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Overcoming hesitation towards new undertakings

Sometimes an appealing opportunity comes along, or you get hit by an idea to start with a new project in your life. Perhaps you fall in love with someone and desire to pursue a relationship. You could get sick of your job and consider a career switch. You might want to build your own dream house. Or on a smaller scale, you could be interested in taking an interesting course to learn new skills. Maybe you plan to actually finish Ulysses or to watch every episode of every Star Trek series ever made. There are countless personal projects one could be interested in. A project I became interested in was to create a personal website and publish articles with my insights and discoveries. My approach to starting such a new project may provide you with some valuable tips.

Some people jump head first into such a new project, without hesitation. They approach the person they feel attracted to, enlist in that course or start sending out job applications the very moment they realize their boss is a moron. Not everyone is like that, though. Many people need a good deal of consideration before starting something new. And of course there is the other end of the spectrum: those who rarely start anything new, even though deep inside they might wish to. They let Ulysses gather layers of dust on the bookshelf even though they could have started reading a thousand times already. They let their possible Mr. or Mrs. Right slip away. And oh, the horror, they only catch the occasional rerun of Star Trek and, even worse, its only Enterprise.

For a very long time, I was a member of that last category. Opportunities did knock and ambitious ideas did come to me, but often I ended up taking no action. I would hesitate, weigh the pros and cons, look for excuses while in fact giving in to my fears and usually ended up rejecting the idea or opportunity altogether. In the past few years I slowly moved to a more receptive state of mind and starting seeing less obstacles and more benefits. Although I am not (and I doubt I ever will be) someone who will blindly dive into everything, I am very happy with the progress I made sofar. Now I find an acceptable balance between weighing my options and taking action. That leads me to exploring new things and enjoying the process much more often than before.

One of those new projects is creating this website. The plan dates from a few years ago, but the actual creating started only this January. The process has been very enlightening to me, for instance about approaching new projects. Here's a few tips for those of you who recognize the hesitational approach described above.

Find out whether you really want it

If I find myself hesitant to start a new project or any kind of undertaking, the first thing I'll want to do is ask myself:

"Do I really want to undertake this, or not?"

Only yes or no are allowed; 'yes, but' is strictly forbidden. A 'no' means I can immediately stop considering the project and move on with my life. Instant clarity! A 'yes' gives me special weapons in the battle against hesitation: permission and motivation. Since I allow myself to pursue things I really want, a 'yes' gives me permission to put aside less important objections. A simple example: if I want to paint my living room in bright colors, that desire outweighs the concern that some visitors' eyes may hurt a bit at first. Knowing that I really want to do a personal project motivates me to work towards actually starting it by eliminating the hesitation.

Finding the answer to that simple yes-or-no question can be harder than you think for an experienced hesitator. The hesitator, likely led by unconfronted fears, will incline towards excuses even for this simple question. In the case of my website project, the simple question was: do I really wish to create a website where I will write articles sharing my insights and discoveries? It could have been tempting to consider answers like:

  • yes, but maybe I can't build a site like that
  • yes, but maybe people won't like my articles
  • yes, but maybe I won't find the necessary time

I could have made a long list like that and I'm sure some of those thoughts did cross my mind somewhere in the process. But the simple answer to the question was: yes. Yes, I want to share my findings with the world on my own website. That's why I advocate the rule that only yes and no are allowed.

Make sure that YOU really answered that

If you are considering a project, chances are that either you want it, or you feel outside pressure to do the project. In the case of pressure, choosing 'yes' will likely make you feel bad because you'll sense that the answer did not come from your own desire. Choosing 'no' will make you feel the same because you'll still feel the outside pressure towards a 'yes'. At most, making a choice based on outside pressure will give you some relief because now you don't have to keep considering the project. For me, however, it would always feel uncomfortable.

If it's really your own desire talking, choosing yes or no will feel good depending on what that true desire is. Letting your heart speak without influence from outside pressure makes it rather easy to be at peace with your choice, but it takes time to learn to listen to your heart if you are not used to that. Mastering this yes-or-no question can be an important step to overcome structural hesitation.

Start doing it!

