permanent adhesive, and he came up with this low-tack removable stuff–what a complete failure! …until someone else saw a good use for it and turned it into a huge success.2

You can’t do anything great without screwing up a few times. When you make a mistake or things don’t turn out as you plan, don’t see it as a failure, see it as a learning experience and use it to build your successes.

Expect more from yourself (but not perfection)

If your expectations of yourself are too low—if you believe you can’t do much of anything—you’ll never get very far. On the other hand, if you always expect perfection from yourself, you paralyze yourself. The only way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid doing anything, which results in a pretty lame existence. (What a mistake that would be!)

Instead of expecting very little of yourself, or perfection, challenge yourself to do a little more, be a little more interesting, learn something new, try different things.

Don’t guarantee failure

A lot of people get things backwards when they think about worst case scenarios. I don’t want to try out for the tennis team—what if I don’t make it? I don’t want to write a book—what if nobody is willing to publish it? I don’t want to go back to school—it will take four years to finish, and I’ll be so old by then!

Guess what? If you don’t try out, you definitely won’t make the team. If you don’t write the book and shop it around, it definitely won’t get published. And whether you go back to school or not, you’ll still be just as old in four years. By not trying, you guarantee exactly what you fear.

On the other hand, if you try, you may get what you want on the first try, or you may have to keep trying and get it later. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get it. Maybe it’s 50/50 or 1 in 3? Think about it this way: even if you have a 1 in 100 chance of success if you try, that’s still a whole lot better than the 0 in 100 chance you have if you don’t!

Don’t censor, redirect

Creativity, freedom, and inner peace come from being in harmony with yourself and reality. Use your emotions to help alert you to things that aren’t going well, and figure out solutions to those problems. Don’t fight your emotions or deny them.

Similarly, don’t fight your thoughts or deny them, either. Don’t censor yourself or refuse to face the truths of your life. Let your thoughts flow freely—don’t be afraid of them.

However, not all thoughts are helpful to dwell on. If you don’t like a thought, dispute it or reframe it. For example, if I think “I don’t know how to run a business! I don’t think I can make this work!” it’s important not to fight that or disparage it, because it is true, as far as it goes. But I can still change the overall feeling by adding an equally true statement: “I probably couldn’t do it alone, but I’ve hired someone with the expertise I need to give me advice, and I’m working to make it happen.” Ahh, much better.

Stay away from energy-suckers

Some people, situations, and tasks seem to suck up way more energy than others. Minimize the time you spend with them. Especially, avoid the doubters, the complainers, and anybody who tells you everything’s going to be a disaster or you can’t do it. You have enough doubts of your own–you don’t need other people donating theirs to the collection.

Commit (or don’t)

Life is short and our resources are limited. There isn’t enough time to do everything, so you have to decide: are you going to do this, or not? Look at the reasons, think about what’s involved, and make a decision. Then stick with it. Don’t waste energy rethinking whether this is too hard or maybe you should be doing something else instead. Decide, then act accordingly.

In tough situations, a lot of people ask themselves what their heroes would do. That’s a good place to start, but the most important thing to know is “what would I do?” Given your values, beliefs, tastes, needs, and desires, what is the best decision you can make? Think it through and decide with confidence. You can’t be certain of the outcome (nobody can predict the future), but you’ve made the best decision possible. That’s the great thing about thinking things out well in the first place: you don’t have to go back and rethink them or second-guess yourself. Once the decision is made, don’t second-guess, worry, or doubt; know that you’ve already thought it through. Go with it.

Make schedules, not excuses

Deciding to do something and committing to it is the first step, but unless you take action, nothing will happen. If you find yourself putting it off or not getting to it, put it on your schedule. When the designated time arrives, do it!

If you’ve put something off because it seems too hard or too scary, start by breaking it down into smaller pieces and doing an easy one right away. This is a good way to break the intimidation factor of trying to do something new or big.

One way I trick myself into working on something is to tell myself I’ll just do one tiny step, or I’ll just work on it for five minutes while I’m waiting for something else to happen. Nine times out of ten, I get absorbed in what I’m doing and don’t want to stop.

Take your dreams seriously

This goes back to commitment. Once you’ve decided you care about something enough to do it, treat it as something important in your life. Sometimes it seems like the closer something is to our essential selves, the more readily we allow it to be pushed aside. That’s not cool. If something is important to you, that’s enough to make it important!

Don’t call your dreams “my silly little…” or “oh, that’s just my…” Don’t say “I hope someday…” Whatever you’re doing, even when you’re just starting out, is real and worthy of respect.

I think a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of coming across as arrogant or foolish if we say things like “I’m a writer, and I’m going to support myself doing work I love!” or “I’m writing now, so I’m not available to answer the phone or do anything else,” instead of “I have a little blog, and I’m trying to do this thing, but I don’t really know what I’m doing…” or “[This was meant to be my writing time, but] sure, I’ll run an errand for you.”

Maybe it’s shyness or excessive humility, or maybe it’s some old superstition: don’t brag or you’ll draw the evil spirits’ attention. Whatever it is, it needs to go! Your dreams and your beloved pursuits are some of your best stuff. Make them a priority, nurture them, and invest in them. Don’t discount them or push them aside. Live them and fulfill them!

Caution: one of these pages may pop up an ad window. So rude! Just so you know, this is not my ad. Aside from the occasional affiliate link, 17000 Days is ad-free.

1 Video of Steve Jobs giving a totally awesome commencement speech at Stanford: (Thanks again, Lucas!)

2 Time-Life Books. Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Inventive Genius. Time-Life Education, Virginia, 1991, p. 73. Cited on

About Cara Stein: I'm a Breakthrough Coach and Creative Director On Demand. I'm also an idealist who has stopped trying to play it cool. I offer alignment, clarity, and unshakeable belief in yourself—and then I help you bring your vision to life with great sales copy and graphic design.

Comments (7)

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  1. Thank you once again, Cara, for another great post. I’m very fortunate that I come across important messages at the right time – your post has served as a great reminder to me today!

  2. Rob says:

    Sweet article.
    Fear is a kller. Fear of the unknown keeps more of us in place than any other thing. Let’s kick it to the curb. We will be happy we did:)
    Live it LOUD!

  3. […] 3) 17000 Days | 10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Own Way […]

  4. […] – 17000 days – via a friend’s post on Facebook. I loved this post she wrote back in 2011 – 10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Own Way,  especially this tip that I plan to use to keep up with all my projects in the next few […]

  5. […] days – via a friend’s post on Facebook. I loved this post she wrote back in 2011 – 10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Own Way,  especially this tip that I plan to use to keep up with all my projects in the next few […]

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