A can-do attitude is hailed as the secret to attaining any goal but this is only true if you understand the realities of what it takes to succeed. A delusional can-do attitude can lead to loss of time, confidence, money, and other resources, some of which you will never get back.
The difference between a delusional can-do attitude and a realistic one is that the former is based on emotions while the latter is based on reality.
Why A Delusional Can-Do Attitude Is Disastrous
Basing your actions on your emotions is a recipe for disaster because emotions don’t make for a robust foundation as they are fleeting and unstable. Reality and rationality are much better and a lot more robust grounds to base your plans, decisions, and actions upon.
A delusional can-do attitude often arises from underestimating the difficulty or impossibility of attaining a lofty goal. A good example of this can be found in the “follow your passion” crowd who were gassed up by cheesy self-help gurus, only to find out that after the initial air of the passion deflates, they are left with a grueling task at hand that will take years or even decades to pan out, if at all.
Quitting your job to open up a coffee shop might seem like a great idea on the surface since you are passionate about coffee but such a lofty goal requires rational research before you decide to pursue it. You must remove the emotions out of the equation. The feel-good platitudes of “follow your passion” and “maintain a positive mindset” don’t cut it.
Taking unintelligent risks and hoping that things will magically sort themselves out if you follow your passion and keep your positive mental attitude is delusional.
Why An Irrational Can’t-Do Attitude Is Disastrous As Well
On the other hand, an irrational can’t-do attitude is disastrous as well, as it paralyzes people into inaction even for goals that they are perfectly capable of achieving.
Millions of people suffer from an irrational can’t-do attitude which prevents them from acting upon attainable goals such as learning a new language, losing weight, building muscle, starting a feasible business, getting good grades at school, learning how to swim/drive/ride a bike, quitting drinking/smoking, meeting new people, and so on.
Since a delusional can-do attitude and an irrational can’t-do attitude are both disastrous, the best thing to do is to cultivate a rational can-do attitude which, as we will see, is not too hard to do.
In order to understand how to develop a rational can-do attitude, let’s first look at the underlying sources of an irrational can’t-do attitude.
Where Does An Irrational Can’t-Do Attitude Come From?
Here are the reasons why people who are otherwise perfectly capable of accomplishing their goals develop an irrational can’t-do attitude which paralyzes them to inaction:
Fear of Failure, Humiliation, and Losing Self-Belief
Ask any psychologist worth his salt and he’ll tell you that humans are motivated more by the fear of loss than the desire to gain.
The pain of probable failure, humiliation, and loss of self-belief can cause people to develop a can’t-do attitude which prevents them from pursuing their goals.
Lack of Conviction
Procrastination, in my experience, is not a character flaw, but instead evidence that you don’t have a believable plan for succeeding at what you’re trying to do.
Cal Newport, a professor and an author who has valuable insights on productivity, identifies a crucial reason for procrastination which he describes as “your brain doesn’t buy your plan.”
If your own brain isn’t convinced that either the goal you are pursuing is worth achieving or you are capable of achieving your goal then it will come up with excuses that will prevent you from acting upon your goal.
This is a crucial insight for cultivating a rational can-do attitude because, as we will see, conducting a realistic assessment of the goal at hand (to convince your own brain that the goal you are pursuing is worth the effort you will extend on it) and constructing a convincing simple rational plan (to convince your own brain that you have a believable plan to achieve your goal) are essential for you to start working on your goals.
4 Steps to Cultivate a Rational Can-Do Attitude
Now we know the sources of an irrational can’t-do attitude, we can attack them with a 4 step plan so that we can start working on accomplishing our goals.
1. Conduct a Realistic Assessment of What It Takes to Achieve Your Goal
Lack of conviction, which is a crucial cause of an irrational can’t-do attitude, can be remedied by conducting a realistic assessment of the goal you want to accomplish.
A realistic assessment of your goal prevents you from overestimating or underestimating what it takes to accomplish your goal and helps you figure out the worthiness of your goal as well.
Overestimating the difficulty of your goal might lead you to decide to not pursue it while underestimating it can lead you to pursue goals that are either unattainable or not worth the effort you extend upon accomplishing them.
Goals that look easy on the surface can be tough nuts to crack or those that look too difficult on the surface can be rather straightforward.
A goal that looks easy on the surface might take decades to accomplish (if at all), which might not mean that you can’t do it but that you must conduct a rational analysis as to whether it’s worth investing decades pursuing it. You must also factor in the opportunity cost as well because when you are busy with a lofty goal, you are foregoing other goals that you could be working on.
A goal that looks difficult on the surface despite it actually being rather straightforward, on the other hand, can intimidate you out of pursuing it.
Learning a new language is an example of a goal that looks harder than it actually is. Most people are intimidated by the idea of learning a new language as if it’s a herculean task. It isn’t. A realistic assessment of the goal at hand will reveal that even little children who have underdeveloped brains can figure out how to learn a language from scratch so there’s no reason for you to be intimidated out of learning a new language, especially considering that you possess a fully developed adult brain.
A realistic assessment of the goal of learning a new language will reveal to you that the difficulty of learning a new language is all in your mind. Anyone is capable of learning a new language provided that they put in the time and effort. There’s nothing intimidating about it.
