Have you noticed that you never get around to doing some of the things you say you want? You might even start, but you never truly commit to what you’re doing. Other times you say you don’t know what you want or can’t decide between a few different things.
Maybe you want to write a book, start a business, begin a blog, or build an app. If you’re like me, you probably want to do them all. Simultaneously. Even if you “know” what you want, the time to start never comes or you give up shortly after you begin.
Why is it that there are things we say we want to do, but we can never get ourselves to do? Surely if we “want” to do something we should be able to do it. Paradoxically, I’ve found that it’s frequently hard to figure out what we want and following through can be even harder.
It’s easy to stay in our daily patterns and not make the changes we say we want to make. We make excuses like “I don’t have the time” or “I’ll do it eventually.” Eventually never comes and deep down we know it isn’t true. We might convince friends and family otherwise, but it’s harder to convince ourselves.
One of the common themes I’ve noticed in my own inaction is something I call “The Whole Big Thing” or TWBT. TWBT is coming up with a grand idea or a new reality you want to create. Your focus shifts from taking action to the outcome you want. The focus on outcome frequently leads to anxiety, indecisiveness, and quitting.
Repeated actions and habits produce outcomes. Our experience in the world is largely about our daily actions and habits. You lose sight of how you want to invest your time when you focus on what other people want or fixate on an outcome. Fortunately, actions are easier to choose than outcomes.
Here’s an example of how TWBT plays out
Let’s suppose you enjoy writing. The fact that you actually identified an interest is a feat in and of itself, but you can’t enjoy the simple act of writing if you’re focused on TWBT. You need a goal or an outcome. Since you enjoy writing, you might decide to write a book. However, you don’t stop with the desired outcome of wanting to write a book. You begin by focusing on becoming a “writer” and not just a writer . . . an author. No, more, a published author. Maybe even a New York Times Bestselling author. Now there’s identity, prestige, and a dream associated with it. Initially the idea is captivating and somehow romantic.
Now that you have an identity to pursue, you might begin to pursue it. Maybe you start to write a blog. After all, an author needs a platform. Maybe everyone needs a platform. After writing for a few weeks, there still isn’t a book and nobody gives a shit about your blog. One or two people will probably try to be nice about it, but you know they’re lying. At the same time, you begin to fixate on how you’re not really a New York Times Bestselling author.
You might persist with the blog and writing for a little while, but eventually you’ll probably quit or change directions. Maybe the blog topic needs to change so you experiment with a new niche. Eventually, you stop writing and the blog sits dormant. You don’t renew the hosting when it comes around and the blog disappears.
When you quit, you might tell yourself that writing wasn’t for you or you didn’t really want to be an author. Is that really true? Did you sincerely attempt to write and ship a book? Deep down you know you didn’t do the work to ship a book. The inaction leaves seeds of doubt. You know there’s an unfinished project somewhere inside of you and, at the same time, you don’t know that you can trust yourself to complete it.
Seeds of doubt undermine future efforts even though they seem benign. Self doubt about things you genuinely care about is crippling. However, there are both valid and invalid seeds of doubt. If you initially pursued a project that wasn’t genuine, you might be carrying around seeds of doubt that don’t belong to you. Getting rid of those seeds could help move forward.
Even though it’s important to have goals and aspirations, starting projects with a TWBT idea can undermine the effort needed to make progress and stick with projects.
One of the biggest problems with TWBT ideas is that they’re frequently influenced by outside factors. In other words, they might not be what you really want to begin with. In many cases they’re based on what you “should” do, what other people think, or how you’ll be perceived.
Starting projects from a TWBT idea tends to lead down one of two paths.
Inaction and Half Hearted Action
There are two common paths when you start a project with a TWBT idea: inaction or half-hearted action. Sometimes you get a little of both.
The path of inaction is self-evident and is essentially doing nothing. You never write more than a few sentences and spend many hours fantasizing about becoming an author. You think about it at work, when you wake up, and in the shower. If you’re bold you might even mention it to your spouse or friends. At the same time, there are no words written down and deep down you doubt any will show up. It’s like a dirty fantasy you mostly keep to yourself and know will never come true.
The path of half hearted action is the other path forward when starting with a TWBT idea. Proceeding with half hearted action means you’ll take the first step and begin to write. You might not feel comfortable sharing it with the world or you might begin by writing about something you don’t actually want to write about. In any case, you’re avoiding doing the work you genuinely desire because TWBT feels like more than you’re capable of accomplishing.
The next post will talk more about half hearted action . . .
Note from Dan: This post is the first in a series of posts on The Whole Big Thing. I’m targeting a weekly post on Fridays to work through the series. TWBT is complicated and something I really struggle with. I’m writing the series largely to clarify the ideas for myself and want to share the process/ideas.
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