curse. When we consider a new activity, we base its anticipated outcome on either what we already know through experience, or what we can imagine may happen.
So, if we’ve failed at something before, our thoughts around a similar venture tell us that we will fail again. Our foresight will also tell us all of the dangers, all of the risks, all of the things that might happen. As Seneca said, “No one confines his unhappiness to the present.” We’re excellent at creating action paralysis through memory and foresight.
What if I fail again? I might go bust? I could lose everything. What will my friends think? I’m probably not capable. It will be like last time. And so on.
We spend so much time holding ourselves back by imagining all of the dangers that we very rarely take action. And the crazy thing is, when we imagine what might happen, we are often just projecting past trends. This isn’t a prediction, it’s just an extension of a trend.
Remember this when undertaking a new activity. The past and future is like a funnel. The past is the small end of the funnel. It is definite, it happened already. The future is like the expanding open end of the funnel, there are still so many possibilities, so many choices to make, and so many things that might happen.
So when you’re thinking about doing something, reconcile yourself with the fact that you can’t predict what will happen, there are too many variables. Therefore, stop worrying about what might happen. Be more like the wild animal, prepare for the next moment.
It’s the same with business plans, projections, and 5 year plans. It’s the same with innovation. With plans, forecasting 5 years ahead is nigh on impossible. If you can honestly predict what will happen in 5 years, you’re in the wrong industry, the lottery or stock market is your calling. So stop worrying about 5 years in the future. Instead, get your vision on paper, with simple language, with pictures. Next, focus on what can get you closer to that vision now. Use the Pareto principle. What are the things we can do this month that will contribute significantly to our vision? With innovation, don’t get stuck on past failures or what hasn't happened. Because something hasn't worked in the past, doesn't mean it won’t happen in the future. Just because the crowd didn't accept the last idea, doesn't mean that it won’t accept the next one. We just don’t know yet. Rather than create action paralysis, focus on creating your product in its simplest form, on testing your assumptions, on re-positioning your message, and on getting real world feedback from your customers.
So don’t get caught on your memories of the past or your assumptions of the future. Realise them for what they are – your memories and your assumptions. Not an objective review of what happened or an accurate prediction of what might happen. They come from you and they block you from taking action. Recognise that you are doing it, take a deep breath, separate yourself from your fears, and take the first forwards on your new idea.
So...when have you suffered from Action Paralysis in business or life in general? And what strategies do you use to overcome it?
Please share your stories so we can all learn :-)