Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.
Have you ever been annoyed by a successful person, because you thought you were more intelligent than them? Maybe it was a boss. Maybe it was a political figure or a leader.
It’s especially maddening when this person is creating rules that dictate your life. I can definitely relate. I’ve had my share of bosses that I thought were less than brilliant.
So what is it that makes them successful? That’s what I’ve always wondered and what has always bugged me. I mean, shouldn’t intelligence be a prerequisite to leadership? The answer… not really.
It turns out the biggest reason people are successful is: consistent action, not intelligence.
Then the question is, are these three words ruining your life…?
The unmagical words
Those words are: I don’t know.
It’s not drive, it’s not motivation, it’s not lack of passion that keeps people from doing what they want. It’s not knowing where to start, or how to get from A to B. That’s the single biggest reason people don’t take action to make their dreams a reality.
So how can we overcome this? How can we stop letting obscurity keep us from becoming successful? The answer is pretty simple: You have to develop the ability to stop caring about not knowing.
You have to cultivate the habit of doing before knowing. This seems like a daunting thing to do, but it’s really actually a very easy habit to create. And there are a multitude of possibilities that exist right now that you can practice it.
Easiest thing in the world
For example, how many time does your spouse or partner ask you “What do you want to have for dinner?” and you respond, “I don’t know.” (This happens to me all the time, and it’s maddening.) Next time, instead of using those three dirty words, just ask yourself, “What’s something I’d like to have for dinner?” and then respond.
Now do this when someone asks where you’d like to hang out, or what you’d like to spend the evening doing. Instead of re-actively saying “I don’t know,” take the time to come up with a response. Even if you’re not 100% completely stoked about the idea, just come up with something you’d be satisfied with doing. Anything other than I don’t know is an improvement.
Next, try asking yourself “How could I best use my time, right now?” or “What is the highest leverage use of my time, right now?” Take a minute to brainstorm and mentally prioritize. If you’re having trouble coming up with an answer, just pick whatever you think would be the most productive use of your time. Remember, anything is better than the three words we shall not speak of.
Just imagine all of the possibilities for you to practice actively making decisions based on your desires, rather than re-actively defaulting to unconsciousness. There are so many little ways you can practice this skill. I think you’ll be surprised at how often you’re able to rehearse it.
The difference between living and existing
Okay, so you’ve mastered it with the little stuff. Now it’s time to use it on the things that really matter. Stuff like your passions and career.
If you’re not doing something you love or at least like for a living, you’re selling yourself short. And I bet the reason why you’re not pursuing something better is because you don’t know what you’d rather do. Instead of allowing that not knowing to dwell in your psychic space, cast it out. Don’t tolerate it anymore. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, move from not knowing to seeking a path that will allow you to explore what you might love to do. This might mean reading a book on different career pursuits. It might mean googling your hobbies for possible career intersections. Whatever it is, practice that until you move into a state of knowing.
The reason I’m so passionate about this is because I’ve seen so many lives unfulfilled because of not knowing. It saddens me to think that such a simple phrase can have such a devastating impact.
I urge you to practice moving in the direction of knowing, when you feel stuck in a state of indecision. All it takes is one little shift.
It could mean the difference between making a dying and making a living.