Note: I never intended to publish this. I wrote it for myself when researching a bias for action. It consolidates many different sources and my own experience. I wrote it to give structure and to condense all the findings. It sat in my notes for months. Today, I decided to publish it because, in 2021, I'm doing twelve monthly challenges. February is a month when I publish something every day: an article, a book review, a tweet, or a Facebook post. Anything. Today's item is this article.
Studies find that an ability to make decisions quickly and then act upon them is one of the key factors differentiating successful people and companies from the unsuccessful.
The bias toward action doesn't guarantee success, but you're guaranteed to fail if you don't act. "If you can't play, you can't lose" principle doesn't apply here. If you don't act, you lose.
Because success is rarely achieved on the first try, and luck is always a factor, you need many attempts before luck turns in your favor.
Fail at any of these steps, and the whole process fails.
Failing to evaluate the situation properly
Failing to make a decision
Failing to take action
It's not easy or natural to develop a bias toward action. Years of schooling, then years or decades of working, with highly structured and unvarying schedules, have ingrained deep paths in our minds. Bias for action is trying to go off those paths. It's not easy, and the brain is actively resisting it. At least until it doesn't create a new path. You won't have to fight your own mind forever.
"I'm not that kind of person; I wish I were" or "It's just not me" are perfect examples of the brain sabotaging the efforts. It feels plausible, too. And easy. It's easier not to do something than to repeatedly do something that requires effort.
But a bias for action doesn't have to be a trait you're born with. It's not like you either have it or not. You can turn it into a habit. Like with all habits, it's hard while you're working to change them, but then it's easy once you've replaced the old with the new one.
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
Fear of failure is one of the most common fears (along with a social anxiety disorder) and also one of the most common reasons why we don't have a bias for action by default.
We're all afraid to fail. But when this fear becomes debilitating, when it prevents us from making decisions and then acting on them, when we're unable to progress in life because of it, that's when it becomes a real problem.
What can help with the fear of failure?
First, realize what people care about the most in their lives: themselves. Everyone cares about themselves the most, all the time. You are no more than a comet passing through their days and lives. And if that comet failed in some aspect of cometing? Who cares? The moment they see it or realize it, they have already started to forget it and to go back to thinking about themselves.
Your fear of failure paints a dark picture that people will see your failure, remember it, keep thinking about it and forever associate you with it. The reality is that the most that will happen is a short "hm, weird," and they'll never think about it again. People don't care. So why should you?
On a daily basis, developing a bias for action is all about taking small steps.
For mundane, day-to-day tasks, it's rarely about debilitating fear of failure. It's more about being overwhelmed with the multitude of options to choose from, being endlessly stuck in analyzing, weighing options, deciding, rarely moving on to the next step - doing.
Start a habit of doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Not paralyzed by fear and discomfort, but slightly out of your comfort zone.
For example, if you tend to get stuck in the overanalyzing loop, start something new. Something that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Don't like phone conversations? Make a habit of calling one person daily. Just one person. No matter who and no matter for how long. You can start with friends and family and slowly broaden the circle.
With enough practice, you'll start getting used to discomfort, and it will not be strong enough to stop you from progressing from analyzing to doing.
The other useful technique is timeboxing. Give yourself a time limit when you need to make a final decision, then act on that decision. It could be a 60-second limit to decide where to go to eat or a 2-hour limit to do all the research and decide on a project's direction. When time is up, go with what feels best at the moment. You'll feel like you haven't had enough time but ignore it and go with the decision at the end of the time limit. Then go do it. After a few times, you'll notice that even though you felt that you didn't have enough time to decide, everything turned out well. Next time, you'll be more comfortable with taking action.
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