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The most important thing to think about before doing something important or nerve-wrecking

| 64 comments | Category: positive mentality

You see the native speaker of your target language, that girl/boy you like, an important person you admire or you could be moments away from clicking “send” on an important e-mail or job application, or pressing that last digit to make an important phonecall.

And then it starts: the self-doubt, the reasons you’ll fail and a need to prepare yourself more with assurances that you’ll be ready “later”.

One of the biggest problems I see people having that holds them back from achieving their goals is caused by thinking too much. When you stop and play out things in your mind, the pessimist side of you takes over.

The most important thing you can think about before doing any of these things is this: NOTHING.

Stop thinking about it and act - when the opportunity presents itself don’t even give yourself two seconds to think of what to say, or to mentally “prepare” yourself. Just speak or do what you need to do.

Does acting more assertively lead to more likeliness of mistakes? Perhaps – but more mistakes also means more successes. Most people I meet who stay within safe limits make a maximum of one or two “mistakes” a day don’t achieve very much with that day. I make hundreds of mistakes every day, and tomorrow I want to make even more.

Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met take risks all the time and make tons of mistakes because of it. And that’s why they’re so successful.

Think you could never do that? Then stop bloody thinking it. All that over-analysing and negative thinking is what’s really holding you back – not the actual bullshit excuses about not being “ready” yet.

Stop thinking about it so much. Speak your target language as soon as you see the native, invite him/her for a coffee without playing the conversation over in your head, or just press send. When you act more than ponder, you start to get good at it. You don’t need to think so much, or even better – you learn to think on your feet, and you start to become more confident and successful.

Ever see someone who you’d consider a “natural” at what you want to be good at? How much thinking and self-doubt do you think is part of their day?

Yes, you’ll also fail occasionally. That’s life, just accept it rather than thinking you can avoid it all the time. By avoiding failures, you’ll avoid successes. By accepting that they are a part of the game, you’ll already be braced for impact and can pick yourself up and storm right back into action if one happens.

Right now I have two things I can do:

  1. I can think “Maybe nobody will like this blog post, maybe I’ll get no comments, maybe they’ll hate it so much that everyone will unsubscribe and never come back, my income stream will stop, my parents will disown me and my friends will abandon me and I’ll live in the street and die of starvation….” (Seriously, many pessimists use worst-case scenarios to stop them from doing anything)
  2. Press publish.

No time to think, I’m doing it.

What are you going to do? Stop thinking so much – that’s what’s holding you back!

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  • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

    kick-ass advice, Benny.

    Making mistakes shouldn’t be something you want to avoid, it should become your daily mantra. I have even made 2011 the year of “trial and error”, because I want to try lots of things and see how they work out (or not).

    I believe you are the perfect example of “fuck it, let’s just do it!” attitude, which is grrreat. I remember learning Japanese and only speaking it when I was 100% sure that it was correct. Epic fail !
    Nowadays, I’m all about speaking Spanish, and I talk like a machine gun, not worrying whether it’s correct or not. Jump into the fire and learn to extinguish it while you are inside. You will learn insane amounts !

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Fuck it, let’s do it – I could have summarised this entire post in those 5 words :D
      Have an epic year Mars!! Best of luck with Spanish!

  • http://twitter.com/zeldazador Liv Zelda Zádor

    This post kind of reminds me of the TED talk about the power of vulnerability ( http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html ).

    I like how so many of your pep talk blogs can be applied to all aspects of life; I find myself more often than not using your advice for non-language learning problems. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      That’s intentional – I’m hoping to reach a wider audience while keeping it relevant. If someone not usually interested in languages likes and shares my post, maybe they will get interested and try their hand at one ;)

      Glad you’re enjoying my posts – thanks for the TED link!

  • Anya

    I always kinda knew it, but needed you to tell me that so i can actually bring it to life ;)

    p.s. Do you have any plans on ever learning Polish?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I only ever think about the next language or two. I’ve already revealed a clue in the LHL e-mails that I won’t be learning a language in Europe next, so Polish won’t be the next mission!

