Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia. –Alexis Carrel (1873 ~ 1944)
Today’s article is in answer to an e-mail from Neale Higgins (not his real name). “I am a grateful member of Alcoholics Anonymous for nearly two years now. But I always saw myself as afraid of living life. I still do. I’m finding it hard to be confident, to change my life to what I know it can be. feel inferior and yet I know I have what it takes to succeed if only I could get off my tuff and do it.
“I’m nearly 60 and want to go to college. But I’m scared! I wonder if I’m smart enough and feel overwhelmed by the fear of failing again. I know that to conquer fear one must be willing to place one foot in front of the other and begin the journey. But what if your feet are frozen? What if you’ve been leading a guilt-ridden life for years? I know I was destined to help others – I feel it in my whole being – so why am I so afraid to help myself?”
Neale lacks confidence. Because of that he is afraid to act. As time passed, his inactivity became habitual. It is now a life pattern. He is now plagued by inertia, apathy, lethargy, and listlessness. He is overcome by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. He feels trapped, immobilized, and paralyzed. His plight is as common as the flu, and like the flu, we can recover from it. I’m sure most of us can relate to Neale’s difficulty because we all suffer from the same malady. The only difference among us is the extent to which this insidious affliction has a grip on our lives.
The first step in freeing ourselves from the mire of inertia is to be aware that all success and failure starts in our mind. It is not outside events, but our thoughts that block us. When we change our thoughts, our feelings change. When our feelings change, our behaviour changes. (This is because it is our emotions that cause us to act.) When we change our behaviour, the outcome, or our experience, changes. When our experiences change, our beliefs, attitude, and perspective change. When our beliefs and attitude change, WE change. And, finally, when we change, our world and the people in our lives change.
One of the thoughts Neale can change is his idea of failure. He says he is afraid to fail. But what is failure? There is no such thing. There is only LEARNING. When our actions result in success, we learn from that and keep repeating it. But when the results of our actions do not turn out as we would like them to, we do not FAIL, but LEARN what to avoid and change. Can you see that when we eliminate the idea of failure from our thoughts, we also eliminate the fear of failure?
Dorothea Brande (1893 ~ 1948) expresses her thoughts on the subject differently, and they are worth repeating: “All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right-about-face which turns us from failure towards success.” In fact, there is no need to act as if it were impossible to fail because as long as we are persistent, right action always leads to success. It IS impossible to fail. For example, if you start lifting weights every day, you will grow stronger. It is impossible not to. It is impossible to fail.
Perhaps by now you can see the solution to all of Neale’s problems is to take ACTION. Take lack of confidence, for example. We don’t acquire confidence by sitting still and waiting for it to appear. It doesn’t pop up out of nowhere just because we want it. Rather, it is a natural consequence of taking right action. For instance, something was troubling Neale. Instead of sulking in self-pity, he decided to do something about it. He took a small action step by writing to me. Much to his surprise and pleasure, he received an answer. His small action step led to the discovery that he can wrest control of his life. He discovered action leads to power, pleasure, and confidence.
The major hurdle he has to overcome is inertia. There, too, the solution is action. For example, if he wants to go to college, all he has to do is keep applying until he is accepted. Once accepted, all he has to do is keep studying until he graduates. It’s a simple plan. As long as one persists it’s impossible to fail. He took the first small step. Now all he has to do is continue taking small steps until he achieves his goals. He definitely has the power to do so. After all, he was once troubled by alcohol, but decided to join AA and ended up changing his life for the better. He can do it again.
We have an infinite capacity to change, grow, and learn. Don’t be discouraged if your life seems to be crumbling around you. Before a caterpillar becomes what it is meant to be, its cocoon or chrysalis enshrouded body slowly dissolves into a sticky ‘soup’ that eventually reshapes into a butterfly. The rubble and devastation that surrounds you are your sticky ‘soups.’ They are the very source of all you are meant to be. Knowing this, stop worrying about the future. Instead, create it. Create it by drilling through the rock of inertia. The drill’s bit is action. If you remain persistent, like Dr. Alexis Carrel (1873 ~ 1944), you will discover that “Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia.” What’s more, it doesn’t matter when we begin, for as it was written by George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans Cross, 1819 – 1880), “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”
And now for some caveats and suggestions. At times, the enormity of our goals may make us feel overwhelmed. At such a time, don’t ask yourself, “How will I ever achieve this goal?” Instead, ask, “How can I begin?” Don’t ask questions that inspire fear. Instead, ask questions that empower you, questions that lead to solutions. Although we cannot do everything at once, we can always do something. Do what you can and remain relentless.
Besides being persistent, you will also need to be patient. For before we can change you, we have to change your habits. No wonder you feel frozen in place, unable to act, for you are locked in the grip of the habit of inaction. It will take about ten days of willful action on your part before your bad habit will loosen its grip on you. It will take another ten days for your new habit and self-discipline to establish some roots. Finally, it will take another ten days for your new habit of positive action to become firmly entrenched in your life. Thirty days in all, so be persistent and patient.
Also, for more information on overcoming inertia, read my article Are You Stuck in a Rut… Stuck in a Rut… Stuck in a Rut?
For a must-read on developing self-confidence and self-reliance, see God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. God Help Those Who Don’t!