Another example that comes to mind is learning how to swim. Millions of people are intimidated by it and spend an entire lifetime without attempting to learn how to swim. Unless your goal is to be an Olympic swimmer, it’s pretty straightforward to learn how to swim. My girlfriend didn’t know how to swim and while she was embarrassed about it, she was convinced that she had already missed the window of opportunity to learn how to swim as she believed that you either learn it when you are a child or never. I presented her with a rational assessment of what it takes to learn how to swim, which was enough to convince her to give it a try. Then I took her to the beach and taught her how to do it. To her amazement, it only took her less than a day to learn how to swim freestyle.
When I built six-pack abs at the age of 40, my friends and family members thought that I accomplished an impossible task. One of my friends even said that my abs “look unreal.” In reality, there’s nothing unreal about getting six-pack abs. A closer inspection helped me to figure out that all it takes for getting six-pack abs is to lose enough weight and to build enough muscle. Millions of people manage to lose weight every day and millions of people also build muscle. All I needed to do was to do both at the same time. Admittedly it wasn’t easy but it was nothing near impossible.
An infinite number of examples can be given but the point is that a goal that seems impossible or too lofty on the surface can suddenly look accessible if you take your time to conduct a realistic assessment.
Another advantage of a rational assessment of the goal at hand is that it reveals to you if your goal is worth the effort that you need to extend upon achieving it. If you are unable to convince your brain that your goal is worth achieving then you will procrastinate. It’s perfectly acceptable to give up on a goal that’s not worth accomplishing.
Also, a realistic assessment can also protect you against chasing delusional goals. For example, I shelved a lot of business ideas after running them through MJ DeMarco’s Five Fastlane Commandments. It’s perfectly acceptable as well to give up on an unrealistic goal as the other way round would lead to a delusional can-do attitude.
2. Construct a Simple Plan on How You Will Achieve Your Goal
Let’s say that you conducted a realistic assessment of your goal and decided that it’s an achievable goal worth pursuing. The next step is to construct a simple plan about how you will achieve your goal.
Just keep in mind that you don’t need an elaborate plan. You only need a barebones plan just enough to convince your own brain that reaching your goal is feasible.
For example, let’s say that you want to lose body fat. You assessed your goal as in step one and then you are convinced that it’s doable. The next step is to construct a simple meal and exercise plan that will enable you to eat fewer calories than you burn while you keep yourself as much full as you can.
If you don’t have enough information about what it actually takes to achieve your goal that you can’t even come up with a simple plan then it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the matter.
No matter the goal you have in mind, there’s a person who not only achieved it but also wrote a book about it. While not all the books will tell the truth about the subject matter, you can certainly find a good book that will help you to figure out what it takes to achieve your goal and give you a good idea of how to proceed.
3. Grant Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes
As we’ve seen, one of the causes of an irrational can’t to attitude is fear. Fear of failure, humiliation, and losing self-belief.
Let’s revisit the example I gave above, that little children with underdeveloped brains are capable of learning a language while adults with fully developed brains are intimidated by it.
One of the reasons why little children are excellent at learning new things despite their underdeveloped brains is that they are not afraid of making mistakes or embarrassing themselves.
Children butcher the language and make countless grammar and pronunciation mistakes when they are learning a language until they finally get it right. They fall hundreds of times when they are learning how to walk. They just don’t care if other people are laughing at them, making fun of them or they are embarrassing themselves.
When we come to be adults, we become self-conscious. We start to be afraid to make mistakes. Part of it is about the fear of embarrassing ourselves by making mistakes in front of others, and part of it is about the fear of destroying the self-image we have carefully constructed inside our minds. We also come to fear failure as our painful failures inevitably pile up until the time we become adults.
All of these factors prevent us from acting upon our goals even when we are perfectly capable of achieving them.
No matter your goal, it’s crucial to understand that mistakes, failures, and setbacks are inevitable ingredients of success.
The good news is that other people don’t care about you as much as you think they do. Most people won’t even think that your mistakes are embarrassing. It’s only in your imagination that you might be embarrassing yourself and even if you are, people are too consumed by their own problems that they don’t have the time and energy to care about you.
Also, divorce your sense of self-worth from mistakes, failures, and setbacks for they are inevitable. Even the best of the best in their respective fields often freely admit that they wouldn’t be where they are without making a lot of mistakes until they got it right and having to deal with the pain of a lot of failures on their way to the top.
Anticipating difficulties, mistakes, failures, and setbacks even before they happen will strengthen your resolve to eventually succeed at accomplishing your goal.
4. Act Before You Are Ready
Completing the first 3 steps won’t do anything unless you act, for nothing happens without action.
The biggest problem with taking action is that people tend to wait for the perfect time to start which causes them to delay action until some imaginary stars line up.
There’s never a perfect time to start. Just start with a barebones, incomplete plan, and adjust as you go.
Also, keep in mind that self-confidence isn’t necessary for achieving a goal. You build up confidence along the way as you knock down one obstacle after the other. In that respect, self-confidence isn’t a requirement but a result of success. Don’t wait until you feel confident. Act before you are ready.
Be sure to read:
- Be a Better Man in 30 Days Program, Chapter 2: Take Control of the Direction of Your Life (Guidelines for Setting Goals)
- 10 Ways to Keep Going When You Feel Like Giving Up
- 10 Unrealistic Expectations About Life That Will Destroy You
- “I’m not good at anything” – How to Stop Feeling Inferior
- Why Is Life So Hard? (And What You Can Do About It)