      Now that you “know” what you need to thin about, apply it ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Josephjacotot Joseph Jacotot

    “Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met take risks all the time and make tons of mistakes because of it.” Yeah, sure. My girlfriend would totally disagree with that… (she’s now pregnant) XD

    Your next language is definitively Afrikaans, ain’t it?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Your retort makes no sense!! But um.. congratulations anyway!
      My next language is definitely NOT going to be discussed in comments. That’s what I’ve got the e-mail list for. Read it and if I say “South Africa” on Monday then you know you were right. But based on that guess, you’ve been skipping my clues!

  • http://tlllanguagecoach.blogspot.com/ Aaron G Myers

    Seems my four year old has the attitude and she does pretty well. She uses a pretty healthy amount of Turklish, but no one seems to mind. Four year olds are that way though. I need to follow her lead and listen to your advice and just go for it more often. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” is always a good question to bring perspective and help us push publish – or talk.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I prefer to phrase it as “What’s the best that could happen?” because the problem with the other question is that people always have this worst-case scenario answer of eventually dying of starvation :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I prefer to phrase it as “What’s the best that could happen?” because the problem with the other question is that people always have this worst-case scenario answer of eventually dying of starvation :P

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I love the expression “fail your way to success”, because that’s how everyone who actually is successful got that way.

    • http://jonathanvellner.com Jonathan Vellner

      I had never heard that expression before, but I love it! Thanks, Andrew, that just may be my new motto :)

      By the way, Benny, I just started learning Russian and this is exactly the kick in the ass I needed to get myself a language partner and start speaking it (I’d been telling myself, “oh, I’ll wait till I know a few more words… yup, just a couple more.”)
      Thanks as usual for the extra push. Your blog is just getting better and better.

      Good luck with your next mission… whatever it is.
      (same goes for everyone!)

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Thanks Jonathan! Glad to be helping push you to making progress :)

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Thanks Jonathan! Glad to be helping push you to making progress :)

  • dev

    That’s so true. I was playing the Wii game with my 11-year-old brother. He wa kicking the whole family’s butt on the bowling game. We all kept wondering how he was doing it. He is a goofy kid who can not sit still for a minute, let alone concentrate on “throwing” the bowling ball teh correct way for a strike. But 9 out of 10 times, he got strikes across the board!

    I watched how he went about the game and I discovered his method: he didn’t have one at all!! He just went through the motions the game, danced in place and enjoyed family time. He didn’t try to calculate the perfect angle or put a spin on the ball. He just moved his arms and watched what happened. I borrowed some of his aloofness and started doing way better! I still remember this and it was probably 2 years ago. I try to bring this frame of mind to my everyday life when I can. Don’t over analyze, go with your gut. It might sound like leaping before you look, but when combined with common sense, you can’t go wrong!

  • dev

    That’s so true. I was playing the Wii game with my 11-year-old brother. He wa kicking the whole family’s butt on the bowling game. We all kept wondering how he was doing it. He is a goofy kid who can not sit still for a minute, let alone concentrate on “throwing” the bowling ball teh correct way for a strike. But 9 out of 10 times, he got strikes across the board!

    I watched how he went about the game and I discovered his method: he didn’t have one at all!! He just went through the motions the game, danced in place and enjoyed family time. He didn’t try to calculate the perfect angle or put a spin on the ball. He just moved his arms and watched what happened. I borrowed some of his aloofness and started doing way better! I still remember this and it was probably 2 years ago. I try to bring this frame of mind to my everyday life when I can. Don’t over analyze, go with your gut. It might sound like leaping before you look, but when combined with common sense, you can’t go wrong!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Sometimes NOT having a method is actually a pretty damn good method :) You’ll find most successful immersion-based learners don’t think much about it and are just trying as much as they can.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Sometimes NOT having a method is actually a pretty damn good method :) You’ll find most successful immersion-based learners don’t think much about it and are just trying as much as they can.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    It’s not about “who cares” – I would care a lot of my parents disowned me and my friends abandoned me :P It’s just that this scenario is so ridiculously unlikely based on what I’m doing – it’s only ever brought up in exaggeration as a “possible” (but extremely improbable) scenario to justify not even trying.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    It’s not about “who cares” – I would care a lot of my parents disowned me and my friends abandoned me :P It’s just that this scenario is so ridiculously unlikely based on what I’m doing – it’s only ever brought up in exaggeration as a “possible” (but extremely improbable) scenario to justify not even trying.

