I hate positive thinking.
Well, I don’t hate positive thinking in and of itself, rather the idea it magically works on its own.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Really? I’m dreaming of running a marathon, can I skip the training part? I want to create the next Apple or Google, can I skip the decades of work, iteration, and missteps along the way?
Positive thinking combined with action is the key to accomplishment. Wanting something badly doesn’t work.
We all desperately want a better life or a dream scenario. There’s no lack of want in the world. And our thoughts are pointed in the right direction. Most of us just fail to take our wanting all the way.
To fulfill any dream you can’t just want the dream…
…you have to want the entire dream.
Let me explain.
What Your Dream Life Really Requires
I’ll use my field as an example.
If you want to become a successful writer, you’ll be surprised to learn that the writing itself isn’t the key to your success. There are plenty of gifted writers who nobody notices.
In 2018, you can easily share your work, but that doesn’t make the process of sharing it easy.
A short-list of skills you need for being a successful writer is:
• (Some) technical knowledge including a little bit of coding
• Being persuasive
• Marketing your work
• Pitching articles
• Building a platform
We always want to learn and do the fun part. We want to build the skills that are fun to build or enjoy the process of creating something. But in any endeavor, there are a bunch of “micro-skills” you’ll have to learn to complement your main skill.
In my own career, I kept noticing over and over again the fact I’d have to learn something I didn’t want to learn. I wished the same thing all writers wish, that I could write my little heart out, hit publish, and let my words scatter far and wide across the universe — no marketing, no pitching, no chaff and all wheat.
But I realized I’d keep running into situations I didn’t want to encounter. To counter those encounters, I simply started wanting them to happen and found joy in the process as a whole.
How to Learn to Love the Process
How’d I learn to love the process?
When you start any process involving delayed gratification, you accumulate skills over time. At first, you’ll struggle and get frustrated, but after a while, you’ll come realize the importance of not only the skills you’ve gained but also the process of gaining them.
When you work on these different micro-skills long enough, you’ll start to see how far you’ve come. Things that were once alien to me now came second-nature.
If you move past the initial phase of pursuing your dream and stick with it for a while, you’ll notice these little skills you’ve acquired too.
You’ll remember how they were difficult to acquire at first but how easy they are now.
You can remind yourself of this when you attempt something even more challenging. That’s key because the truth is the more successful you get the higher your standards become and the more difficult it is to move to the next level. And not only is difficulty okay. It’s worthwhile. Deep down we all enjoy overcoming difficult changes — it gives life more flavor.
“If you skipped some chapters in a book it wouldn’t make much sense would it? ” - Brittany Burgunder
Doing the work is only part of the equation. You’ll also have to work on your mental state and contend with the world you live in.
You Must Live in a Different Universe
There are two different worlds. One, the world most people live in — the normal world. The normal world comes with ready-made excuses for why you can’t do the things you actually want to do.
These excuses are often valid and easy to rationalize. In the normal world, your life might look something like this:
You do the right things — the things you’ve been told to do since you were born. You go to school and get good grades. Then you find a nice job, settle down, work Monday through Friday, have fun on the weekends, go on vacation once a year, and do this every year until you retire.
“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.” – Steve Jobs
Many people in the self-help/entrepreneurship space deride the normal world. They call people “sheeples” because they feel those who follow a typical path are somehow less than. They see them as followers, helpless, and mediocre.
I don’t think that at all. The normal world has lots of amazing benefits.
Benefits of the Normal Life
• Peace of mind — Consistent income and security mean less worry.
• Acceptance — When you’re normal, people can relate to you. You share common experiences. You can talk with your friends about your so-so job, your bills, and your waiting for the weekend. Sharing this experience builds comradery with others and helps you form social bonds.
• Free time and fun — If you’re going to follow some crazy dream, you’ll have to sacrifice your free time. This means fewer parties, barbecues with friends, football games, Netflix, and other leisure activities. Leisure activities are fun. They’re also useful because they help you deal with the stress of life.
Let’s cut the crap about anyone being better than anyone else because of their career, how motivated they are, and their choice of path in life. We’re all equal in value.
I’ll admit, I used to sit on a pedestal and criticize people who weren’t all in on their dreams — how juvenile and naive.
Now, I realize the way they live is just fine, but it’s not for me.
I live in the universe of the dreamers.
