If you’ve found yourself on this website, I’m willing to bet that you are the kind of person that has a lot of great ideas… and can never find a way to actually put then into action, you’re probably suffering from success paralysis.
I love talking to people about their ideas, dreams, and goals. But after they’ve finished telling me about their plan, I ask them “so why don’t you do it?” and eight out of ten times they say “I don’t know”.
I used to think that this was a cop-out, like they hadn’t really thought about it.
Until I started doing it. I went through a couple of years where I had goals, ideas, and motivation, but couldn’t get anywhere! I was suffering from success paralysis.
Success paralysis is when, despite having goals and motivation, you find yourself forever stuck in the same position you’ve always been in. In this article I’m going to share with you five ways of thinking that prevent you from achieving your dreams.
1. Paralysis by people pleasing
Have you ever worked for a manager who refused to do anything unless the entire team agreed? Or did something just to please one of the employees?
Under these managers practically nothing ever gets done and the kicker is that many of the employees leave or, eventually, cause the downfall of the company.
A person with a people pleasing personality dislikes conflicts and will try to find a solution that satisfies everyone.
This is a fool’s errand.
In your journey to financial freedom you will need to be a leader at some point, and you cannot please everyone all the time.
In one IT company I used to work for, a technical employee used to over-ride the decisions made by the CEO. The IT company lost many opportunities due to the employee’s negativity about many newly launched products.
As a result the, once profitable, company suffered financially due to the CEO basing his decisions on trying to please his technical and administration staff.
How many of these statements apply to you:
- “I try to be who someone wants me to be
- I am afraid to rock the boat
- It is hard for me to know what I want
- I avoid speaking my mind
- I find it easier to go along with what someone wants or with their opinion
- I fantasize about a strong person taking over my life and making it work
- It is hard for me to express my feelings when they are different from someone I’m close to
- It is difficult for me to say No
- I avoid getting angry
- It is hard for me to take initiative
- I try to be nice rather than expressing how I really feel
- I want everyone to get along”
Source: Personal Growth Programs
If any of those statements resonated with you, it’s likely you’re a people pleaser.
This limits you because you’re making others happiness your responsibility, when you have little impact on increasing their happiness. It limits you because you’re asking others to make decisions for you, and you can then blame others for mistakes. It limits you because you give away control of your life.
To free yourself of this success paralysis understand that the only way to free yourself is by forcing yourself to make decisions and stick to them. Similarly, start asking people for things, get them to give things to you rather than the other way round.
- Eli Davidson has a great quiz to determine if you are a people pleaser
- Rachel Grumman Bender also offers so incredible advice on how to stop being a people pleaser
2. Paralysis by perfection
Perfection is the one thing we should always strive for, and never achieve. One of the reasons I get paralysed is because I need things to be perfect, and it’s caused me to waste so much time. I used to waste hours of my time designing stuff on Photoshop, only to scrap it all, because I wasn’t satisfied.
Do you know how long I spent on looking for themes for this website before I said “Fuck it”? (Hint: it rhymes with “one beak”).
Another example of this was a meeting I sat in on a few years ago.
I was working for a company that built bespoke software for large organisations, John (lead programmer) had burst out in anger at Marcus (head of sales) and stormed out of the directorial meeting. The meeting was about the deployment of some software John had developed for a large multinational corporation.
The team had been working under an enormous amount of pressure to deploy John’s system with very little sleep so the entire team were already feeling highly strung. A little later once everyone had calmed down it turned out that John was angry with Marcus because Marcus could sell John’s software, whereas John had very little success selling despite a huge amount of interest from prospects.
Then this conversation happened:
John: No disrespect meant Marcus but I’m much clever than you.
Marcus: That’s one of the reasons we wanted you on the management team.
John: If you know I’m cleverer than you – how come I can’t sell my own software but you can.
Marcus: To be honest, I only focus on the needs of the customer and sell them the parts of your software that works and meets their requirements. You do the same but you have a perfectionist mind-set so you keep telling potential customers what doesn’t work and how long it will take you to implement and develop it.
John was focused on getting his product “perfect” for the future, rather than meeting the needs of his customers today. As a result he could never launch his products.
I’ve realised two things that helped me get over my perfectionism; you learn more from mistake made in the present, and perfectionism shifts your focus away from the real goal.
Like John wanting to get his software just right, or me searching for the perfect theme, perfectionism makes you lose sight of the true goal. For John it was to create a product that his team could sell and help clients, for me it was being able to share what I’ve learned with you guys.