  • Alex

    Hey Benny! I like your blog because you always have a positive attitude about life!

    Listen, I don’t want to spoil the party or anything, but I have a point of view that’s a little different…

    I agree that putting yourself in the “Just do it!” state of mind helps you take action by not giving your insecurities a chance to take over. However, if you think about it, you’re not taking care of the root of the problem! Those roots are our limiting beliefs.

    “Well, genius, how do get rid of them?” :P

    Read Morty Lefkoe’s blog. I can’t recommend him highly enough. With his technique, I have eliminated a bunch of limiting and negative beliefs and it has made my life a lot better. http://www.mortylefkoe.com/

    And no, I’m not being paid to write this, I just think everyone should check it out.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      My answer to that question is “Just fucking get rid of them”. The problem is that all of these techniques are just further distractions. Try it once, try it twice and it soon becomes much easier. Maybe never second nature (I still hesitate a lot myself), but waiting until you have a perfect way to clear your mind is another way to NOT clear your mind.

      The way to solve the problem of thinking too much is definitely not by thinking even more about how to solve the problem. It’s not easy, but it is simple: just bloody do it!

      There is too much of a tendency to overanalyse things with simple solutions. Maybe it’s an Irish vs American thing but I really think a good slap in the face will do more people good than sitting down and nitpicking about everything bothering them. Action is always better than drowning in what’s causing problems.

      If any technique is working great for you then I have no argument against it, just that I find these things waste more time and don’t solve the problem. Or at best they just act to motivate the person to do something and are pure placebos in themselves. I’m not prescribing placebos here, just action.

      • Alex

        “Just fucking get rid of them” Ha ha! XD

        I understand your healthy skepticism, man. I’m not gonna tell you that you’re wrong, but I gotta tell you something: out of dozens of self-help crap methods I’ve tried, this is THE one that I’ve found useful. Like ACTUALLY useful. It’s not pep talk, it’s a way to change your mind so that you view reality differently, without insecurities.

        I know it sounds like total bullshit (A year ago, it would have sounded like bullshit to me), but look at what you wrote on your February 8th post. It’s important to test stuff before drawing conclusions, isn’t it?

        How about this? give it a try, and if you find it useless, I won’t insist on talking about this topic again. You can try one of Morty’s free belief-elimination videos here: http://www.recreateyourlife.com/free/

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          Another aspect of my engineering background: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if you have the choice between a simple solution and a complicated one, the choice is clear.

          I don’t see how learning a new strategy will help me do something I can already do immediately.

          Experimentation is only necessary when you don’t ALREADY have a solution. Getting distracted with finding a slightly better solution is a wasteful use of time and part of this perfectionism problem that holds too many people back.

          I’m glad the technique works for you, but I’m not interested right now.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    De bada Rae – mucha suerte en tus metas… sé que conseguirás :)

  • http://www.mikehaydon.com MikeHaydon

    That’s brilliant Benny. Thanks for the kick up the rear. It’s just what I needed to hear right now.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Great! Now go and apply this advice ;) Kicks up the rear are no good if you just thank the guy giving them and then return to the norm :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Great! Now go and apply this advice ;) Kicks up the rear are no good if you just thank the guy giving them and then return to the norm :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Great! Now go and apply this advice ;) Kicks up the rear are no good if you just thank the guy giving them and then return to the norm :P

  • http://twitter.com/xharmony harmony

    Well…I am unfortunately one of those people who tends to procrastinate a lot when it comes to potentially embarrassing situations, because I’m shy. So I really appreciate your motivating posts like this one. It helps a lot to be “kicked in the butt” and told that this kind of thinking is silly and counterproductive, because it is. I really don’t know why I should worry so much about mistakes. People learning English (my native language) make mistakes in front of me all the time, and they just keep going, so I’m sure they’re not expecting me to be perfect in their language either….or maybe they even feel the same way I do.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I guarantee you that they are shy people too in their own ways. But maybe they learned that just not being shy isn’t that big of a deal ;)

      I hope the butt-kicking works this time to get you out there! Don’t even think about it, stop saying you’re shy and jump in!

