Habits of Failure

In How to Own Your Own Mind, Napoleon Hill records a statement from Andrew Carnegie that has been echoing in my thoughts since I heard it weeks ago.

Carnegie defined some of the habits of failure as:

  1. Fear
  2. Indecision
  3. Procrastination
  4. Indifference to Opportunity

The mere listing of those four habits struck some sort of nerve with me. I already know that success tends to come into my life to the degree I attack those habits.

Each of us is held back by some version or some combination of those 4 habits. Think of how much opportunity passes by us unused, and we don’t mourn this because we’re too burdened by selfish or slothful habits to value it rightly.

I’ve been trying to attack procrastination in myself more than ever. This looks like telling myself 20-30 times a day, “No bull.” There’s so much BS in my habits. So much slack I cut myself. So many reasons I can give for a thing not getting done. It’s all bull.

There are real limitations, but we can’t blame these for one second if we haven’t eradicated failure habits in ourselves.

Efficient or Lazy?

The difference between efficient and lazy is not always clear.

Do we order groceries online because it saves time or because we don’t feel like going to the store?

Do I research faster methods of doing things so I can do even more things, or is it because I don’t feel like working?

It’s more efficient to move boxes between the U-Haul truck and your house with a dolly, but it’s also easier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting easier. There is something wrong with the feeling that work is a bad thing.

I hide my laziness behind efficiency all the time. I’ll spend 120 seconds strategizing how to save one 60-second trip to the car.

An Important Discipline for Success

The other day I scheduled a shoot, but I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t know the exact plan. I couldn’t see the vision. But I picked up the phone and set the date.

It occurred to me how important it is to act before we’re ready. If we wait for the feeling to come we’ve often missed our chance.

A point comes when we’re ready but we lie to ourselves about it because we’re really scared. I don’t think this ever goes away on the things that matter most. If you can develop the discipline to take the step despite the fear—to act before you’re ready—you’ll be more successful.

My Favorite Marketing Slogan of All Time

There’s a small part of me that disdains advice on how to stop procrastinating, how to get more done, and how to find motivation. It’s not because I’m a superhero. I struggle with those things all the time too. I sometimes disdain this advice because I think misses the point.

When you have to get something done, it gets done. 

The reason we struggle so much with motivation is that we don’t have to do the thing we’re procrastinating about—not really

As much as we would love the promotion, as much as we would love to get shredded and fit, as much as we would love to read more, we don’t have to.

But when you will certainly get fired if something doesn’t get done at your job, you show up early and stay late without even being asked. When your wedding is approaching and you are determined to lose 30 pounds for the big day, you happily say no to the birthday cake. When the exam is a week away, you sit down and read.

And you don’t need a single word to get motivated. 

Motivational speeches only exist for people who would like to get things done, not people who have to

This leads me to my favorite marketing slogan of all time: Just Do It.

There are a lot of things we desperately want, but they are self-generated desires and no one in the world will care if we don’t do them. It’s these types of challenges the phrase speaks to so well. In three words it gives you all the explanation and motivation you need.

So while I enjoy tips and tricks to stay motivated and form good habits, they pale in comparison to owning your actions and relentlessly taking full responsibility.

Don’t wait until you have it all figured out or find the perfect tool or buy the perfect program or meet the perfect person. In some ways, as sad as it sounds, you are alone in this world. You may have people who love you, but when it comes to your personal goals, it’s you vs. you. 

The future you is counting on you.

Just Do It.

Productive Distraction

Not everything that feels productive really is. 

For example, writing a system for how to handle a project better in the future while a current project sits unfinished. Or cleaning a drawer when you have a presentation to prepare.

This is the worst kind of procrastination because it’s where the illusion of productivity is strongest. If you surf YouTube aimlessly while there’s work to be done, you can feel the alarm sounding inside. There’s urgency. But if you start cleaning up your desktop and looking through old files, you can distract yourself thoroughly enough to not even notice.

These sorts of distractions are the daily bread of people who are going nowhere—employees trying to kill their time and punch the clock and leave the impression of being busy.  Some spend their whole careers like this.

If you’re a freelancer, well, it’s on you. These distractions hurt you primarily. The longer you take to get a thing done, the longer until you get paid, the less valuable the project is, the closer you are to giving up on self-employment altogether. The worst part is that your client suffers too as they wait for you to build that system.

I try to ask myself constantly, “Is this the most important thing right now, or am I hiding behind something that merely seems productive?”