by Nell McShane Wulfhart
Two things usually hold people back from doing what they want: fear and not knowing where to start. The first disappears once you figure out the second. So, here’s where to start.
1) Figure out if what you think you want is really what you want.
Sometimes the thing that’s keeping you from moving forward is that you don’t really want the thing you think you want, you just want one aspect of it. Say you’ve decided you want a new job. You need to ask yourself why you want a new job. Is it because you want more money? In that case, you might be better off asking for a raise or a promotion or a transfer to another department — it’s a much easier and faster way to reach that goal than trying to start again at a new company. Thinking about applying to grad school? Why? Is it because you’re not happy with what you’re doing now and you don’t know what to do next? If so, you could save yourself a couple of years and tens of thousands of dollars by trying a new job on the side, or spending a couple of weeks talking to people in other careers, or joining a band or taking up tennis — all good ways to find something you’re passionate about, and all free.
Once you figure out what it is you actually want, you’ll feel much more motivated and less conflicted about going after it.
2) Ditch your friends.
It’s really, really hard to get motivated when everyone you know just goes home from work and turns on the TV. Energy and inspiration are catching — if you’re trying to start a new project, you need to get new friends, people who are already motivated and working on cool stuff. It’s very easy to just go along with what you’ve always done, meeting people to drink beer or watch ’80s movies, and watching time slide by while nothing changes. Want to change your life? Change your friends. Look for people who intimidate you slightly — you’ll work harder to try to impress them. This leads right into…
3) Make friends with (or at least contact) the people you envy.
Then ask them how they did what they did — how did you get that job? How did you take six months off work? How did you get your photos into that exhibit? Where did you find that delightful boyfriend? People love to talk about themselves, and flattery, even when it’s obvious, still works. Find someone who has what you want and listen to what they have to say. (If you’re trying to get into the same line of work as this person, contacting them can also pay dividends later on because they can refer you to other people.)
4) Start small. Start tiny!
Can you start your own Etsy business tomorrow? Well, theoretically you could, but practically — probably not. But can you send an email to family and friends asking for honest feedback on the hats and scarves you’ve knitted and gifted over the years? Yes. One of the most useful pieces of productivity advice ever given is to break every project down into the smallest possible “actionable” items. So, “get new job” becomes “call Sarah for the email address of the HR person at her company.” Getting new job: difficult. Calling Sarah: easy. Then figure out the next (small) step. Take it. Repeat.
5) Don’t wait for other people.
If you’re waiting until a friend has enough time to join you in that business idea, or for your boyfriend to save enough money for a down payment, or even for that HR person to reply to your email, stop. Don’t wait at all, because you could easily be waiting forever, and you’ll have wasted all that time. Just pick something small (see point 4, above), and do it. Success depends on you! No, seriously. It does.
6) Threaten yourself with humiliation.
There are a lot of websites where people trying to lose weight can post their goals, the results of their daily weigh-ins, every detail of the meals they eat, etc. This helps them to stay on their diets because, for them, the fear of everyone seeing them fail is an effective way to lose weight. This can be applied to almost anything. All you have to do is tell everyone you know what you’re trying to accomplish. “I’m going to have a new job by June.” “I’m designing my own website.” “I’m saving money to go diving in Thailand.” Now, imagine how you’ll feel every time someone asks how your project is going and you have to tell them you haven’t done anything. Embarrassment is a great motivator. Use it to your advantage!
7) Use Dutch courage, not real courage.
There’s been tons of talk recently on how being sleepy or drunk can increase your creative output, but getting drunk is actually best for eliminating self-doubt. In the same way that you’ll find yourself chatting away to strangers in a bar after a few drinks, having a couple of glasses of wine makes it much easier to get started on that one scary task that’s stopping you from making progress on your goals. Having a cocktail or two keeps the second-guessing to a minimum, and gives you the impetus you need to hit “send” on that email asking for a meeting or to pick up the phone to follow up after an interview. Everyone’s tolerance level is different, but as a general rule one drink is too few and four is too many. The perfect combination of courage and coherence kicks in around the two or three drink mark.
8) Think about what will happen if you don’t.
Imagine your life in five years if you don’t get that new job, write that book proposal, take that trip. You’ll be exactly where you are now, but five years older. Disappointed? Depressed? Scared? Good. Now get started.