Decide, Commit, Step Forward: How to Break Free from FOMO and Organize your Ambition
When I first started at Praxis, I learned that it is something I’ll always have to explain to people. The follow up question is usually about our participants who I like to describe as “exhaustingly inspiring.” Our community is constantly pinging with notifications about new websites, new blog posts, new projects, new group discussions, podcast, reading groups, etc. It’s overwhelming in the best sense of the word.
But that feeling of being overwhelmed can also be detrimental. It can cause analysis paralysis and make you not know where to start or spark 1 million half-baked ideas that you never put into action because you don’t want to give up on thinking of 1 million more ideas. We see this when people are afraid to commit to a single project idea because they don’t know if it’s the “right” one. You can experience, fear, anxiety, regret, and FOMO (fear of missing out) when you’re negatively overwhelmed, and I’m going to address how to overcome that.
First, I want to start with a little economics. Economics was my first love from when my dad was my econ teacher in high school and that led me to pick econ as my major in college and then to FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) for my first 5 years out of school. I sincerely think that economics is the single most useful subject to know and understand to function successfully in the world. One of the taglines we used when marketing FEE programs was “see the world more clearly” because looking at events through an economic lens gives you understanding and clarity.
One of the basics of economics is opportunity cost. This is a concept most people understand even if they don’t know the formal name for it. Opportunity cost is defined as the value of your next best alternative. Textbook examples usually include something like, “Sally can go to the movies with her friends or go to the baseball game with her family. Whichever thing she doesn’t choose is her opportunity cost.”
Easy, right? Everyone gets that you can only do one thing at a time, but the actual cost of what you’re giving up can sometimes be overestimated. Since you can only do one thing at a time, opportunity cost is only the value of your next best alternative, not the sum of all of the values of literally every other thing you could be doing. Choosing option A doesn’t mean your cost is B and C and D and E (and…etc); the cost is just B (assuming it’s your next best choice) because if you choose B, that precludes you from choosing the others as well.
I explain all of that to emphasize the importance of knowing the true cost of your decisions. Thinking in the flawed way of, “I’m losing out on every single other thing!” rather than only giving up the next best choice can cause major analysis paralysis. It can put more pressure than is needed on making the “right” choice because you believe the stakes are higher than they really are.
Acknowledge the opportunity cost of your decisions, and use that information to help you make the best choice.
Another note on decisions: everything is a choice. Even refusing to make a decision is a decision in and of itself. You won’t get the time back you spent deliberating or agonizing over a choice, so keep opportunity cost in mind when it comes to how much time you spend making a decision. Not every decision needs a well-constructed argument or research to back it up. For instance, I spent a few hours researching, comparing models, reading reviews, and even going to a store to look at the sizes/feel the weights when I was picking out a new laptop last year. It was a larger purchase and important purchase, so I wanted to make a good decision. I wouldn’t spend that amount of time on buying a new toaster or waffle maker. It’s just not worth my time!
That’s a simplified example, but as someone who is prone to getting sucked into reading Amazon reviews, it’s important to take a clarifying moment to judge the priority of a decision. I’m not trying to encourage rash decision making, but not every decision needs a pro-con list. Some things aren’t worth it. In fact, most aren’t.
Ranking the priority of your decisions is important because decision fatigue is a real thing. People who make more decisions throughout the day struggle with self-control and will power at the end of the day, more so than those who make fewer decisions. Interestingly, it’s also shown that judges make “less favorable” decisions later in the day than they do in the morning. (Something to keep in mind if you’re ever in court and able to pick the time of your appointment.) Another example is Mark Zuckerberg, who has been quoted as saying that’s why he wears jeans and a grey Tshirt every day. He doesn’t want to waste the mental capacity on deciding what to wear when he could use that capacity to further take over the world with Facebook.
That’s why I named the first part of this post decide. It’s important to know how to make a decision. And after you make it – commit to it. There are no time machines. So – when you make a decision, commit to it and only look forward. Thinking about what you “woulda coulda shoulda” done is a waste of your time, and regret is not a productive emotion.
