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Getting Out of Your Own Way

What he had taught me was…that if I let myself go, did not slow myself down by thinking so much beforehand, I could achieve many things I would never have dreamed possible.

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

Recently, a successful CEO client told me, “I’m not good at decisions. I get caught up in possibilities.” Later that day, I ran across the above quote in Petterson’s remarkable novel, and I thought, “How often do we make ourselves our own biggest obstacle?”

Petterson’s character is talking about learning as a boy to become reckless, but his learning equally applies to becoming creative, decisive, empathetic, more communicative, a better listener – all the skills related to Leadership.

Those of us predisposed to relating to the world cognitively learn at an early age to get results by analysis. Trying to guess what the teacher wants us to say. Trying to figure out what the popular kids are doing. Trying to figure out the mechanics of Ted William’s swing.

I remember my little league coach who, after watching me strike out about a thousand times in a row, suggested that when I next take my stance at the plate, I notice the smell of the grass and hot dogs. While I sniffed, I forgot to think about Ted. Crack! My first hit.

Do you think Ted thought about how to hold his bat? Does Kobe pause to consider when to pull up and shoot? Did Picasso agonize over his brush technique? Probably when they were young. But at some point, they learned to set knowledge aside and trust their instincts.

When approaching a major decision, it is useful to generate options and analyze them. But at some point, it’s time to move into action. If “the best” option isn’t obvious, it might be because there isn’t one. Just choose. Act. Learn. You can always adjust later. But for heaven’s sake, get out of the way!

Cognitive understanding is a powerful tool, and many of us need to use it in the early stages of learning. But at some point, we must put it down and just do. Get out of our own way. Let ourselves achieve beyond our dreams.


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