‘The first pancake is lumpy’ – they say in Russia when something doesn’t work out the first time. The expression is associated with a household situation: when the pan is not hot enough, the first pancake may flip over badly and turn into a lump.
The British equivalent of this proverb is: ‘You must spoil before you spin well’. The meaning is the same as that of the Russian but associated with the spinning of wool. The ancestors understood that the process of acquiring spinning skills meant making many mistakes before mastery was attained.
What is the nature of fears?
There are several similar sayings such as ‘the first try is not always lucky,’ ‘better luck next time,’ ‘the first attempt doesn’t count,’ etc. The main message is don’t be afraid to make mistakes when working on something new, as this is part of the learning process. It is quite clear that the basic principle of these dictums applies to most types of human activity then and now.
This is mainly why it is always difficult to start something new in our life. We don’t want to lose. We are afraid of failure. But why? What is the nature of these fears?
The amygdala is to blame. It may be best known as the part of the brain that governs the so-called fight-or-flight response (or-freeze, as some may add). The amygdala is very conservative and doesn’t like changes, which has helped our ancestors survive in the past.
There are no more wild predators around, but this area of the brain remains, and as soon as we start some changes in our lives, even if it is something pleasant, our brain immediately turns on the protection mode, sending a signal to the amygdala.
This ‘creature’ – the amygdala, in turn, creates fear and resistance and blocks the front of the brain, preventing us from acting intelligently. For the amygdala, any change means danger. That’s why it is so difficult to start doing something, even if you are sure that it will be useful for you.
Art of small steps
But it turns out that when we move towards the desired change in small steps we can pass by the amygdala, leave it asleep and find ourselves in the front part of the brain, in which the decision-making process takes place.
The art of small steps was first described by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry back in 1943. He was famous for his book ‘The Little Prince’, which, by the way, I tried to read several times, longing for understanding why it fascinated readers so much, but I failed.
Only in my 30s, I started to get into it. I began to believe that small but regular steps can get me where I want to go. In other words, I realised that the power of BIG changes lies not in titanic efforts, but in slow forward movements. I was fascinated by its simplicity.
Since I started practising this approach, I’ve become a big fan of it. I used this small step method (and still use it) every time I don’t want to do something. For example, when I don’t want to do morning exercises, I persuade myself to do at least one or two exercises from the whole complex. As soon as I start, then somehow, I don’t notice how I get to the end of the whole set of exercises.
Thus, if there is something that you have wanted to start for a long time, but it is intimidating in its scale, think what is the smallest thing that you can start doing. The secret lies in finding the smallest action so that it doesn’t ‘wake up’ the amygdala with unexpected changes. If that sounds naïve, just try it because you have nothing to lose, right?
Inspiration vs Resistance
However, when we talk about something more substantial, like a new project, a new job, a new business, we are afraid not only to start but also afraid to fail. This fear is more significant because the stakes are higher.
If you’ve ever started a new project, you’ve probably guessed what this is about. Any new project is a subject of two forces.
The first is Inspiration – the desire to express oneself, the appetite to create. Inspiration is the power of potential and pure opportunity, and this is what gives us the courage to proceed even when things get tough. The ancient Greeks called it Muse, someone may call it God, but all the greatest masterpieces, all inventions, everything that touches us and remains in our memory, is born first as inspiration.
Unfortunately, any action has a counter-force – Resistance. If inspiration is the force that drives us forward, then resistance is just the opposite. This is what holds us in place, causing fear and insecurity. It convinces us that we are not ready and must wait. Rubs his hands when we decide to watch another episode on Netflix, instead of starting, for example, writing a book that has long wanted to write.
In other words, resistance is a land of unlived lives and unfulfilled desires, on whose hills are scattered unlearned languages and unperformed dances, hobbies left halfway through, and musical instruments covered in dust.
‘Just do it’ approach
The question is how to deal with it. The answer, as usual, is ridiculously simple – Just do it. I know this is easy to say, but difficult to do. However, the earlier you start trying the faster you will find or achieve what you are longing for. In other words, a rolling stone gathers no moss.
Obviously, it’s impossible to wake up one day and write a bestseller (well, I believe it might happen, but this is more likely the exception than the rule). You need time for trial and error. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your experience is, what happens in your life, nothing counts when you start something completely new. It is almost impossible to avoid failures in the initial phase. However, the more you practice, the better you become.
In my experience, I’ve put off launching my website for quite some time. I was afraid that no one would read what I was about to write, or people would judge me, especially those who know me. I thought what if I try and fail? I’d rather flatter myself that I can do it than try to actually do it and fail.
It’s doubly difficult for perfectionists like me to start something because everything we do must be flawless. If the perfectionist has concerns that what he is doing may not be perfect, then it is better not to do it at all. To a greater extent, it is for this reason that I postponed the launch of my project several times.
However, the bottom line is that you will never feel at ease until you overcome your fear and begin to move towards realising your desire. Otherwise, the feeling that something is wrong in your life will torment you from the inside. You will feel all the time that something is missing.
Some people try to fill this void with shopping, food, entertainment, travel, etc. I’ve tried it too and can confidently say that none of this works. No matter what I tried to drown out the emptiness, my inner Artist was not satisfied, it was waiting for action.
Eventually, I did it – I launched the project, and I’m very happy about it. Although I know that it is not ideal now, thereby confirming the saying ‘the first pancake is lumpy’, but the more I do, the more experienced I feel.
So, my point is if you are thinking of starting something or not, don’t waste your time, throw away all fears, don’t think if you should try or not, just take the first step instead. Don’t be afraid that you will not succeed, be afraid that you will not try!
Because at the end of the day, when you do what is important to you, you experience uplift, joy, a feeling that you have not lived this day in vain. This is a magical sensation and cannot be bought for any money. It needs to be earned through work, overcoming fear and getting down to work.
Finally, I don’t want to think that my project will fail, but even if it does, I’m happy that I tried because I believe that ‘better fail and know you’ve tried than to regret knowing you’ve never tried at all.’