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How to Make Progress

This article kicks off a 4-part series where I will be talking about the core values of my work here at Simple Prospering.

I work with many different types of service-based businesses, and have run a few myself, but no matter what the business does, these 4 values describe the kind of container I would love to see all businesses existing within; Because they are the values that make for healthy business ecosystems, and healthy humans who operate within those ecosystems.

So regardless of what it is you do in your work, these 4 values provide great compass points:

They are simple even if they are not always easy:

  1. Make progress. (It sounds silly I know, but that’s the topic of today’s article so I will have a chance to explain myself more soon…)

  2. Keep it simple.

  3. Businesses should be financially beneficial to those who run them and work within them (notice I didn’t say “to shareholders” which is one of the wonderful differentiators when working with small businesses)

  4. Businesses should be structured to provide humane work lives more often than not.

Onto value number 1: Make progress!

Duh, right? Yet “making progress” is the number one challenge for entrepreneurs. For the most part we are figuring out how to make this thing, aka our business, fly.

What I’ve seen happen is that instead of making progress- making a business that takes off- other things pretty predictably happen.

Things like the 3 P’s trap: Perfectionism leads to Procrastination which leads to Paralysis.

These happen in order usually. First, perfectionism creeps in. We hem and haw about making our offering perfect, our web copy perfect, our logo perfect, our… whatever… perfect. We might not even use that word, “perfect” to ourselves. We might use other words like “considered” “prepared” “ready” “in alignment”- but they’re all covers for perfectionism iff they are keeping you from moving forward at all.

While there certainly is such a thing as prematurely launching an offering (chutzpah alone does not make a business after all), in reality more often than not people keep waiting until they feel fully “ready” or until every single I is dotted and t is crossed.

But there is no such thing as ever feeling totally ready to start a new venture. And there is no such thing as everything being perfectly together upon launch.

If we follow that first P, perfectionism, sooner or later its close cousin procrastination shows up. Once we’ve chewed on how to make everything perfectly ready for long enough, our mind starts to fall like a soufflé that’s been checked on too many times in the oven. At this point we, usually unconsciously, reach for a distraction. Time to re-paint the house! Or organize the office! Anything is better than chewing on perfection any longer. It’s a relief from the burden of perfectionism to procrastinate.

Until… the dreaded final P enters: Paralysis. Paralysis is what it sounds like; Everything gets jammed up by overwhelm, indecision and distraction and we can’t seem to make any forward progress. This is often when people give up, or become overly self-critical telling themselves they are hopeless and that running their own business is a lost cause.

Instead, a different P word is needed (let’s stick with alliteration right?) Let’s talk Progress. Because when we are in perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis we are not willfully in those places. We are at the mercy of those places and don’t know how to get out.

While I’m not going to pretend that there is ever a simple recipe to keep anything in life humming along perfectly (if being human were only so simple right?) but there are some key features to making progress that might help you out the next time you feel in a bind.

Progress boils down to a growth mindset, being in action, and interest based curiosity. Let’s go through each in more detail so that it doesn’t sound like another “duh, if I could do that I would”

The term “growth mindset” comes from Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Carol Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and one of the world’s leading researchers on motivation and mindsets. Her work focuses on why people succeed and how it is possible to foster their success.

This is a rich body of work, but to nutshell briefly sum up the findings of growth mindset research, Dr. Dweck states:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

None of us is born knowing everything. All of us will stumble and screw things up. But if you assume that’s because you don’t have the innate talent or skills to succeed, you’ll give up. If you assume it’s because you still have more to learn and to try out and see how it goes, you will progress.

To put this to use for yourself, notice when something doesn’t go as you expected. You tried out a new offering in your business, you hired someone and it didn’t go how you thought it would, you invested time and money in a strategy that went nowhere…

First of all, you’re in good company! All of us on Team Entrepreneur have done that.

Second, notice if your thoughts are telling you a story about how this is because of some fundamental flaw in you: you’re not cut out for this, you’ll never succeed, you can’t do x, y, z like those other people seem to be able to. Which goes along with that innate talent fixed mindset point of view: they have it, I don’t.

