Recently, I’ve started to offer more free time for Skype calls so I can help and work with more people in the startup world. It’s been an absolutely terrific experience. From only a few calls, the key takeaway, that most people seem to struggle with is to stop more thoughts enter their minds and to finally get their hands dirty without any more ideas or thinking involved.
The same struggle is true for me. If there is any one thing that I’ve been trying to work hard over the past two years, it is to force myself to stop thinking. To actively act against ideas and thoughts entering my mind, keeping them out with brute force at times.
You see, ideas, thoughts, inspiration, information, that’s never the problem. The skill is to limit yourself to only dealing with a set amount of them, so you can escape analysis paralysis and spend most of your time in a non-thinking state of mind, where you get stuff done.
The trap of thinking
Especially if you are an entrepreneur, thinking can turn into a real trap and limitation for what you are doing. To most of us it is clear that nothing beats experience. What’s much harder to grasp is that in order to gain experience, you have to let go of thought.
The trouble is that our mind tricks us. We are trained to see and judge any situation, so we can put lots of thought into it. If a situation looks like we are being successful, we analyze it to repeat it. If it looks like we will fail, we do the same, think it through and see how we can evaluate it in order to avoid it.
The problem is this:
“You’re never as smart as you think you are when you are winning and never as dumb as you feel when you are losing.” ~ Michael Hyatt
Whilst we are trained to think – to think about losing, about winning, about what happened last week, about what will happen next week, there is one key thing to note: It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about playing lots of games.
Thinking evidently gets in the way of that, it doesn’t allow you to play lots of games, but instead prompts you to dwell on the few games you have won or lost, paralyzing you to move forward.
Here is a man, that avoid lots of thinking, who avoided dwelling on the past or lingering with his wins. Instead he played lots of games:
Balancing your 3 states of mind
Thinking is our dominant state of mind. We always think, we can’t help it. Someone even once said: “We are addicted to thinking”.
And yet, I believe thinking leads to neither success, nor happiness. I believe that our mind can be in any of the following 3 different kind of states.
This state is something everyone knows. Studying it, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaliyi explained it as this:
“It’s the experience of being intensely absorbed in an activity, an experiment, or a feeling.” […] “You feel like a waterfall.”
For a programmer it means to be in the zone, for a writer it means to be in a state where words just flow, for a painter it is the impulsive moment of putting the paint on the canvas. I’m sure you can name plenty more examples.
This state of mind is again something everyone is familiar with I believe. It is when you have complete awareness, when your head is absolutely clear and you notice every detail around yourself. To give some common examples where most of us manage to get in a state of experiencing the present moment, these might help:
It’s when you watch the sunset in a quiet place. It’s when you stop to smell the flowers, listen to the street artist’s song or when you look out of the window to watch the snow fall. It’s when you stop and listen to the birds sing or the wind blow. It is these moments, where you are fully present in the moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh put this into words so clearly and easily that I believe this will make the most sense:
Let’s say that you want to eat a peach for dessert one evening, but you decide to only allow yourself this luxury after washing the dishes. If, while washing the dishes, all you think of is eating the peach, what will you be thinking of when you eat the peach?
The clogged inbox, that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, tomorrow’s to-do list?
The peach is eaten but not enjoyed, and so on we continue through life, victims of a progressively lopsided culture that values achievement over appreciation.
And finally, the state of mind that has become our default is thought. We are in this state most of the time during our waking hours. It’s when we analyze, evaluate, judge, imagine the future, worry about the past, make up stories in our head or think about ideas.
Would I break down in which states we are in every day, I believe that 80% would be in a state of thought, 15-20% in a state of flow and rarely or never in a state of experiencing the present moment.
What I believe is much more appealing to be successful, and to be happy would be a life where you are nearly all the time in a state of experiencing the present moment (happiness), broken up by a few chunks of flow (productive, creative work). And limiting yourself to a drop of thought every day.
The reason to limit thinking to a minimum is simple:
Thinking is like looking at a compass and seeing if you are still headed in the right direction. If you continue looking at your compass day after day, you might make your sense of direction more accurate. And yet, you are still not going to get anywhere.
Start doing and build your muscle of non-thinking: Jfdi
The above is nothing small to aspire to. It is damn hard in fact and takes lots and lots of practice. I’m probably someone who struggles more than anyone else to turn these things into reality and move away from thinking – my current state is to manage a meditation session that lasts 9 minutes.
As an entrepreneur, the reason to think less and do more, is even more important and probably best explained in this quote:
I make mistakes faster than anybody. I think, go, do. That’s the Omniture mantra. While you’re figuring out what to do, we’ve tried two different things and have figured out the right one. ~ Josh James
The only way to do move forward is to put your mind as a thinking tool aside and get into a state of flow, doing and trying as many different things as possible. Mark Suster put this into better words than I ever could with his post on Jfdi (“Just fucking do it”):
Entrepreneurs make fast decisions and move forward knowing that at best 70% of their decisions are going to be right. They move the ball forward every day. They are quick to spot their mistakes and correct. Good entrepreneurs can admit when their course of action was wrong and learn from it. Good entrepreneurs are wrong often. If you’re not then you’re not trying hard enough. Good entrepreneurs have a penchant for doing vs. over-analyzing.
It is about stopping to believe in doing “that one thing” and getting on with lots and lots of different things, where you will eventually discover along the way what works and what doesn’t.
Of course this can be very challenging at the start, especially as most of our education evolves all around thinking, from elementary school, to high school to university. In order to build your muscle of non-thinking, you have to start as small as possible. Like going to the gym, your muscle of non-thinking will be very weak. Consciously making time for a state of flow and getting into experiencing the present moment takes considerable effort. Leo Babauta, Tim Ferriss and Susan O’Connell describe in this fabulous video how to get started.
How are you approaching thinking? Have you ever tried to limit your thinking to focus on other states of mind and do more?