What would you love to do that you’re not doing yet?

One of my clients, Melanie, wanted to wanted to inspire her colleagues by sharing her approach to teaching students to write. But, she asked herself, what if someone asks a question I can’t answer? Or what if the projector fails and I have to stop in the middle? Her worry made it hard for her to get motivated to prepare her talk.

Another client, Jackson, wanted to ace a calculus class. But he wondered, "What if I put in all that time studying and I end up with a D? What if I find out that I’m not as good at this as I thought I was?" He found himself unmotivated to study.

Or maybe, like Tyler, you just want to apologize for some angry words, but you’re worried your partner will get angry all over again.

The thing is, once you step outside of your comfort zone, you move into the territory of emotional risk. After all, you don’t know how to do it yet. You’re experimenting.

What the pros know

Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone you probably know that more often than not, experiments fail. That’s the nature of experiments.

The first time Melanie tried to speak in front of a group, her mind went blank and she forgot her lines. Jackson got a C- on his first quiz. Sometimes people don’t believe your most sincere apologies, at least at first.

Professionals don’t worry about this because they know that most of the time, success is built on dozens, sometimes thousands, of failures. Thomas Edison got it wrong some 10,000 times before he created a working light bulb, and some of his inventions never made it public at all.

The problem isn’t that your experiment might not work. The problem is about how you handle it.

A simple way reduce emotional risk

We know that willpower isn’t reliable, so sucking it up and powering through isn’t the answer.

Here’s a better way to reduce emotional risk. It’s an easy, two-step process:

1. Ask yourself, “What could go wrong.”

2. Make a plan.

For Melanie, it looked like this.

1. Someone might ask a question I can’t answer.

2. If someone asks a question I can’t answer I’ll say, “I can’t answer that at the moment, but if you’ll send me an email I’ll get back to you.”

Jackson’s planning was more proactive:

1. What if I study a lot and end up with a D?

2. I’m going to spend 30 minutes a day for the next 5 days working on the the trickiest homework problems I can find. If I really put in the time, I’m going to pass the test.

The same kind of planning can be used for relationship risks. Here is Tyler’s plan:

1. What if I try to apologize and my girlfriend just gets mad at me?

2. I can't affect what she thinks. If she gets mad, I’ll stay calm and let her know that I really mean it, then end the conversation. I trust that she'll see my sincerity through my actions.

Now, what would you love to do that you’re not doing yet? Write it here: ______________________.

How to shift your thinking...

First, list your biggest fear:

1. What if: __________________________________________________________________.

2. If that happens, then I will: ___________________________________________________.

Sometimes this kind of what-if planning is enough to change the outcome. Jackson’s extra study time, for example, gave him an "A" on his next quiz.

At other times, what-if planning changes the way you feel so that you can at least get started. Melanie’s projector worked perfectly, and one person asked an unanswerable question, but "what-if" planning helped Melanie feel confident as she put together the presentation.

The riskiest part of trying something new is not knowing what to expect. "What-if" planning changes this by identifying potential problems in advance, and creating a go-to, automatic response.

What this means for you and your most important goals is that you don’t have to wait to make everything perfect to get started. You don’t need heaps of motivation, willpower, or the ability to sort out every last detail. All you need is a “what if” plan… and you’re good to go!

This is the 3rd article in a series of 3 on motivation. In the first article, we looked at why forcing yourself never works (and what does). In the second article we looked at a simple way to assess (and increase) your motivation.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Pat LaDouceur is a Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor with a private practice in Albany, California. With over 20 years of experience in counseling, clinical supervision, and teaching Pat helps people create stronger and more fulfilling relationships. She has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She uses proven, research-based approaches in her practice.