The two words that stop most people from getting what they want in life

Mitchell Harper

These two words can trigger feelings of fear, failure, insecurity and ultimately stop you from having what you want.

Words have the power to inspire nations, build relationships, kill people, create companies and sell products.

They also have the power to slow you down, or even worse — stop you from even trying to attain or achieve what you want in life.

Part of success is learning to manage your own psychology. I’ve written about that before, but it’s easy to write about and a lot harder to do in real life, even if you’ve achieved some level of success in the past.

Understanding the impact of words is critically important for anyone that wants to be better than average.

The words you use define who you become, where you end up and the kind of contribution you make to the world.

Even more important, though, is understanding the consequences of the words you say to yourself — you know, the words you keep thinking about over and over in your head.

  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “I don’t really deserve that”
  • “What if it makes my friends jealous”
  • Etc…

There are two words that can completely screw with your psychology and progress more than you can imagine. And they’re words you know and probably say to yourself at least a few times every day.

When put together into a simple phrase, these two words can trigger feelings of fear, failure, insecurity and ultimately stop you from having what you want — even if it’s so close you can almost grab it.

Those two words are:

“What if”

  • What if I try and fail?
  • What if I can’t do it?
  • What if things don’t go as planned?
  • What if it’s not really what I wanted?
  • What if my husband/wife/partner/kids/parents don’t approve?
  • What if my husband/wife/partner leaves me?
  • What if I make a fool of myself?
  • What if I lose everything?

“What if” is the scariest question for anyone who wants to succeed at anything — whether it’s building a company, leaving a failing relationship, moving to another country, quitting a job or any of the thousands of other decisions we have to make across the course of our lives.

The good news, though, is that if you can learn to be comfortable with the absolute worst outcome, then you start to move forward and at least try.

What most people don’t tell you is that the chance of the worst outcome happening is so low, (in most cases) it’s not even worth thinking about. We’re talking about less than 5%.

All we’re really talking about here is risk and opportunity cost. Remember — doing nothing is still making a decision. You just chose not to pursue your goal.

To stop all of your “what ifs” from slowing you down, you can run each of them through 3 really simple filters. These filters will make you think hard and give you perspective on not just the risk involved, but also how you can mitigate that risk so it doesn’t stop you from proceeding.

Let’s do a quick example — you’re weighing up whether to leave your high paying designer job at Google/Facebook/Twitter/etc to launch your own design agency:

Q1: What if I try and fail?

  • I’ll have to find another job
  • I’ll have to fire the people I hired
  • I’ll have to tell investors I’ve lost their money
  • I’ll have to tell my partner it didn’t work out

Q2: What is the realistic chance that I’ll fail?


Q3: What can I do to reduce the chance of failure?

  • I’ll have to find another job — take 6 months of unpaid leave to see if I can get my agency going and bring on my first 3 paying clients
  • I’ll have to fire the people I hired — only hire contractors initially and do a lot of the hands-on work myself
  • I’ll have to tell investors I’ve lost their money — keep things lean and use $50,000 of my savings to get started
  • I’ll have to tell my partner it didn’t work out — explain the risk up front and say you’re going to spend 6 months giving it your best shot

The idea is simple — look at all of the reasons you might fail and come up with your best plant to mitigate the chance of each one actually happening.

When you break down your “what ifs” in this way, you’ll start to form the foundation for a plan. A plan which can help you build a bridge from where you are now, to where you want to be.

The next time you feel the “what ifs” creeping in and stopping you from making a decision that could permanently improve the quality of your life, just stop.

Write down all of your “what if” questions, realistically assess your chance of failure (and conversely, success) and spell out each risk along with a plan to mitigate it.

Then you have a plan. A plan that can unlock the key to your wildest dreams and take you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. Sure, you might fail, but let me ask you this — what’s the absolute worst “what if” question you can ask yourself?

“What if I tried [your goal here] and succeeded?”

Living with regret is 100x worse than living with feature of failure (or even real, “holy-shit-it-didn’t-work” failure), so whatever you want to do, at least give it a try.

Don’t be the kind of person to look back on a boring life that you could’ve made amazing, had you just taken a little more(calculated) risk.

Get my new book “SANE: How To Build Your Business Rapidly Without Going Insane” at 📚

Mitchell Harper

Written by

Co-founder BigCommerce & Insane Growth. 8 companies, $200M in total sales. Startup growth advisor 👉👉👉

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