I was recently talking to a teacher friend of mine, who was stressing before his first day with a new class because he didn’t know what to do as a unique and cool icebreaker activity. In wanting so badly to do something unique and cool, he threw every potential idea he had into the proverbial basket of self-deprecation. This left him frustrated, with zero workable ideas, late at night before his first day of school.
He fell victim to his own imagined standards which disqualified every thought before it even became a full blown idea. This unfortunate occurrence is something I have a lot of experience with. Often, my ideas start out as fleeting thoughts that I get super excited about. I think to myself, “This is going to be awesome. It’s the best idea ever.” Then I sit down to really work out the thought (put the pen to paper, so to speak) and all the magic stops.
I think over the potential idea again and again, and it sounds worse with each passing loop. Eventually, distraughtly, I consign myself to the thought that this proto-idea—which was awesome just a short while before—isn’t good enough to finish, or even to begin. And so it is killed before it has the chance to grow, and goes the way of so many ideas whose creators didn’t have the perseverance to see them through to fruition.
Writing relatively frequently, I’ve experienced this phenomenon more than I’d like to admit. I get an idea, think about it some more, maybe even start to write. But then the second that there is a slight bump in my original vision for what the article or piece was to be, or if it’s not sounding quite how I imagined, I feel like it’s not good enough and I want to quit. The original excitement I had about writing on the topic leaves me, and I think, “What am I even trying to say with this?”
Why does this happen? Well, in my case, I think it is a toxic mixture of perfectionism and an aversion to doing work. Quality endeavors take time and effort, and I, like a lot of people, would rather put in less effort and not waste time. Perfectionism plays into this extremely well, because we get a preconceived notion of what our idea or project should be before we even really start it. This means that the second it doesn’t feel quite as good as we originally thought, we have an instant excuse to quit altogether, thus gratifying our preference to not waste time and not expend unneeded effort.
The cure to this ailment? I’ve found that it is simply to just power through it. To just do things. To build up productive momentum. To work out thoughts and ideas in their entirety, and forget my perfectionist standards. Write that article, make that lesson-plan, create that pitch. I have to get past the point of thinking, and get to the point of bringing my idea into physical reality. It’s through the process of creation that I learn how good or bad my thought or idea truly is. The truth is that you can’t know whether something is good or bad until you do it.
Don’t talk yourself out of it.
Chances are, if the idea needs tweaks or improvements they won’t come to you—indeed you probably wouldn’t even be aware of the need for them—until the ink hits the paper and the metal meets the meat. Once I realized this, my writing came much easier, and became a lot better. Now when I hit a mental roadblock, or find a problem I hadn’t originally thought of, I just press on. If, at the end, it still isn’t up to my standards, then I go back to the drawing board.
Productivity is extremely important to success and happiness. Ayn Rand said, “productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result.” This is why it is critical to power through all resistance and be productive. Productivity is how you align your values and build happiness.
Productivity is man’s central purpose. And I’ve found that this doesn’t just refer to my large over-arching life and career goals, but to the difficult daily grind that gets me there. Often the key to true productivity is getting out of your own way. Don’t kill your ideas and your creative work in their infancy.
Always keep the train rolling. Just do things!