  • http://twitter.com/Sosegon Sebastian Velasquez

    It’s a good advice. However sometimes you have to think about desicions that are going to change your life. But in a daily activities is ok to make mistakes.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Too many people leave those life-changing decisions so long it takes their whole life and they never make them. Buying a plane ticket to Spain changed my life, but I didn’t stop and analyse the pros and cons before doing it. The opportunity came up and I took it.

      So I think this is just as relevant to big decisions. If it will alter your entire life, think about it for a good five minutes and then make up your mind ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    That’s great! I used social photography as a means to improve my social skills when I was in university and having a digital camera (to immediately show-off photo and share online the next day) was still a novelty. Just going up to random people and asking them to pose (without even needing to explain myself) helped me tremendously.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    That’s great! I used social photography as a means to improve my social skills when I was in university and having a digital camera (to immediately show-off photo and share online the next day) was still a novelty. Just going up to random people and asking them to pose (without even needing to explain myself) helped me tremendously.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    That’s great! I used social photography as a means to improve my social skills when I was in university and having a digital camera (to immediately show-off photo and share online the next day) was still a novelty. Just going up to random people and asking them to pose (without even needing to explain myself) helped me tremendously.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Aww shucks! :) Thanks!

    I’m trying to change the world by being blunt – amazed by how many people are saying that I’m helping inspire them! I always thought that reaction would come from overuse of “you can do it!” instead of “Don’t be such a lazy lump and get off your ass!” :P

    Thanks for reading & commenting ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Aww shucks! :) Thanks!

    I’m trying to change the world by being blunt – amazed by how many people are saying that I’m helping inspire them! I always thought that reaction would come from overuse of “you can do it!” instead of “Don’t be such a lazy lump and get off your ass!” :P

    Thanks for reading & commenting ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Aww shucks! :) Thanks!

    I’m trying to change the world by being blunt – amazed by how many people are saying that I’m helping inspire them! I always thought that reaction would come from overuse of “you can do it!” instead of “Don’t be such a lazy lump and get off your ass!” :P

    Thanks for reading & commenting ;)

  • Kristian

    Es lo que veo en mis clases de español. Hay muchos estudiantes que piensan de cada palabra o conjugación que sale de la boca, y hablan tan despacio. Yo en cambio hago más errores, pero con más confidencia, imaginación y diversión.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Mejor así! :)

  • http://monopolytraveler.com Troy

    I came across this article through twitter and I completely agree that this article applies to so many areas in life. I tend to over think things a lot and can often get the paralysis by analysis. Those who are afraid to fail are also afraid to succeed. Something that I tell myself when I start thinking to much is that we all have unlimited potential so just do it.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Paralysis by analysis – yep! :)

  • http://www.rebeccaandtheworld.com Rebecca

    Couldn’t agree more that this is a great tip for language learning! But it does take a lot of unlearning to not think – we’re constantly told to think before we speak, and we’ve all been told this from an early age. So it’s something that we just naturally do. Well, I better be off, I’ve got to get started on not thinking… ;-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      If we thought before we breathed we’d have problems ;) Things that should come naturally, like speaking a language, should just be allowed to flow. Thinking too much stops this. Paralysis by analysis as another commenter said.
      Have fun!

    • http://twitter.com/dusser Rasmus Andersson

      I’d say the difference between thinking and thinking too much is quite significant though. It’s really amazing how much you can go through in your mind in a fraction of a second.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        We’ll always think – but it’s better to do the thinking in autopilot. Our subconscious is a lot wiser than our conscious is ;)

    • http://twitter.com/dusser Rasmus Andersson

      I’d say the difference between thinking and thinking too much is quite significant though. It’s really amazing how much you can go through in your mind in a fraction of a second.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Do it anyway. That’s how I “deal with it”. No excuses – if I’m a beginner and I only know 10 words then I’ll use those 10 words and come out of the conversation knowing precisely what my next 10 words should be.

