Many years ago, a friend and I were talking about our dating lives while driving. He was a kind, solid-looking guy who was struggling, so I encouraged him to talk to more women—but he hesitated.
“Yeah, I will,” he said, “but I just need to lose 20lbs first.”
Sadly, I’m sure we both knew that was a lie. So I asked, “If you met the perfect woman right now before you lose the weight, what are you going to do? Tell her to come back a few months later?”
“No,” he said defiantly. “I’d ask her out.”
Sadly, I’m sure we both knew that was a lie too.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
— Will Durant
One of the most common obstacles I’ve noticed from people who feel stuck, lost, or unfulfilled in their life is this:
They’re always waiting to feel ready, inspired, and motivated before they do something they want.
Start a new career. Start dating. Lose weight. Move to a new city. Quit their job. Travel the world.
They’re always waiting for the perfect moment to take action. They’re waiting for all their internal and external traffic lights to turn green before they get started.
But here’s the brutal truth: It’ll never happen.
Why You’ll Never “Feel Ready”
The reason why is because life is the sum of your habits, not the other way around. If you’re currently doing what you want, then you’d feel ready; but since you’re not doing it, you don’t feel ready.
The unavoidable reality is once you act in new ways beyond your current capabilities and comfort zone, by definition, you will not feel ready; since it’s beyond your current level, by definition, it has to be difficult, challenging, and even embarrassing.
That’s why the key isn’t to wait until, somehow or someway, it mentally feels easy or frictionless—and it isn’t to find ways to avoid experiencing those negative, cheek-burning emotions that come from stretching yourself.
The answer, instead, is to learn how to accept those emotions, embrace that discomfort, and bounce back quickly. Because if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike before you change your habits—and your life, as a result—you’re probably going to be waiting for a long-ass time.
“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Now is as good a time as any.”
— Hugh Laurie
I would’ve never achieved any of the best things in my life if I waited until I “felt ready.”
If I waited until I “felt ready” to quit my career in finance and switch to fitness, I probably would’ve wasted several years before making the jump. (Or I’d still be working in finance right now.)
If I waited until I “felt ready” to start a business, I would’ve never quit my job without a backup plan.
If I waited until I “felt ready” to talk to women I found attractive, I would have talked to exactly zero women in my entire life.
If I waited until I “felt ready” to travel the world, I would’ve never left the US and moved to Korea to teach English.
The only reason why made those leaps and became a new person was that I acted before I felt ready. Hell, if anything, I felt completely unready in the moment and I royally fucked up countless times—but that’s how I learned.
Rather than waiting for the perfect moment to gain knowledge and push my comfort zone, I forced my hand and made myself learn on the fly, which was, by far, the best way to learn.
“Your current position in life is a reflection of your previous desires, planning, and choices. If you want a better future, you’ll need to make some immediate and powerful changes and choices right now.”
—Dr. Ben Hardy
Why You Can’t Wait Until You‘re Ready
Here’s another issue: Many people are not only waiting until they feel ready and motivated, but they’re also waiting for themselves to become “perfect” before they put themselves out into the world. For example:
Once they get their life in order, then they’ll lose weight. Once they lose weight, then they’ll start dating more. Once they get over their ex, then they’ll get into a relationship. Once they overcome their traumas, then they’ll start living their life. Once they reach a certain level in their career, then they’ll do what they want.
It’s like a life deferment plan.
But the hard truth is that those moments will almost never come.
Why? First, there will never be a perfect moment to chase your dreams. Second, if you’re doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always got; if you want to get more, you need to be more and act in bigger ways.
Third, and most critically, many people use perfection as an excuse because they’re too scared to take action in the moment. They’re afraid of failure and afraid of breaking out of their comfort zone so they just rationalize their inaction by saying they’re “waiting” for some event they know will never happen.
So they say they’re going to do all these great things, but fast forward five years, and their life is littered with forgotten dreams and broken promises to themselves.
Worse, unless they actually change something, more years will go by with the exact same (lack of) results.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
But there is one interesting exception:
There are times in life, however, where your “inner compass”—your subconscious, your soul, your guardian angel, or whatever the hell you want to call it—is keeping you from doing something because it doesn’t sit well with you. For example, if you’re about to make a bad decision, that inner resistance might come as a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right, and that is something you should probably listen to.
Unfortunately, people might confuse that internal resistance with just being scared to try something new.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to tell the difference between a resistance that’s saving your life versus something that’s keeping you stuck: Just look at your life. Is it where you want it to be?
Be honest. Don’t equivocate and say, “Well, I’m working on a few things and I have a few projects that might work out.” No, I mean right now: At this very second, are things where you want them to be? Yes or no?
Then, ask yourself: How much better is your life today than it was six months ago? A year ago? Five years ago? Be brutally honest and objective. Is your wealth, your health, your relationships, your social circle, your luxuries, etc. better today than it was before?
If the answer to both questions is “no,” then it’s not your “inner compass” protecting you—it’s that you’re terrified. Your inner compass isn't designed to keep you stuck in an unfulfilling life; only your comfort zone is.
“Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss; and there is no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind: You must let go of old ways in order to experience the new. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because, like a worn out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar.”
— Rick Warren
There’s no way life is going to get better on its own. You have to make it better and the only way to do that is to act now, despite any resistance.
How To Actually Get Motivated To Take Action
Step 1: Create a big goal and commit to it
“You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential.”
— Steve Garvey
If people don’t have a burning goal that’s bigger than who they currently are, there’s no incentive to act before they feel ready and face the discomfort—as a result, they just accept their current situation. They lack a massive dream that forces them to change as a person and do things they’ve never done before. They also won’t have any way of knowing if they’re taking action in the right direction or the wrong one.
On top of that, whatever they desire in life, they’re not 100% committed to it; it’s just something they “want,” which is like saying they’ll take it if it falls on their lap.
Instead, spend time to find and create your deep goals—things that give you purpose in life. If you don’t know where to start, here’s what always worked for me: Go somewhere at least an hour away from your home. Then, find a nice place to spend some time alone with your thoughts, write on some paper, and let whatever’s inside come out.
By the time you finish, you’ll have something you can work with.
Step 2: Upgrade your surroundings
Control your environment or it will control you. Too often, people make promises to themselves only to fall into the same traps that always held them back.
My first suggestion would be to look at your social circle. Are they continually setting new heights in their life, taking massive risks, failing, and pushing themselves so that they're unrecognizable from where they were a year ago? If not, find those people.
Surround yourself with friends who push you forward, not keep you where you’re at.
“Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
— Carol Dweck
From there, remove distractions that don’t help you achieve your burning goals and cut back on time-wasters like social media, TV, and mindless internet usage.
Step 3: Take the first step today
Here’s the weird thing: Once you take action toward your goal before you feel ready, you’ll automatically start feeling more motivated.
In psychology, there’s a concept called “self-signaling,” where your body actually gets clues about your own identity based on your actions. That’s why, even if you’re not currently “feeling it” right now, it doesn’t matter—your mind is always watching what you do and you can change it with new behaviors.
“You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.”
— Bill Wilson
Then, once you start acting in new ways toward your goals, it will change your self-image and you'll continue to act in a way that's consistent with that new self-image.
Although it might feel embarrassing, difficult, or challenging in the moment, the more you take action, the better you’ll feel.
It’ll become a part of your comfort zone.
It’ll become a part of your habits.
And it’ll become a part of your life.
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