Our eyes glaze over and we shrug, and go, “Yeah, I should really train for that.” And then we go back to whatever we were doing before. But that doesn’t stop the thought from nagging us at the backs of our minds.
IPPT is a bitch. I hate it because it’s a constant worry that’s always hanging over my head. It’s like a tiny little annoying dude sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Are you sure you wanna eat that huge plate of mee goreng? You only have like 4 months left to go before your IPPT window closes, and you’re still unfit!”
(To my international friends, IPPT is a physical training test that Singaporean males have to take – and pass – every year. Bleagh.).
“Harh? Liddat only ah?”
How many of us go through life with our proverbial IPPTs hanging over our heads?
It could be a book you’ve been meaning to read. Or a business you’ve always wanted to launch. Or an idea that you’re hoping to pitch to your boss. Or maybe all you want to do is get rid of that pile of frickin’ papers that’s been sitting on your desk since 2010.
These are tasks that are mildly challenging, maybe even unpleasant. But we know that we wanna get them done because they’ll improve our lives, make us proud, or simply give us peace of mind. And yet, we still find it insanely difficult to get off our butts to do them.
The funny thing is, when we actually do get started, we realize that it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. In Singlish terms, we’d complete a task and go, “harh? Liddat only ah?” And then we wonder why it took us so long to get started in the first place.
Why We Take So Long to Get Stuff Done
Tim Ferriss wrote in the 4-Hour Work Week about Parkinson’s Law, which dictates that
“a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allocated for its completion.”
It’s the power of the imminent deadline. If your boss gives you only 24 hours to finish a project, you have no choice but to focus only on the bare essentials. If you’re given 6 days, that’s one week of turning a mountain into a molehill. And if you’re given 6 months, that’s half a year of steering committees, subcommittees, proposals, approvals, before you rush to put everything together 3 days before the deadline.
The funny thing is, that bare-essentials prototype that takes 24 hours to produce would probably be 70-80% as good as the mental monster that takes a 6 months to compile.
When we procrastinate, the task expands. We play it up in our heads. We think about how difficult it is. We start to second-guess ourselves. We think that maybe we just can’t complete it after all. That maybe we’re just inherently weak.
It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.
Eliminate the Wait
If it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part, the obvious solution is to stop waiting altogether.
Schedule a time to do the first step of your task, even if you think that you’re going to fail.
Take my IPPT test, for example. I agonized for months convincing myself that I needed to train and prepare more. I tried attempting some half-hearted running and got discouraged because I was performing so far below my targeted standards.
It would have been better if I’d simply scheduled a test date and taken it, even if I knew I was going to fail. Since I can take an unlimited number of tests within a year without any penalties, there’s really no loss besides the inconvenience of waking up early on a Saturday morning.
Even if I failed, taking the test would have given me important feedback on how I would perform under test conditions. I’d be able to zoom into the specific areas which I needed to improve. More importantly, it would have stopped me from playing up my invisible fears in my head.
If you’re thinking of doing something, stop waiting. Start now. You might surprise yourself and succeed. At the very least, you’ll learn way more about what you need to do to accomplish it.
4 Steps You Can Take To Stop Waiting
Try this out:
- Think about one thing that you’ve always wanted to do (exercise, make a speech, talk to your boss about that promotion, learn to cook, read a book, start a business).
- If the stakes are small (eg exercise, learn to cook, read a book, take an IPPT test), then go straight to step 3. If the stakes are large (eg negotiate a salary raise, start a business), figure out how you can test your abilities with the shortest possible time and effort (eg practice the negotiation with your colleague, create a prototype and show it to 10 people).
- Give yourself a deadline and schedule it in Google Calendar. Cancel all other appointments that might clash with it.
- Actually go do it, even if you know you’ll suck. The point here isn’t whether you’ll succeed or fail. The point here is to simply get started and get feedback, which are the most important parts of doing any task.
How I Stopped Waiting And Reached My Goal
A couple of weeks ago, I was stuck. I set myself a goal to get a Silver in IPPT, but it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.
My running was still 40 seconds too slow. I was 2 pull-ups short of a B grade. And worst of all, I pulled a muscle while training for my standing broad jump. I was hobbling around like a grumpy old man with a gin and tonic.
Still, I said, “Heck it. I’ll schedule the test anyway.” As long as my muscles recovered, I’d take the test just to see how I’d do.
I took the test. And I aced it:
Most of us are a lot more capable than we give ourselves credit for. Do yourself a favor and stop waiting. You might just surprise yourself.
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