Being able to take that step can feel great. No more reason to stall: you desire, just go ahead. Past Marger didn't do this and instead would dwell on excuses, only to lead to regular dropouts. Present Marger has tasted this quick and sweet victory over hesitation several times in the past few years. Not every time a new project comes up though: in many cases I need a little more time and a little more considering than that, like many people do. In those cases I do my best to take a clean approach to the causes of my remaining hesitation, instead of the Past Marger approach.

Don't demand perfection

"I'm only going to do this if I can achieve perfection." That's one of Past Marger's favorite excuses to not start a project. It's a silly trap people set for themselves. First of all, perfection is nearly impossible, which makes this demand an almost certain deal breaker before you start, and gives you a (very lame) excuse to bail at any time. Secondly: perfection and growing as a person don't play well together. You need to make mistakes to learn the most. Do...not...demand...perfection! Instead, realize that you can learn unthinkable things if you allow mistakes.

Creating this website was a fantastic opportunity to learn lots of things. During the weeks that I was coding and designing, I made numerous errors and faced numerous problems I couldn't solve directly. Searching and finding solutions was an educational process. I learned many lessons and now I have a website that looks and acts to my liking, but is in no way perfect. Guess what: I don't mind.

Discard silly excuses by knowing your deal breaking values

Past Marger would probably find numerous small excuses to abandon or indefinitely postpone the project. Think about the 'yes, but'-answers I listed above. All perfect nonsense of course, because the fact that I want to do this project far outweighs those excuses. Be aware however: anyone can have certain personal values that are very valid deal breakers, even for projects they really want to do. My values include for instance:

  • I do not want to harm another person intentionally, be it mentally, physically or materially.
  • I do not want to pretend to be something I am in fact not

If doing a project would violate those values, that would be a perfectly good reason for me to skip it. So for example, if the only way for me to read Ulysses would be to steal the book from someone, I would drop the project. Knowing your deal breaking values allows you to compare any excuses to your list of values. If the excuses don't match any of those values, they are no reason not to start your new project. For my website project there were no deal breakers, so I went along with it. I did encounter something else though.

Work on deal postponing obstacles

Some obstacles are no reason to drop the project, but might be a good reason not to start it just yet. Some might say that courting the subject of your love right after they get out of a relationship is bad timing. Building your dream house when you have no money might prove difficult. Postponing such a project could be a wise choice. Circumstances can change, but more importantly, you can take your time to work on most deal postponing obstacles. You might need a day to locate that copy of Ulysses, a month to gather the knowledge to build a website, or you might need to work hard for years to generate the money for your dream house. When you are working on your obstacles like this, you have already started working on your project!

When I started thinking about making this website a few years back, I realized I needed a few things before I could actually start the project.

  1. I wasn't clear on the common theme for the articles I had in mind. As I wrote before, I want to share my insights and discoveries, but I also wanted a certain focus of topics. Everyone has insights in numerous, sometimes completely unrelated areas. I felt that I didn't want to share insights in topics like solving computer problems or sports tactics.
  2. I didn't know what tone of voice I wanted to use in my articles. I do not wish to tell people how they must live their lives, nor simply ramble on about anything in my life, as some bloggers appear to like. Therefore I needed to find my own style after I decided on my theme.

That made it impossible for me to generate the website content in a way that felt right to me. I knew I had to work that out first, so I took the time to develop clear ideas on these matters. I needed to grow in a certain way before I was ready to start my project with a good feeling. Eventually I decided on a theme with a wide focus: my own growth and development as a person. The style of my articles is strongly related to that theme: personal, direct, and attempting to present the reader both an account of my personal experience and potentially useful suggestions. I feel comfortable with that theme and style as a starting point, but both may develop or vary in the future.

A long story short

I find these steps useful whenever I encounter a new personal project that I feel hesitant about. I believe that others may benefit from applying those steps as well. Do you hesitate about taking a pet, changing jobs or buying a new car? Try the steps to get yourself into action.

About the author

Marger (1976) lives in the Netherlands. He shares free articles about his personal growth and his insights on the world in general.

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One Comment
  1. First Post!

    Uhm... I mean: Great job! 😉

    Interesting to see where you go from here.
    Got you hooked...


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