The Universe of the Dreamers
When you start taking action on your dream, much of what you see around you won’t make sense.
Maybe you’ve already had this experience before.
You tell a friend or family member about an unrealized dream or goal you have — a lofty one.
They try to be supportive, but they can’t help but give you a bit of advice because they want to protect you.
Although their words come from a good place, you feel like they’re inadvertently shitting on your dreams. You’ll want to lash out and tell them how you’re wrong and that you’re going to accomplish amazing things regardless of what they say.
While this is tempting to do…don’t waste your breath.
You have to understand a few things. First — setting aside whether or not the normal way of thinking is right or wrong — people are conditioned to feel this way.
Your upbringing, surroundings, and culture affect the way you think. Many of the people around you — hell even you — have been prescribed dose after dose of these beliefs since they were born.
Some people call these limiting beliefs. I don’t because that implies there’s something wrong with thinking this way. There isn’t. It just doesn’t represent what you want.
So, instead of thinking “How could they possibly think this way?” think “How could they possibly think any other way?” AND MOVE ON.
Nobody Cares About Your Dream
I remember the first time I wrote a book.
I was so excited. Crafting the outline and writing the first draft took 4 months of relentless everyday effort. Then came the editing, the design and packing, and the marketing plan.
To say I was proud of myself is an understatement. When I received the proof copy of my book I felt euphoric. This was it. I crossed off the biggest, baddest, boldest item off my bucket list. I’m an author. The world won’t know what hit them.
Then I published the book and reality gave me a one-two punch combination Mike Tyson would be proud of.
As it turns out, the world wasn’t anxiously awaiting my debut. I hadn’t arrived. In fact, the experience taught me I had quite a way to go.
The book did well-enough as an experiment. I made a few thousand bucks with my words so I couldn’t complain. But I learned the type of lesson only a dose of reality could provide.
“F*** your delusions of grandeur. They’re only holding you back from what you’re actually good at and how good you can actually be.” – Ryan Holiday
Nobody cares about your glorious new life journey. You have to make them care.
In retrospect, I realized I should’ve spent more time growing my audience before I published the book. The writing wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. People aren’t clamoring to read a book from an unknown person. They are interested in fanning the flames of a passion project.
In your case, remember, you’re not on anyone’s radar right now. I can’t tell you how many other aspiring writers I know who throw up a website and are genuinely surprised the traffic isn’t rolling in. Then when it doesn’t, they get their heart broken. Don’t get your heart broken because you won’t recover from it.
There are benefits to being a little fish. You can test and experiment. You have time to learn your strengths and weaknesses. Since you have no reputation to maintain you can be flexible in your approach.
So how do you go from being a nobody to a somebody? You do the work.
Do the Work
Everyone wants the magic bullet to success. Many aspiring writers ask me for advice on how to build their careers. I give them one piece of advice — write every single day and don’t quit. That’s the entire recipe.
They seem disappointed — as if I had some sage piece of insight to jump-start the process.
As Austin Kleon says, you have to do the verb.
It’s not enough to want to be a writer. You have to write.
It’s not enough to want to be an entrepreneur. You have to start the business, build the website, make the calls, create and market the product.
It’s not enough to want to be in shape. You have to pick up the weights and move them.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. ” – Thomas Edison
I can hear you thinking right now because that’s what you do. You think and think and think until you think yourself into a circle.
You read blog posts like this “for research.” You know what research does? It helps stuffy academic write papers. To become successful, become a doer.
Therein lies the $64,000 question. You know you need to start but you can’t. How do you start?
I call this the self-help problem. No matter how much self-help material you digest, nothing can cause you to start. You and only you can create that inertia. What follows is what I’ve used to solve the self-help problem.
Tips for Solving the Self-Help Problem
• Picture the alternative — The clearer the picture you paint of your life if you don’t follow your dream, the more motivated you might become
• Act without commitment- Don’t set out to be an amazing writer. Write. Don’t meticulously plot your business. Find a customer.
• Create habits — When you have habits in place, you don’t need motivation.
• Start over — As many times as it takes. I wrote 6 versions of a book I never published and have 3 or 4 blogs I started and deleted. But eventually, I did write that book and start a blog that took off.
• Remember this — You are going to die.
I love the fact that sometimes people do come around. I did. You can too. Keep studying, learning, and doing. Chances are, if you play the game long enough, you’ll win.