Prolific creators, successful salespeople, and flourishing entrepreneurs share one thing in common, though none of them know it.
It’s what they don’t do that makes them successful.
They avoid the negative self-talk that plagues the masses of dreamers who promise, plan, prepare, and then put off their dream for what seems like valid reasons.
Most of us lack awareness of this damaging self-talk because it sounds rational and prudent. That’s what makes this self-talk so insidious; the menace goes undetected and keeps you from doing meaningful work.
You can’t completely eliminate negative self-talk. It trespasses our thoughts like an uninvited house guest. But with awareness, you can stifle its toxic effects.
Phrase 1: I’m getting ready
I’ll never forget my first sales job. I had to cold-call one-hundred businesses each morning. If you’ve ever had to do this yourself, then you know the brutal sting of constant rejection. The mental pain wears down your self-esteem punch by punch.
It’s human nature to avoid pain, so we put off or delay activities that lead to it. We justify that delay with “getting ready” activities — tasks meant to prepare us for a painful endeavor but serve no useful purpose.
To delay my cold-call responsibilities, I took part in a breakfast ritual with my colleagues. Then I spent time alphabetizing my leads, even though this provided no benefit. All of these getting ready tasks delayed the start of my workday by two hours.
A former mentor of mine explained it best.
We spend too much time getting ready. The act of getting ready is nothing more than a subconscious attempt to put off doing something that pains us.
Most, if not all of these getting ready activities accomplish nothing, other than delay an action that potentially leads to failure, criticism, or rejection.
How to fix the problem
Keep a log of your warm-up or getting ready activities. Which ones are vital to your success? Are any of them distractionary tasks that keep you from doing hard but meaningful work?
Experiment with eliminating your pre-work or getting ready rituals. You will find the quality of your output equals or exceeds your typical quality.
Phrase 2: anything with the word “until”
My career as a mortgage broker demonstrates how to destroy a business before you ever get off the ground. It took me three months before I pursued my first customer.
I could not officially begin until I secured a full complement of lenders. I could not start until I set up my office. And then there was a seminar I needed, so I delayed until I completed that task. You see the problem, right? The formula looks like this.
I can’t do X until Y happens.
Starting a new business scared me. How did I deal with that fear? I invented unnecessary tasks I had to complete before doing the real work. I couldn’t do the vital but scary work to build a business until I finished some other event.
We use the “until” excuse when we fear the outcome of the unknown. By creating a pre-requisite to the task you fear, you eliminate the anxiety.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons to avoid something until you complete another task. You can’t do surgery or practice law until you’re properly licensed. That’s not what we’re talking about here.
How to assess if you’re using it as a crutch
What activities are you putting off until you complete some other task first? What would happen if you decided to skip that pre-requisite task? Is it really critical, or are you using it as an excuse to put off something scary?
Phrase 3: It’s not ready yet
Nothing is ever good enough for a perfectionist. Everyone knows perfection does not exist. Even the best creations contain flaws. It’s easy to sell yourself on the excuse, it’s not ready yet. It doesn’t sound like an excuse. You might even congratulate yourself for being brutally honest about your work.
How many lost literary treasures will remain hidden on dusty hard drives because the writer will never think their work is ready?
We often tell ourselves, “it’s not ready yet” to avoid sharing our work. We fear feedback. We fear criticism. We fear someone will tell us it’s not good enough. When we sell ourselves this excuse, we delay the moment of judgment, sometimes indefinitely.
Are you really “not ready?”
When it comes to artistic creations, we make subjective evaluations about the readiness of our work. That makes it harder to evaluate. How substantive is the remaining work?
Are you cultivating the apple tree — still nurturing and growing your creation? Or are you merely polishing the apple — insignificant changes that make no material difference to your work?
Phrase 4: I’m not good enough
Everyone feels self-doubt about their abilities. It often stops us from pursuing success. I lost count of the number of times I hesitated to send a resume or submit work for review because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I may not have used those exact words; this self-talk often disguises itself in several forms.
I don’t have the right credentials
I don’t have the right education
I lack the proper network
When you first begin a new career or venture, your assessment might bear some truth. Instead of using it to disqualify yourself, exploit it as a tool for growth.
Everyone begins at the starting line. You choose to either race ahead or make excuses to disqualify yourself.
How to assess this self-talk
Go ahead and critique yourself. Be brutally honest. It’s better than holding onto a delusional belief of excellence. Admitting you’re not good enough should be the first step of a giant leap, not a barrier to moving forward.
Don’t use it as an excuse to give up.
Instead, ask yourself what you’re willing to do about it. It’s not the self-talk itself that hinders you; it’s what you do with it. Ask yourself if you’re willing to do what it takes to close the gap in your deficiencies. If you’re not, you might want to question if you’re serious about your goals.
Phrase 5: It’s not the right time
How often have you heard someone tell you it’s not the right time to do something. Whether it’s to write a book, start a business, pursue a relationship, or seek a new job.
There is a never a perfect time to do anything. There’s never even an ideal time. If you desire a goal or a dream, the only time is now.
I wrote an unfinished manuscript when I was twenty-four years old. I put it aside when a new job commanded too much of my time. I had planned to pick it up again in the years that followed. That was pure fantasy. It was never the right time, according to my line of thinking. It wasn’t until my forties that I realized there would never be a good time.
How to overcome this self-talk
It took me twenty years to address this negativity, but only a few minutes to overcome it. Three questions will bring you clarity.
What conditions need to exist in order for it to be the right time?
Will those conditions ever exist?
Are you willing to start in spite of this impossibility?
You will find that your conditions are impossible or highly implausible. It’s then a matter of deciding if your dream is important enough to pursue despite the lack of ideal conditions.