Want to make a difference but feel overwhelmed? 5 tips to help you get started

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Sometimes following through on your vision can be hard. Don’t despair. (Photo via Thinglass on Shutterstock.)

You know the kind of difference you want to make in the world. But like many, you may find yourself stuck, asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

Too many people have wonderful ideas that they never put into action because they get overwhelmed at the beginning. Largely this happens because they let fear guide them instead of their inspiration.

The bad news: as human beings we give our fears life, and treat them as though they are real. This happens quite automatically. Fear is a survival mechanism that was created in the pre-historic age when human beings were at constant risk of being in fatal danger.

The good news: courage is not the absence of fear. It is looking it straight in the eye and acting anyway. Will you fail? Maybe. But it isn’t certain. How will you know if you don’t try?

So where do you start? Anywhere. Here are some recommendations to help you begin your journey:

1. Know your vision.

It is difficult to know how to get there if you don’t know where you are going. Create a vision and do it in a way that your brain will process it most powerfully: through pictures. Go through some magazines (or the Internet) and choose images that represent the vision: the people working with you, the community you will impact, the future for yourself. Hang your vision where you will see it every day. There will be days when you will want to give up and having this permanent reminder of your ‘why’ is crucial.

2. Tell people about it. 

Share your vision with anyone who will listen. Sharing your idea will keep you motivated as you get reconnected to your goals with each conversation. More importantly, you will be amazed by how much others want to support you in your endeavors and are willing to connect you to the right people.

3. Don’t do it alone.

The number one cause of  feeling overwhelmed is trying to do it all alone, and being overwhelmed creates fear. Hire a coach or join a meet-up for support. Ask people for help, seek out partnership, and build a team.

4. Fail.

Waiting for the ‘right time’ keeps you in perpetual procrastination. You will make mistakes. But this forces us to be creative, often landing us in better places. Welcome failure as an opportunity for growth.

5. Have fun.

When we are enjoying ourselves and have opportunities to play, we activate the parts in our brain that are the most creative and productive. So don’t forget to have a life that brings you joy.

Remember, fear is a natural part of our humanity. But in the end, YOU you have complete control over whether it stops you. The only way you truly fail, is if you quit.

Now go forth and be awesome!

IMG_7589rvsmwebStephanie Staidle, founder of The Right Brain Entrepreneur, is a professional development consultant and creativity specialist. She works with new and seasoned entrepreneurs as well as companies that are, by definition, very successful, but feel they are stuck at their current levels of performance. By tapping into the resources that are underused in many people, namely, ‘right brain thinking,’ she helps improve creative problem solving, innovation, communication and team building resulting in higher levels of performance, employee satisfaction and competitive advantage. Stephanie offers online and local workshops, corporate training, and individual coaching. Learn more about her services and sign up for her free newsletter here

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Made a mistake? Try looking at it as a work of art

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Mistakes are messy. But that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. (Photo via Peter van Broekhoven on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

We all make mistakes sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Most days I find myself uttering “I’m sorry” or “d’oh!” more than I like to admit.

It’s often these small failures that can send us into a spiraling hole of negativity and cause us to be paralyzed. Taking that next step toward action, then, becomes hard.

So I was relieved to read a recent Brainpickings blog post about philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, that encouraged me to look at mistakes in a different way:

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are…The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark.

We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

So next time you forget a part of your presentation to volunteers or get upset when your plan to attract donors doesn’t come out the way you thought it would, remember: You’re brilliant. And there’s always next time to make it better.

How have you embraced your mistakes and used them to help you take a step forward?

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The difference between not settling and not starting

Photo credit: Raywoo, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Raywoo, Shutterstock

Whenever we have an idea, it’s easy to wait for the perfect  moment to get started. You need to have enough time, the right environment, and the right resources to even begin taking action.

Unfortunately, there will never be a perfect time and your first attempt at something will likely not be perfect either. But instead of looking at challenges as setbacks, look at them as areas you need to refine as you move towards your goal.

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur, has these words of wisdom to share:

“Of course, the only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that’s where you are. For now.

There’s a big difference between not settling and not starting.”