I loved the Forward Tilt episode “Living with Integrity.” I excitedly slacked Isaac the morning it came out telling him it had so much in common with what I wanted to talk about at Praxis Weekend. My favorite (hypothetical) example is when he talks about his wife asking him to attend a social event that he doesn’t necessarily want to go to. He says the option that shows integrity isn’t so much about whether he decides to go or not but about his commitment to that decision. A lack of integrity would be agreeing to go to the party and then acting pouty and passive aggressive about being there, possibly ruining the outing for his wife. If you decide to go – go and be just as a pleasant human being as you would have if you stayed home. You can’t keep one foot in your decision – it requires both feet.
I want to clarify this doesn’t mean you never change your mind or pivot away from an original decision or goal. You absolutely should do that in some cases. How you decide to do that involves thinking about how that new decision changes your next step. Another economic concept that’s important to understand is sunk cost. A sunk cost is one you’ve already paid – either with time or money or resources. My favorite example is all you can eat buffets.
If you go to a buffet and pay $25 at the door, you can’t get that money back no matter how much or how little you eat. Eating more to “get your money’s worth” is an illogical argument, and you should only base your decision to get another plate of food on if you think it will make you feel happier (do it!) or sick (don’t do it).
So yes, past information is helpful when making current decisions, but you base your decision on how it will affect your future – looking forward. When I was coming up with the outline for this post, I pictured it as describing life as a choose your own adventure book. At the end of each chapter, you have to pick which way to go, commit to that decision by turning to the correct page, and then step forward by starting your new chapter. Then repeat.
Continuing with that example, some chapters are longer than others. Praxis curriculum is built around 30-day PDPs (personal development projects), and you have the freedom to learn a different skill every month or spend 3, 6, etc months building on a single skill. Devoting a month to something is a great, low-risk way to test if you want to pursue it further. If you dedicate a month to learning guitar and find that music isn’t your thing, it’s not a big deal! You learned something about yourself and can adjust accordingly for your future goals and learning.
It’s up to you to determine which activities and goals to pursue further and which to give up through honest self-assessment. Grinding through something you don’t always like or doesn’t “feel” fulfilling is important if it moves you toward bigger goals, but grinding for the sake of grinding is not and is a waste of your time.
Now that we’ve discussed the proper framework for good decision making, here are my tips for “organizing your ambition.” I will use my favorite example from my own life – running.
Pick a goal
Here I’m talking about your long-term goals, not something you want to accomplish in 30 days. This should be something difficult that you might spend years of your life inching toward. SMART goals are important, so make sure you strike a balance between challenging and realistic. For instance, my goal doesn’t have to do with running at the Olympic level because that is hilariously unrealistic.
But my goal is challenging. It’s to break 18 minutes for 5k. I’ve been working on getting faster technically since I was 12 but seriously toward this goal since I was 19 or 20. I’d like to accomplish it before I have kids, so I have roughly a 10-year deadline.
Document your progress
This is so important in your professional career! If you have a portfolio of projects that demonstrate the value you can create, you immediately set yourself apart from a crowd. You won’t be in the stack of 1,000 other resumes, and you’ll have credibility with an interviewer. Think of the difference between saying, “I build websites and proficient in X coding languages” and saying that plus having examples of the websites and client testimonials.
Having documentation also allows you to see the progress you make toward your goal. I’ve kept an online running log since 2007, so I have over 10 years of data to look back on. The documentation is also helpful for when I need an expert’s advice, which leads to my next point.
Get a coach
Remember decision fatigue from earlier? It will be much more taxing both mentally and physically if you’re having to teach yourself the basics AND research the best resources AND try to put it all into practice AND get feedback on how you’re doing.
I “coached” myself for about a year out of college. I use the word coached very loosely because I had no idea what I was doing. I mainly looked at my running log from college and would randomly pick workouts and do them. It was hard to know what paces to aim for, and I can remember the pressure of trying to decide what I was going to do the next morning before I went to bed.
I finally asked one of my teammates from college who was coaching if he would take me on, and he did. Not only did my decision fatigue decrease, but there’s also something really helpful about having someone else challenge you and believe in you. You get an extra bump from the external motivation because your coach isn’t going to purposely set you up to fail. If you have a hard workout assigned, you get the boost of confidence from knowing, “He thinks I can do this.”
Sometimes you need the kick in the butt form of external motivation as well. This story isn’t my own, it’s from a runner friend who posted it on Facebook. She went to see a PT who asked her if she had been doing her exercises and stretches and foam rolling. Her answer was some form of “not as much as I should.” His answer sticks with me today.
“Oh I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to be fast.”
It sounds really harsh, but it has motivated me countless times since I heard it. You see, running is the easy part of training. The hard parts of training are lifting weights, stretching, eating right, turning off Netflix to get 8+ hours of sleep, etc. If I’m ever lacking motivation, I sassily say to myself, “Oh, sorry, I thought you wanted to run under 18,” and that helps get me going.
Find a coach. Find someone (or a handful of people) who will be fitness trainers for your goals and career and who will give you the kick in the butt when you need it and who will celebrate with you when you meet your goal.
Be unapologetic about your goals.
I love this tweet. I have no idea who this guy is, but this tweet stood out enough in my memory for me to scroll through 2 years of my twitter page to find it. I ended up Googling him and found out he’s a baseball player, so the athlete analogies continue.
If you’re a highly-motivated doer, you already know you’re weird. People don’t always understand why you’re so driven or how you get so much done. Sometimes this inability to understand comes out as their own insecurity, so they make fun of you. To that I say, SHAKE OFF THE HATERS. Recognize their negative attention for what it really is – their defensiveness and insecurity about pursuing mediocrity.
I’m definitely not saying to go around having an elitist attitude toward everyone. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you’re pursing your goal for YOU and because YOU’RE interested in it. It doesn’t matter what other people think.
Don’t be a martyr.
Another way to be unapologetic about your goals is the more literal sense – don’t apologize. And definitely don’t be a martyr. I’ve been more careful about my language ever since someone pointed out to me that I say “I have to run” rather than “I’m going to run.” There’s a huge difference!
“Having” to do something implies an obligation that wasn’t made by you and is something out of your control. Using that language also allows you to play the martyr card. Instead of being unapologetic and unashamed of your goal, you treat it like a burden.
“Oh sorry – I can’t stay out. I have to get up at 6am to run.”
What you’re really saying is, “please give me sympathy for this choice that is 100% mine and I normally don’t complain about.”
Don’t be that person.
Get a community
You have likely heard that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and that your external environment shapes you. If you want to achieve a goal, especially a tough goal, you need to surround yourself with positive people who believe you can do it and, most importantly, who have goals of their own.
To use a phrase from the Bible, don’t be around those who are stumbling blocks to you, those who impede your progress or sabotage your work.
This is what is so great about the Praxis Community and why its members are “exhaustingly inspiring.” It is a group of 200+ people who are all talented and creating/doing/learning every day. No, they aren’t all supernatural geniuses who never succumb to resistance or doubt themselves, but they are definitely a biased sample size of humanity.
Find your tribe.
There is no Secret
This, like opportunity cost, is something that people often say they believe but don’t live like they believe it. I love illustrating this through a quote from the book Once a Runner. The backstory is that there’s an Olympic gold medalist in the 5000 who lives in town. Various people join his training group, but only on rare occasion does anyone stick with it for longer than a few weeks. They’re drawn to him because they want to know The Secret, as if they can pick up on it just from being around him.
What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.
The secret is there is no secret. There’s no magic pill to make you smarter, more athletic, or better looking. There’s no secret subject line that will make your video go viral. It’s about hard work. It’s about grinding. It’s about your commitment being so strong that you can’t be deterred by distractions or haters. It’s about aligning your incentives, your habits, and your schedule around your work so that a weird day or a lack of motivation is just a blip on the radar rather than a tidal wave that throws you off balance. It’s about doing all of the behind the scenes work that you don’t get any glory for.
It’s about doing at least one small thing to work toward your goal every.damn.day.
You’ve probably seen this picture of success before. Pursuing your goals might be relatively straightforward, or it might be a twisty-turny choose your own adventure novel. The important part is that you trust the decisions you make enough to commit to them and keep stepping forward.