    Yes it’s tough – just accept that. I’m not interested in giving people the *easiest* way to learn a language, as most commercial courses advertise. Speaking from the start is damn hard, but a slap in the face does language learners much better than hand-holding over years ever can.

    No matter what you do, you will feel like an idiot speaking a foreign language. Better to get this out of the way at the start. Tough now means easy later.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Do it anyway. That’s how I “deal with it”. No excuses – if I’m a beginner and I only know 10 words then I’ll use those 10 words and come out of the conversation knowing precisely what my next 10 words should be.

    Yes it’s tough – just accept that. I’m not interested in giving people the *easiest* way to learn a language, as most commercial courses advertise. Speaking from the start is damn hard, but a slap in the face does language learners much better than hand-holding over years ever can.

    No matter what you do, you will feel like an idiot speaking a foreign language. Better to get this out of the way at the start. Tough now means easy later.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Do it anyway. That’s how I “deal with it”. No excuses – if I’m a beginner and I only know 10 words then I’ll use those 10 words and come out of the conversation knowing precisely what my next 10 words should be.

    Yes it’s tough – just accept that. I’m not interested in giving people the *easiest* way to learn a language, as most commercial courses advertise. Speaking from the start is damn hard, but a slap in the face does language learners much better than hand-holding over years ever can.

    No matter what you do, you will feel like an idiot speaking a foreign language. Better to get this out of the way at the start. Tough now means easy later.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hehe, I don’t speak English much (this stretch in the states will be longest in a while) so you can presume turns of phrase like that are my own deterioration due to lack of use of the language :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks! Glad you are enjoying it :) Don’t forget to share it with your friends!

  • http://twitter.com/georginaheredia Georgina Heredia

    I really love it when you write short posts!! Pienso que este es el tipo de consejos que Necesitas que alguien te diga. Es como si, en el fondo, supieras que tienes que dejar de pensar tanto, pero como ninguna de tus fuentes confiables te lo ha dicho, lo ignoras. Es bueno que tú, como fuente confiable, nos lo recuerdes. Muy valioso, gracias.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      jaja de nada Georgina :)
      Saludos de tu fuente confiable :P

  • Zoe Jane

    Benny,your post are absolutely amazing! 
    yeah…Sometimes I have to shut my mind to do something :) I have to not think all the bullshit and just try,try,try…
    Sometimes,I feel so afraid to do something,there are so many negative thoughts in my mind,they are holding me back…
    but now I know what I should do at that moment –”Fuck it,let’s do it!’  Haha,it’s not easy,however,  it gonna makes me grow quickly.
    If you don’t do it,you ‘ll never know.
    I tried something I never tried before this year,and I gonna say it really gives me so much wonderful feelings,it’s really interesting.
    So,think nothing,and just do it!

  • Marco Trevisan

    I like all this energy. I copied a sentence to my collection of favorite quotes: «By avoiding failures, you’ll avoid successes».

  • Marco Trevisan

    Ho, mi ĵus legis, ke mi povas skribi en esperanto. Bonege, mi ne perdos la okazon saluti vin en unu el miaj plej ŝatataj lingvoj.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Dankon :)

  • Seras Eimantas

    Oh God, this post is priceless! thank you for sharing this with your followers! That isnpires me to keep moving forward more assertively!!

  • Sue F

    great blog! I think I am going to print it out and stick in on the desk where I study, because being afraid is what is holding me back.

  • http://www.socialtreknepal.com/ SESFNepal

    Great post, Benny. We always say, seek birds of a different feather!

  • Jodi Boye

    This advice is excellent in all areas of life. I tend to procrastinate, whether it is something I am not looking forward to do or to do very much (I do not know why this is) but I am working hard to stop it.
    So glad I stumbled upon this blog via, “The Ten Week Journey” (regarding self-taught foreign language learning) and read this today. I will refer back to it many times.
    TY, Benny.