So identify one small step you can take today on that idea that’s been brewing in your head and be OK with not being perfect.

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What to do when it’s time to walk away

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(Photo credit: Anson0618, via Shutterstock)

While we might know when a relationship, job, or project is over, that doesn’t always mean we’re ready to leave. Recently in the Atlantic, Heidi Grant Halvorson argues that the reason we hesitate to let go is that many of us tend to be prevention focused, or loss-averse. So, we fret over the amount of time, money, or energy we’ve put into something and refuse to walk away because we can’t bear the loss.

The better solution? She argues we should adopt a promotion-focused way of thinking by asking: what will I gain from moving on?

As studies by behavioral economists like Daniel Kahnemen and Dan Ariely show, people are generally loss-averse. Putting in a lot, only to end up with nothing to show for it, is just too awful for most of us to seriously consider. The problem is one of focus. We worry far too much about what we’ll lose if we just move on, instead of focusing on the costs of not moving on: more wasted time and effort, more unhappiness, and more missed opportunities.

Recent research by Northwestern University psychologists Daniel Molden and Chin Ming Hui demonstrates an effective way to be sure you are making the best decisions when things go awry: focus on what you have to gain by moving on, rather than what you have to lose. When people think about goals in terms of potential gain, that’s a “promotion focus,” which makes them more comfortable making mistakes and accepting losses. When people adopt a “prevention focus,” they think about goals in terms of what they could lose if they don’t succeed, so they become more sensitive to sunk costs. This is the focus people usually adopt, if unconsciously, when deciding whether or not to walk away. It usually tells us not to walk away, even when we should.

What do you think? Have you ever had to walk away from something that wasn’t working out? How did you know? And what made you make that move away?

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Lessons on being creative from highly creative people

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Photo credit: Leszek Glasner, Shutterstock

Fast Company recently highlighted its top 100 Creative People in Business, including Nate Silver, Scott Harrison, and actors Bryan Cranston and Connie Britton. (Also Michelle Rowley, who we recently featured on our blog.)

The site went one step further, teasing out five habits that several of these creative people discussed—and what we can learn from them. Here are a few that stood out to us:

Max Levchin: Always be asking questions

We talked to PayPal founder Max Levchin about how he keeps snagging startup ideas. Turns out it’s a lot about controlling chaos in ways we’ve discussed about why ideas come at random and why you need to document everything.

Levchin’s method is like this: He talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm–and loads of paper. Dude has a crate of 200 legal pads sitting in his garage.

Kendrick Lamar: Be an example

What’s it take to make what many consider the best rap album of the decade? Kendrick Lamar unpacked a bit of the origin of his miraculous good kid, m.A.A.d City: he grew up in Compton, the California city that cradled gangster rap and serves as his inspiration.

“There are so many thoughts of being scared of failure when you’re trying something there,” he said. “And that’s what holds a lot of people back–when you’re stuck in this position, when you’re constantly seeing negative things and you want to do something positive but you’re scared that it might not work. I believed I could make an example for those around me–once I did and I started seeing some type of results, it made me believe I could represent the whole city.”

Creativity plays an important role in changing the world, as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs must be creative in their funding and outreach, collaborate with others working toward the same goal, and work toward constant innovation when it comes to solving the world’s problems.

How do you harness your creativity when you’re bringing your ideas to life?

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What can world-changers learn from software developers?

This is the first of a three part series in which I’ll share some lessons drawn from the world of software development that can be applied to the social good sector. Part one is about recognizing obstacles to action for what they are.

I work on the web development team here at Idealist. My business card has the title of “Scrum Master,” which sounds equal parts terrifying and mystifying (in reality, it’s neither). One of my primary responsibilities is to remove obstacles for our web developers.

Scrum” is one of several popular software development methodologies collectively known by the umbrella term “Agile.” Agile processes seek to address some of the issues inherent to highly complex projects such as software development, by providing a set of shared values, engineering principles, and communication methods.

As I’ve learned more about these methodologies, I’ve discovered there are many applications to the work that members of the Idealist community are engaged in every day. After all, what’s a more complex project than eradicating poverty, ending homelessness, or convincing world leaders to cooperate on climate change?

A technique for recognizing obstacles

Every morning, we have a 15-minute meeting called “the daily scrum” where each developer makes a commitment for the day, and talks about their obstacles.

One technique we use is making a list of certain words that we think might indicate a hidden obstacle, like “try,” “maybe,” and “hopefully.”

We write them on a whiteboard. Whenever a developer uses one of those words during the daily meeting, we call it out. For example, a developer might say, “Today I’ll try to finish the new blog feature…,” and the rest of the team will challenge him to explain why he’s only going to try.

This isn’t some Yoda-esque motivation strategy (“Do or do not. There is no try.”). Rather, it’s an attempt to understand what is causing the hesitation. Typically there’s an underlying obstacle, like the developer isn’t familiar with the relevant part of the code. Once that’s been articulated, we can work as a team to solve it—perhaps by having him pair up with another developer who’s more experienced with that part of the codebase.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

Applications for world-changing work

Identifying your own obstacles, or your organization’s, is a key step in any plan to change the world. Here are some strategies:

1. Make it a regular practice.
In Scrum, we ask ourselves every day what our obstacles are, and what’s getting in the way. In your context, this may be a weekly ritual, or something that you do at a twice-annual staff retreat.

2. Learn to recognize symptoms of hidden obstacles.
In the world of web development, there are a few common signs of unspoken obstacles: a general lack of progress, having more work “in progress” than there are developers on the team, or releasing buggy code. In the world of social good, the signs might include: not hitting your fundraising targets regularly, skipping writing your annual report to stakeholders, or getting unsatisfactory feedback from clients. Recognize these symptoms for what they are: evidence of some underlying obstacles.

3. Make obstacles visible.
Some Scrum teams have an “Impediments board” where they list their obstacles to action on index cards. Cards get removed when the impediment is removed. By making the obstacles visible, everyone sees them and they tend to get resolved faster.

4. Prioritize obstacles.
Not all obstacles are created equal. For example, an obstacle that is preventing your organization from receiving donations might be more important than something that prevents your organization from getting a new logo in time for your summer campaign. Some Scrum teams limit the number of obstacles “in play” at any one time. This forces you to prioritize, and choose the most significant obstacles to focus on.

5. Share responsibility.
A good Scrum Master will facilitate the removal of obstacles by creating a culture of shared team responsibility. Similarly, an executive director or project manager might be ultimately responsible for removing obstacles within an organization, but by empowering the team, they will be resolved more quickly.

We’ve found paying special attention to identifying and removing obstacles has greatly improved our development work at Idealist. What do you think? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding and resolving obstacles in your organization or projects?

p.s. Stay tuned for the next part of the series, where I’ll share some ideas for how to “inspect and adapt” on your internal processes.

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Hack your intentions: Tips for getting things done

We’re big fans over here of Lifehacker, the ultimate site for helping you make movement on those ideas in your head. Here are some of our favorite recent posts:

Watch this


Read this

Have your own tips on getting things done? Let us know in the comments.

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Why being mediocre might help you change the world

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(Image via piccsy.com)

In James Altucher’s recent piece on The Rumpus about “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People,” he argues that mediocrity can be a good thing.

Yet nobody likes to think of themselves as average, myself included. The serial entrepreneur encourages us to think otherwise.

We can’t all be grand visionaries. We can’t all be Picassos. We want to make our business, make our art, sell it, make some money, raise a family, and try to be happy. My feeling, based on my own experience, is that aiming for grandiosity is the fastest route to failure. For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are 1000 Jack Zuckermans.

The Jack and Jackie Zuckermans of the world procrastinate, zero-task, fail, are unoriginal, don’t network a lot – all things that might seem counterintuitive, but can actually work to your advantage. Especially when that little nagging voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough to make your big ideas happen.

Here’s what Altucher would say to that: You are enough. What matters is your ability to be real.

Being mediocre doesn’t mean you won’t change the world. It means being honest with yourself and the people around you. And being honest at every level is really the most effective habit of all if you want to have massive success.

So let’s be honest for a moment, Idealist community. Which of these habits speak to you, and how have they helped you in your journey to make a difference? Any more you’d add?

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