Doing Something Is Better Than Doing Nothing

Posted on Sat 20 November 2021 in Life • 3 min read

Research Before Commitment

I like to do research before I commit to things. Before buying something that I don't normally buy, I usually try to read reviews about brands, types, options, and stores. The modern internet makes this research abundant. I also typically do this kind of research before jumping in to new hobbies or routines, just to see if there's something I need to know before getting started. However, something I've learned about myself is that this research can cause me to not actually start or buy the original thing I was interested in.

This analysis paralysis seems to be fairly common, but I don't like it. The end result is typically that my endless reading about a topic turns into the death of my interest in that topic. This isn't 100% true, but in looking at the things that have escaped this cycle of "read and only read", I enjoy those things and have gotten decently good at them. Thus, the best thing for me to do is to read about the basics of the topic, get a few initial ideas, then just pick something and start doing.

Waiting Longer Raises Expectations

Part of my trouble with waiting too long before committing is that my expectations get higher. For example, I haven't been writing in this blog, even though I have a giant list of topics I'd like to write about. Every time I think about how I should write something, I tell myself that it needs to meet a high expectation just in case someone reads it. By waiting another week, I get into a cycle of saying that now it's got to be even better since it's been so long since I've written. This leads to worrying about how it'll likely take me a few hours to write something good, so I have to block off that time, which just doesn't happen.

In reading about how to break this cycle, I came across two things that helped. First, I started reading "How To Do Things" by David Cain. There's a lot of good stuff in such a short book. The main takeaway that broke my mental block was a section about how 25 minutes is enough time to complete a task. This shorter time period is much less daunting than thinking I'd have to sit down for multiple hours just to do something.

The second thing that helped with actually writing was a post by Sasha Chapin titled "Write Faster". The main point I got from this article was to just sit down and write as fast as you can, without trying to overthink it. I'm doing it right now, and it's incredible how I'm actually getting words on the page instead of staring at the void of a blank screen. There was another post titled "If You Have Writer's Block, Maybe You Should Stop Lying", which also helped me realize that I needed to just write what I thought rather than what I thought other people wanted. Maybe no one will care or like what I'm writing, but in a way that's very freeing.

The Optimal Choice Is Suboptimal

Something I've been pondering recently about my analysis paralysis is about choosing the optimal thing. I'm starting to realize that it's a myth. Trying to find the optimal choice or action is sub-optimal, because you're not actually doing anything while you're looking for the optimal thing. The most optimal thing right now is to do anything rather than nothing, even thought it's likely not the optimal thing.

As a concrete example, I often want to try to find the optimal workout routine for myself. I could spend a lifetime reading exclusively about workout routines and never actually find which one is optimal, because part of what is optimal is consistently doing something to improve my fitness. Then, adapting what I'm currently doing based on what I read and what I experience will lead to a better choice, but there really isn't such a thing as optimal.

Doing Nothing Is Easy

Doing nothing is way too easy for me. I'm working on doing something, rather than nothing. It's a constant battle to be OK with something that is "good enough", since I enjoy optimizing and refining. I need to keep telling myself that you can't refine nothing, so you have to have something to refine in order to optimize it.