If you catch those thoughts happening, just noticing the thoughts is already a potent speed bump to a fixed mindset. Then you can introduce growth mindset thoughts which are more curious: “What could I try next time? What can I learn from this unexpected outcome"? What might I need more support on?”

The growth mindset is really the root structure that any other “make progress” insights spring from.

To look at another branch on that tree, let’s talk about the difference between being in action, and being in motion.

This was super helpful to me, and continues to be, and it comes from James Clear. James Clear is the author of the bestselling book, Atomic Habits.

This is how he describes the difference between being in motion and being in action:

“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself. It doesn’t matter how many times you go talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get the result you’re looking to achieve.”

I don’t subscribe to making this a binary argument that only action matters (and based on what he is saying here, James Clear doesn’t either). Sometimes we do need to learn, plan, strategize, reflect. All that good motion-y stuff.

But it is interesting to note that motion doesn’t make the thing happen.

Planning my grocery list is important, but until I actually grocery shop and then cook the food: no dinner magically appears out of my grocery list. Debating the best form of fitness for me might lead me to discover new things I want to try, and that’s important, but until I go and do the thing, I am not moving my body and taking care of myself with movement.

In our businesses this can be shiny object syndrome: always seeking out the next best idea, without ever launching the current idea out there.

Or it can look like some of the perfectionism examples: tweaking our logo colors, pondering our newsletter delivery software options for 3 months…

In business, being in action looks like two things: making the sale, and delivering the offering that people bought.

James Clear goes on to look at the motivation of motion instead of action and says,

“If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we're making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that's the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.”

“You are trying to delay failure” is a little bit of tough love. But we can take it. It’s pretty valid for most of us.

To play with the difference between motion and action in your business (or in your life) when you are doing something, ask yourself if you are in motion or in action? If you determine you are in motion, not action, then ask if being in motion is what is needed. It might be! If you’re booking your times at the local pool for swimming laps, it is a step towards action provided you do actually go for that swim. That’s appropriate motion.

If you’re re-writing your sales page for the 20th time but still haven’t told anyone about the service you are offering, you’re probably in less-than-helpful motion, and could stand to be in action. In other words: push publish, push send.

The last thing I’d like to discuss that I think is helpful for getting out of ruts and making progress, is deprivation-curiosity versus interest-curiosity. I learned about this study in Judson A. Brewer’s book Unwinding Anxiety. In 2006, the psychologists Jordan Litman and Paul Silvia itemized two main “flavors” of curiosity, which they dubbed I-curiosity and D-curiosity.

The I in I-curiosity stands for interest, the pleasurable aspects of the hunger for knowledge, while the D in D-curiosity stands for deprivation, the idea that if we have a gap in information, we go into a restless, unpleasant, need-to-know state.

Some of the examples about D-curiosity are that familiar experience we have all had, when we are trying to remember something that is on the tip of our tongue. The “I know that actress, she was in that movie, what’s the one, I know the name, this is so irritating…” It has a closed feeling because we are searching for the missing thing.

The other way deprivation curiosity can present is through what Steve Hoskinson of Organic Intelligence refers to as “what’s wrong attention”. Unconsciously there is a habit running where the mind is always looking for what’s wrong.

I see this sometimes when people tell me that nothing they try or do will work. It becomes a mental doom loop of how everything will, eventually, fail.

I think most of us have had our challenging stretches where we are drawn to this kind of what’s wrong attention.

In the book Unwinding Anxiety, Dr. Brewer talks about a somatic tool to work with freeing this up. (Any of you who have followed my work for any period of time know I love a good somatic tool… )

Dr. Brewer writes,

“When they [people] got caught in a habit loop of worry or self-judgment, hmm could help them shift into third gear and step out of the loop. Instead of their minds spinning out of control and feeding more habitual self-judgment, they found that hmm could help them step back.”

So even if it feels goofy, wherever you are listening to this, try inviting I-curiosity, that open, childlike, “what might I find?” Interest based curiosity by saying this out loud, “Hmmmm I wonder” and then filling in the blank:

“Hmmm I wonder what approach might work?”

“Hmmm I wonder what support might be good?”

“Hmmm I wonder what action I could take sooner than later?”

Try it out and see!


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