She sent me her first blog post.
“This is amazing,” I said. “You’ve got potential. You should write more.”
“Yes, I want to,” she said. “I’ll write one blog post each week and send it to you for review.” I agreed.
I waited for the post. I waited for a week. Two weeks. Then a month. Nothing. So I called her and asked what happened.
“I have thoughts in my mind, but I can’t seem to structure them right,” she rued. “I don’t think my articles will be good enough. Let me think some more. Then I’ll send them to you.”
Years have passed since that conversation. My friend has tremendous potential, but she can’t lay out the perfect plan to start.
Does good work hinge on effective planning and favorable conditions?
Planning Versus Ploughing
A pottery teacher split her class into two halves. She instructed the first half to spend the semester studying, planning, designing and creating the perfect pot. A competition at the end of the semester would decide whose pot was the best.
The second half had to make a lot of pots, and would be graded on the number of pots they finished. Even they could enter their best pot in the competition.
Which half created the best pot? You would think it would be the first, right?
Think again! All the best pots in the competition came from students from the second half. Practice helped them make significantly better pots than their strategizing peers.
I’m a chronic strategizer. My plans often lead to — you guessed it — procrastination. If this blog got a visitor each time I procrastinated, it would beat Facebook in traffic.
But over the last year, I’ve learned an important lesson.
When you ceaselessly plan, and only plan, you stay stuck in your head. It causes self-doubt and exposes you to a horrible feeling — that the work you thought would change the world, might not be good at all.
We can all be bedroom geniuses. But it’s the ones who leave the house that change the world. — Jory MacKay
Action makes you evolve. It helps you figure out out whether your plans work in the real world, or not. It brings you face-to-face with your fears. Sometimes they’re not as bad as you imagined. At other times, they’re worse. Take one step forward. Then another. You might get lucky and stumble across some success. But you can’t stumble if you’re not in motion.
So if you want to become a writer, read and write. A lot.
If you want to become a programmer, practice coding a lot.
If you want to learn to play a musical instrument, don’t hang it on a wall and stare at it longingly. Learn and practice.
Should You Stop Planning?
People who jump headlong into every action, work solely on the basis of facts. They love clear goals and objectives, and believe they know exactly what they want. They see their world as a game of chess — black and white.
But the world is not just black and white. It has shades of grey (more than fifty, I’ve heard). And blue, yellow, green, red, mauve (I still don’t know how that color looks). These colors lie hidden between the dominant black and white. If you don’t look carefully, you’ll miss them.
To look for these colors, make reflection a part of your action plan. Deliberate. Ruminate. (Insert all verbs synonymous with ‘think’.)
To back up the importance of deliberation, here are observations from a study by researchers at Cornell University on buffet-goers. Those who looked at everything available before they chose what to eat often weighed less than those who went for the first item which looked good. Only 33 percent higher Body Mass Index (BMI) patrons at all-you-can-eat buffets checked out the full buffet before serving themselves. On the other hand, 71 percent of lower BMIs diners did so.
No wonder they say failing to plan is planning to fail.
How To Plan Your Actions
Planning starts with feedback. To collect feedback on your work, reach out to people who’ve done what you’re doing. Jot your feedback down. Then plan the next step and follow it. There’s no better form of feedback than this. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “Without some form of social valuation it would be impossible to distinguish ideas that are simply bizarre from those that are genuinely creative.”
I won’t lie to you.
It’s hard in the beginning. Bloody hard! When you step outside your comfort zone, you get flung around like a ragged doll. Each time you fall, you end up with a bloody nose and bruised knees. You question whether what you’re doing has any significance. You feel tempted to fall back to your old ways. No more fighting.
But you’ve got to embrace these doubts and have faith in the process. You’ve got to dust yourself and get back up, ready to be tossed around again. Because with time, you’ll start winning. This phase will make you grow. Josh Waitzkin calls this an investment in loss. And there’s no better way to improve yourself than to invest in loss.
Robin Sharma believes change is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous in the end. I’m stuck between hard and messy right now. Sometimes my actions (and their results) don’t make sense. At other times, they appear downright hard. But I’ve resolved that each time I get flung, I’ll stand up and say, “Let’s go one more round.”
It’s okay to fail, no matter what stage in life you’re at. What’s not okay is to not learn from failure.
The Bhagavad Gita states that you are your own best friend and your own worst enemy. Which one would you rather be? Do, learn, improve and do better. Lift yourself through your own effort.
How will you turn your plans into actions this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments.