You could have done it. You really could’ve. You were THIS close. I want you to understand that.
And you’re going to be that close to doing it, day after day. Until you do it.
What am I talking about? I think you know.
That thing you really wanted to do, but didn’t? Or haven’t yet? You can do that.
And what’s more, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much easier it was than you thought, how much more fun it was.
How to Do The Thing That Scares You Most
First, let me set a little scene.
We live in a world where everyone knows how to do everything, or at least has the potential to learn anything they want. Compare life today to back in the middle ages, or even early 1900s. You knew what your parents knew, your father’s or mother’s trade, and not much else unless you went to school, a system that in itself only offered information on a state-controlled, standardized level.
Today, that’s not the case anymore.
Want to build your own playground equipment for your kids? You can look up how to do it. Want to start a business? You can buy a course from an expert in the same field you are interested in, for massively less than a college degree in that topic, for far less time, and often with much better information and personalized instruction.
But there’s a problem with all this easily-accessed information. In a way, it burdens us, paralyzes us. As Tim Ferriss has said (roughly paraphrasing the 4-Hour Work Week), too much information actually makes us dumber. It makes it harder to actualize, to act upon what we learn. It takes intelligence to decide “I’ve learned enough, it’s time to act, to get real-world experience.” Instead, we question too much, doubt too much, agonize over every little decision. It may seem counter-intuitive, but constantly educating yourself does not make you smart. The smart choice is to take action and learn new things, then take action again, and keep it up in a cycle of personal growth.
And this is how we’ve gotten to the modern era, where 80 percent of people who buy online courses never even finish them, let alone succeed in the goals for which they bought the course in the first place.
People seem to just absorb information as a penniless side job, or a hobby. Everyone is an enthusiast, and nearly nobody is an expert. Hardly anyone wants to truly get results, whatever it takes.
Is that because people have gotten lazier? That may be part of it, but I actually think it’s largely not your fault.
School has taught us that as long as you memorize enough information, you will succeed in life. In reality, that’s not the case. The most important things in life generally do not involve one, single test to prove yourself. They require showing up, over and over, getting experience and growing familiar with a new, frightening thing.
Public speaking, networking, dating, beating bad habits, running a business, pursuing an art career, it’s all the same. You’re not going to be tested once. You’re going to be tested mildly, in new and unpredictable ways, over and over again.
But if I Can Just…
Stop. Wait for a minute. We need to take inventory.
Everyone has a unique path to success, and your #1 goal in life should be to find the next step.
Time isn’t on your side, or anyone else’s. It doesn’t act in congruence with your ideas of what the next step should be.
If you want to face the challenges that scare you, and live your life the way you dreamed of living it, first you need to put aside the magical image of one singular milestone.
“If I can just get to $10,000 per month, I’ll quit my job and start a career as a making money online guru.”
“If I can just get one artist to notice my poetry, I’ll be comfortable promoting myself and will finally take my art career seriously.”
“If I can just get ripped abs and hair loss treatments, I can start dating and find my dream girl.”
People think like this all the time, because they are afraid of the alternative. And that alternative is twofold:
1: It’ll take a lot more work to get to that milestone than you think.
2: There’s far, FAR more in life that awaits you after you succeed at that milestone.
More challenges, sure. But also more rewards. And greater rewards in proportion to the difficulty of the challenges.
That’s what it means to master something. To earn greater and greater rewards due to less effort, by becoming truly skilled.
Success Is Scary, But It’s Fun
Most people talk about fear of failure, but an even bigger problem in the modern world is fear of success. And too much education worsens this. It creates too many ideas of what to do, what not to do, so that when it’s time to act, you freeze.
But why do people fear success? How does that make sense?
If you failed, the people who expected you to succeed will be disappointed. But much as it may hurt to admit, they have their own lives, with their own problems. They will move on. Your tragedy is their mild letdown.
But if you succeed, suddenly every relationship you had before hitting that success changes, in some way.
People will have higher expectations of you. They will subtly try to get more of your time, or your expertise on something. On the darker side, some friends will reveal their true colors by trying to suck money, happiness, etc. out of you, because they sense you are a source of something they desperately lack and don’t know how to create for themselves.
Why do so many massively popular rockstars and celebrities commit suicide, or fall off the deep end of drug addiction or mental illness? Why did Jeff Bezos and Johnny Depp’s wives cheat on them and torment them psychologically? Because success attracts attention, and with enough attention, someone with bad intentions is bound to show up at your doorstep. And what if you really DO succeed, but you weren’t ready, and you use poor judgment? What if you trust someone who had ill intentions, who turns your fame against you or steals your money?
