Don’t Let “I Don’t Know How To Do This” Stop You In Your Tracks

You don’t have to know all the perfect answers before you start

I have a new consulting client. Well, one that I’ve worked with before. I enjoy working with the management team. And its a project like many others that I have done in the past.

My first deadline is a few weeks away. Plenty of time. But I know that I need to get started. I know that it is a busy time of year. I have other work projects, and writing, and family life to juggle. And I am not typically a procrastinator.

But I found myself putting off this project all week last week. I had a sense of dread about it. I couldn’t figure out why. But I found every excuse in the book. I found something else to do with every minute that I had planned to work on this project.

And I realized, it was because I kept having the same thought:

I don’t know how to do this.

The thought came out of no where. And stopped me in my tracks for several days. Until I identified it.

Confidence is a funny thing.

It comes and goes. And its ebb and flow is unrelated to the circumstances around us.

I have worked in my industry for almost 20 years. I have been consulting for seven. I have a very specific niche. Which means I have done the same thing for many people.

And yet.

I still had the thought.

And it was strong enough to keep me from starting. From doing. From accomplishing.

Once I was able to identify the thought, it made all the difference. Because there are a few things I remember when I think this thought. Some mindset shifts I make. Because I know that I have goals to reach. I know I have work to do. And I can’t let my thoughts get in the way. So I remember these things:

Perfect does not exist

Cliche, but true. For me, part of the issue is that I want to do better each time. To top myself. Even if I already have a good relationship and reputation with the management team. I want to outdo myself. Deliver the best goods that I can.

But I’ve already set a certain standard and expectation, at least within myself. So of course, I have to do even better than last time. I tried for perfect with the last project, can I do better than perfect this time around?

But better than perfect feels enormous and daunting. How will I do that? I don’t know how. I better avoid the project all together.

The fact is, each project has its own, unique needs. A different flow. The company is at a different stage of development.

So, I can do my best. There will be no perfect. But there won’t be anything at all if I don’t get started. I can’t let my need for perfect stop me from beginning.

You will make mistakes. And that doesn’t make you a bad person.

This is true if you are starting something brand new. Or doing a different version of the same thing that you have done 100 times.

You are going to make mistakes.

Everywhere. Always. Forever.

The thought can be paralyzing.

Or it can be freeing.

You are never going to plan or think or white-knuckle your way past making mistakes. (Trust me, I’ve tried).

You are going to make mistakes no matter what you do. Not doing the thing can be a mistake.

So you might as well take action. To get started. To take the next step.

I will always believe in thinking and planning. But I also know that mistakes made, even after thinking and planning, are just that. Nothing more.

The mistakes you make are not a reflection of your personal character or worth. A mistake is either a disconnect in expectations, or an accident. Not a statement of your worth.

It’s ok not to know how it will turn out

It’s that feeling of dread behind “I don’t know how to do this.” It relates to focusing too much on the outcome — I don’t know how this will turn out. Before you start, that overwhelming feeling of uncertainty can produce anxiety. And who wants to do something that makes us feel anxious?

As Dr. Pavel Somov writes in present perfect:

You love the virgin, flawless, impeccable idea of it. But you also dread it because the future is fundamentally uncertain and is outside of your control.

Even well worn paths. Projects like what we’ve done before.

I run a few mornings a week, and often run the same route that I have run for years. And yet, some runs are harder than others. And I never know what kind of run it will be. Until I’m actually out there. That uncertainty can feel horrible.

But here’s the thing. Nobody knows how anything will turn out. You can have an idea. You can make a plan. You can prepare. But ultimately, life is uncertain.

So this week, I have my head in the right place. I have a plan. I accept that I will make mistakes, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll get to the end or what it will look like.

I might not know how to do all of it. But I know how to do something. And I’m going to start with that.

Find out how your mindset is holding you back from reaching your goals. Take the quiz:

Neuroscience. Wall Street. C-Suite. Parent. Recovering Nervous Nelly.

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