“A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” -Thomas Merton, no man is an island, p.127
My profession is guilty of adding to the problem. We continue to propagate the notion that we need to somehow figure out our lives before we act. Otherwise, God forbid, we act rashly without much thought.
Certainly, some major events in life, like making a decision to getting married, making a huge financial investment, moving to a new country and the like, requires some forethought. But for the majority, we want to stray away from “Analysis-Paralysis”, that is, thinking so much about something that we become crippled by the fear of making a wrong decision or failing. Others might argue that we should at least “think” about it before we act on a decision. I agree on this point. But after working closely with people for some time in therapy, I realise that the problem in life are often not because people don’t consider the pros-and-cons before they act, but rather people slip into the pit-holes of one of the following:
1. Analysis-Paralysis, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety;
2. Catastrophising (i.e., projecting the worst about future outcomes), leading to symptoms of anxiety;
3. Self-blame (for past mistakes), leading to symptoms of depression.
The great improv teacher, Keith Johnstone quipped that there’s no such thing as a mistake. What he meant by this is that what you do on the improv stage (or in life) is not the issue, it is how you response to what you (or others) do that counts. One of life’s great cripplers is to fear making mistakes. To be free from this self-imprisonment, we need to embrace that as imperfect beings, we make mistakes. Then we must follow-through and ask ourselves, not “what in the world’s wrong we me?” but rather “what can I learn from this experience?”
Some times we might not even have something that we are passionate about. We lead a life thinking that we are deficit compared to others who have something that they are so interested in. As author and blogger Cal Newport who wrote extensively on this topic would attest, the “Folllow Your Passion” hypothesis can be paralyzing and even wrong. Mike Rowe makes a great practical point in this article regarding our obsession with finding the “right” career (Find a Job, Not a Career).
Some of life’s best building blocks for learnings are from our lived experiences. In order to reap from this, we need to cultivate a sense of reflection. Taking time to reflect on the week’s events, giving thanks to what we are grateful for, and examining what has happened in the week, asking ourselves, “what can I learn from this?”
So here’s the suggested order to consider:
1. Act (Do something);
Be wary when we get the order reversed, because this is likely going to get you start at the
Live your life like it’s your own social experiment. Act in order to know; we can only reflect upon the things that we have done. Knowing before action is great in the realm of philosophy, but we are here on this earth to dip and dive into the pool of life – not just think about doing it, but actually swim in it.
The theorists can only build his theories about what the practitioner was doing yesterday. Tomorrow the practitioner will be doing something different because of these theories. -Bateson, 1951/68, p.272, as cited from Keeney, Aesthetics of change, p. 23