In other words, success cannot protect you from everything. Success isn’t perfect. It’s alright to be cautious. It’s alright to feel some fear.
But you can allow yourself to feel fear and still do it. Because success is also truly a joy that cannot be topped. It allows you to shape your life into whatever you want. It also gives you longevity and security that moves beyond yourself. You could get rich and pass that wealth on to your children or other family members.
The other common fear about success is just that it doesn’t stop. You’ll get caught up in it and never have time for anything else.
Now that is a more legitimate fear. So let me show you how to pursue your goals without sacrificing your mental well-being. Maximum fun and progress, minimum procrastination, frustration, or fear.
This is the #1 thing that kept my head cool when I was overwhelmed with the harder parts of building a wealthy, free lifestyle, getting into shape, and more.
The Structural Tension Perspective
So what is structural tension? Basically, it’s a concept derived from Robert Fritz, an old business and artist consultant from the 1980s. He wrote several books, only one of which I’ve read: Creating, and it’s there that he described structural tension and the outlook based around it.
In essence, human beings are creators. Our interest in creating art, stories, relationships, all of it is a creative act. Even building a high-income career is an act of creation. You take materials available to you, such as connections, skills, interests, and turn them into the results in life that you want. Fritz viewed every long-term struggle in life from the perspective of a creator suffering from a block, unsure of the next piece of the puzzle, and that really struck a chord with me.
Structural tension, accord to Fritz, is the basic force by which we feel the urge to create things. We want certain things about or around us to exist, whether it be a million dollars in the bank, a child more successful than us, a more fair and just government, or even just whiter teeth. But we don’t have that, and so, there is a sense of tension. This tension shines a light on the current, missing structural pieces. It basically forces you to think “What do I really need to do next to create this result?”
That feeling, structural tension, is both hope and fear, together, like Yin and Yang forming a singular circle. It is an emotion that transcends positivity or negativity. You can view it however you wish in the moment, but it is an umbrella of a feeling, through which more specific feelings can be attributed.
I once heard someone say that when we feel fear over the idea of trying something new that is good for us, what’s really happening is that we are feeling excitement, and then attributing a more specific negative angle to that physiological feeling. We feel something that is neutral, it is simply there inside us, a tension, and we decide whether it is positive or negative, hopeful or fearful. I couldn’t agree more.
This concept is incredibly valuable in controlling how you think. Emotions are things that we created. They are parameters, little boxes we use to try and categorize the flowing, indecipherable concept that is our own human experience.
This is why philosophy exists. You’d think that something as basic as happiness, if it were truly objective, could be defined in the same way among all human observers, but that’s not possible. One person’s idea of a happy life is going to seem miserable or pathetic to the wrong person. One person will be angry about something that other people find funny, or cathartic. There’s no objectivity to any of it!
The only thing that’s objective is the sensation that something different is happening. Tension versus relaxation.
Physiological response: heightened senses, heart pounding, reluctance to take a leap and proceed.
Negative interpertation: fear.
Positive interpretation: excitement.
In other words, when you’re afraid to approach your first client, talk to someone you know you need to, etc., you should tell yourself “Yes, I am afraid. Afraid of how my life is going to improve after I get this over with. New responsibilities, new things I’ll gain, that I could someday lose again if I’m not careful. That’s what I’m really afraid of, nothing more.”
You’re Not Afraid, You’re Excited
You can use this attitude on anything, and it really works. For example, if I see an attractive woman and want to talk to her, I tell myself “Yeah, I am afraid. Afraid she’ll fall in love with me too fast and try to take over my life.”
Does that sound absurd to you? Well guess what? The opposite is no more rational.
“I’m afraid to talk to a random human being who shows no signs of threatening me, because they might say no to hanging out with me or giving me their number.”
“I’m afraid to apply to this job, because then I might blow the interview and feel embarrassed.”
“I’m afraid to quit my current job because I might become lazy and never get another job again, and then I’ll end up homeless.”
Those aren’t rational either, so if you gotta pick one extreme, pick the one that scientifically increases your chance of succeeding in life.
So how do you choose?
Well, a big part of it is achieving flow state. That’s going to be my next article, so keep an eye out. But for the time being, if you’re sick of wimping out and procrastinating on the things that matter to you, I just want you to practice re-interpreting structural tension, not as fear, but as hope. Or as comical fear in a hopeful way. Basically, train yourself. Keep telling yourself, “I am excited about DOING this.” Drown out the voice of fear, by force.
The more you deliberately do this, forcing yourself to think that way, the more it will stick. 😉
That’s how you beat fear and stop procrastinating on the things you most want to do.