The Fortress Fallacy

Why You’re Too Intimidated to Start That Project

There’s a project you’re dreaming about, but you haven’t gotten started yet. You envision how grand it’s going to be, but you’re always re-architecting it in your mind.

Somehow, this manages to simultaneously make you feel 1) good, and 2) bad.

You feel good dreaming about this “fortress” — about what it’s going to become, and you feel bad that you just can’t seem to get started on it.

This happens with anyone who dreams of making things — and people who do make things learn to overcome it. It’s called The Fortress Fallacy.

You’ve heard it before:

“I want to start a blog, but I can’t decide if I should use WordPress, Medium, or SquareSpace.”

“I want to build an app, but I need a technical co-founder, and investors.”

“I want to write a book, but I don’t have an idea yet. [Also, I’ve never even written a blog post.]”

The main mechanism perpetuating The Fortress Fallacy is the ego-protection mechanism. Not having started sometimes feels bad, but it still feels better than getting started, and sucking at it.

In fact, it feels really good to daydream about your giant fortress. This good feeling is reinforced by the fact that you have perfectly valid (or so you’ve convinced yourself) excuses for not getting started.

Don’t get me wrong. Dreaming about your fortress is really good; but if it prevents you from starting, that’s bad.

Most of the other fortresses you’re using as examples, didn’t start as such.

Jobs and Woz started Apple in a garage in 1976. It was 8 years before they launched the Macintosh (and 25 years before the iPod).

Mark Zuckerberg started programming when he was like 9. It was another 10 years or so before he founded Facebook, and another 8 years before IPO.

Go check out Google’s first logo, or Amazon’s first website sometime, and ask yourself if your fortress is realistic.

Aside from all of these fortresses are millions of beautiful cottages: people who didn’t go the Ivy-League-to-VC-funded-to-IPO route, but managed to to take what they had and make something, and fulfill their own definitions of success.

You’ve got to whip your dumb brain into shape with some Motivational Judo:

  • Change your expectations: Your happiness is all about expectations. Go ahead and dream about the fortress, but concentrate on building a cottage first. As soon as you change your expectations, you free yourself up to take action.
  • Start the Success Cycle: Each goal you meet makes the next goal easier to reach. What’s the easiest goal you could possibly set? Something that takes no more than an hour of planning and effort. It doesn’t even have to be related to your project: It could be planning a party or a date or cooking a recipe. Put it on your calendar when you’re going to work on it. Your ego protection mechanism won’t let you fail, and you’ll start the Success Cycle.
  • Painful Practice: Learn to take pleasure in the discomfort of making. You’ll always have to fight The Resistance, so you might as well get good at it. Jeff Goins acknowledges that it takes “Painful Practice” to get good. A good Motivational Judo “throw” to practice facing the pain of starting is the 10-Minute Hack.

Be wary of The Fortress Fallacy, and fight it every day. You’ll be well on your way to building a cottage, a house, a castle, and someday — maybe even a fortress.

On my podcast, Love Your Work, I introduce you to people who have built cottages, and sometimes fortresses. I’m planning a conversation with Jeff Goins to talk about Painful Practice. Subscribe so you don’t miss it.