All of us try to predict the future. What customers will want. What competitors will do. Whether an investment will pay off. How something we consider doing -- how just about everything we consider doing -- will turn out.
So we analyze. We evaluate. We play out scenarios. We think and ponder and dwell.
And oftentimes don't actually do anything.
Because no matter how hard you try, there's no way to truly know what will happen. So how can you stop overthinking, and start doing?
According to Malcolm Gladwell, the key is to stop seeing uncertainty as the problem, and to start seeing uncertainty as the solution.
And to repeat these three words:
"Hamlet was wrong."
When Cathy Heller, the host of the podcast Don't Keep Your Day Job, asked Gladwell for tips on how to stop dwelling and start doing, Gladwell referred to the approach taken by renowned economist Albert Hirschmann.
According to Hirschmann, not knowing the future shouldn't hold you back. Not knowing the future should free you. Since it's impossible to know how things will work out, why worry? Why hesitate? Take a shot. Take a chance. Do what you think makes sense.
While you can't know how things will turn out, what you can know is that doing something meaningful and fun will in itself be worth the effort.
What you can know is that the process of pursuing whatever it is you want to pursue -- if it's a goal you choose, desire, and believe in -- is worth it, no matter what the result.
Hirschmann called it the "Hamlet was wrong approach." Hamlet was a classic overthinker: He analyzed, he evaluated, he pondered and dwelled and agonized ... and made his life miserable.
As Gladwell said, "This belief we have that the future is knowable is crazy. People need to have the freedom to take more chances."
Even better, you need to feel free to take more chances.
Because you can't know.
Ever heard someone say, "If I knew I would get promoted, then I would work harder"? Or "If I knew our customers would pay more, then we would do more"? Or "If I knew there would be a big payoff, I would sacrifice more"?
Successful people work harder first; that's how they earn promotions. Successful businesses deliver greater value first; that's how they earn higher revenue. Successful entrepreneurs work harder first, well before any potential return is in sight; that's how they earn bigger payoffs.
Most people expect to know they will get a return before they will even consider working harder.
Successful people see compensation as the reward for exceptional effort, not the driver.
You can't know the future.
So don't try.
Bet on yourself. Do what you think makes sense today. Do what you feel is right today.
While you can never be certain your hard work will pay off, you can be certain that thinking instead of doing will never pay off.