- Erin Dougherty has written an amazing piece on the problems of perfectionism and will help you uncover why you’re a perfectionist.
3. Paralysis by excusitis
One of my greatest strengths is that I’m amazing at making excuses.
If there were prizes given out to people who could convince themselves and others why they shouldn’t do something, they’d give it to the person in second place… because I’m that good at explaining exactly why I can’t/won’t/shouldn’t do something.
Most of us are equally amazing at finding reasons to not do something.
It’s part of our wiring to find ways to maintain the status quo. As long as you’re not actively in danger, have food, and can stay warm, our minds actively warn us against trying to change anything. This is why doing things out of our comfort zone freaks us out.
Unfortunately our brains haven’t evolved to cope with the modern world. The institutions we’ve put in place mean that you’re unlikely to ever become homeless, starve, or be in any real danger. Yet, we still can find loads of reasons not to do something that will be good for us.
Let’s try something… What’s your ultimate dream?
I’ll bet you knew exactly what it was, and then all the “reality” came flooding in and took your dream away. You thought of reasons why your dreams will remain just that.
The only way to get over this level of success paralysis is to realise that dreams are reached over a period of years, and are built brick by brick.
Do something that brings you closer to your dream everyday.
If you want to lose weight, go for a 30 minute walk. If you want to learn to sing, practice for 30 minutes. If you want to be financially free, save some money.
4. Paralysis by choice
Should I do X, Y, or Z? Well if I do X I get money, if I do Y I’ll have an adventure, but if I do Z I’ll become famous.
Often we’re paralysed by our lack of decision due to a huge wealth of choices.
When I was a teenager I wanted to be so many different things, that I failed to focus on one. The result of this is that I’m mediocre at a great deal of things. Instead of spending my teenage life working toward a goal, I became the best at “having potential.”
When I left university I had the exact same crisis, there were just too many options… so I became a barista. Whilst not a bad career path by any means I was wasting my time doing something that I couldnt’ve cared less about.
We often kill our live’s momentum by constantly thinking about all the roads we can go down, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, just do something.
Realise that if you don’t get over this success paralysis you’ll stagnate. It’s likely that you’ll be able to do X, Y, and Z in your lifetime. Most careers last under 5 years, because people get inspired to do other things.
One of my favourite things about being alive is how everything changes shape.
Of all the goals I’ve completed in my lifetime none of them have happened the way I imagined they would; some were complete shit shows, and others were accidental paradises, but all were learning experiences.
5. Paralysis through uncertainty
We all know the importance of goals, we’ve got to know where we’re going otherwise we’ll just end up drifting.
The weird thing is we often make goals that we fail to achieve, why? Because they’re just ideas. “I want to be fit” is an excellent idea, but nine times out of ten you’ll fail to achieve it, all thanks to uncertainty.
A goal isn’t simply something that we want, it’s a plan. The problem with “I want to be fit” is that you haven’t answered any questions about exactly how you’re going to achieve it.
As you don’t know how you’re going to achieve it, the steps you take to achieve the goal are a complete guess. You flail around, get frustrated by a lack of progress, give up, and have the same idea next time you feel a bit fat.
They key to defeating paralysis through uncertainty is by setting good goals. A good goal must contain:
- A measurable metric
- A time limit
- Is an affirmative statement
For example “I want to be rich” is a bad goal, a good goal is “I will save £3,000 in six months”. You can then work backwards to figure how you’ll reach that goal e.g. £3,000 in six months is £500 a month, thats £125 a week, which means you’ll need to save £13 a day.
Then you can form a plan about how to save that £13 (I’ve got an idea about how you can do that)
Here are some more examples of bad goals turned into good goals:
- I want to learn French = I will know 100 French words in three months
- I want to lose weight = I will weigh 10kg less in six months
- I want to be more creative = I will have completed 60 drawings/paintings/songs in four months
These are just a few examples but I’m sure you understand the concept.
- Mind Tools have provided an excellent crash course to goal setting here
Ultimate paralysis freedom
When it comes down to it you’ve got to accept that you’ve chosen to get success paralysis. You’ve made the decision to not make the decision. What we’ve tried to do with this article (and the previous one) is to help you see exactly where your lack of action comes from and how to build that momentum back up.
If this post has helped you please share it on Facebook or Twitter and help someone else who’s suffering from success paralysis.
Other articles on this subject.
- Why being busy is a waste of time
- The truth about positive thinking
- 7 attitudes that cause success paralysis
- 7 cures for self-sabotage behaviour
- 5 simple actions that give your life a major boost
Image Credit: Stephen West
Image Credits: Elisa Azzali.