“I don’t have the time, is this even worth it?”
“I’m too tired, I just don’t feel like it.”
“I would, but I’m just not good enough.”
At some point or another, we’re all hit with an impasse. Nobody in the world, no matter how seemingly productive, is immune to fatigue, setback, and even apathy. And while everyone is inclined to feel “a bit lazy” every now and then, the determining factor between those who are successful and those who are not is the frequency in which they feel unwilling and how responsive they are to those tendencies. It’s important to recognize that while inability is mostly objective, binary, and easily perceived, unwillingness is mostly a voluntary behavior that develops over time and exposure to fatigue. But the proverbial roadblock and the proverbial fork in the road can often be blurred. What can sometimes be perceived as unable is really someone who is unwilling to figure out how to elucidate ability. There are several variables at play here, and while it may seem simple the difference between ability and willingness is often misconstrued and misperceived. In this article, I’d like to examine the two independently and discuss how the relationship can be optimized.
For the sake of this article, we will define the key terms as following:
Inability: Fundamentally lacking the required skillset, resources, or intellectual capacity to accomplish a certain task/endeavor.
Unwillingness: A perceived lack of intrinsic desire or ambition to accomplish task/endeavor.
Indecision: Knowingly reluctant to making clear and tangible decision.
Among the many variables, traits like genetic potential, early childhood exposure (predisposition), and environmental influences all model our behaviors, perspectives and abilities over time. Despite these variables being unique and complex, for the most part, the majority of us are on a pretty level playing field. Yes, there are obvious limitations, exceptions and disparities to this, but reasonably speaking we all have access to about the same resources, tools, and opportunities. In the most foundational sense, outcomes are determined by how you respond to the present situation you’re in with the tools and resources you have. Everything comes down to decisions; every decision you make at any given moment throughout the day begins to accumulate and form more concrete elements around you. Over time, these decisions also ultimately weave the fabric of the person you become and the beliefs and abilities you possess.
Which begs the question, why do some people flourish while others stagnate? How come some people make productivity and ability seem so effortless, while others scratch and claw to stay afloat? I suppose the rhetorical answer here is “a combination of multiple variables” or “it depends”. But sticking to the point of this article, I believe a central theme to all of this is our ability to identify and differentiate between inability and unwillingness. The more willing you are, the more able you become.
Like I said, everyone will be hit with their own setbacks, and we all have idiosyncratic behaviors that are disruptive to our growth and production. But the important distinction with this is to learn to separate the two and identify where you’re falling short. This requires being able to remain fully objective when performing any type of self-analysis. In order to be objective, you must be able to remain honest, and at times even hard on yourself. Let everyone else do the pandering for you, buying into your own bullshit is a fast-track for complacency and mediocrity.
There are three primary barriers to growth and development- information, resource, or physical/intellectual. Inability is obviously a very real thing, and everything imaginable has inherent upper limits, however, people are too quick to believe they’re lacking the ability to do something. What’s perceived as unable is really unwilling to learn it or figure it out. What separates you from where you are and where you want to be is how determined (or desperate) you are to get there. I see this as being outcome vs. process driven, in which someone who is outcome driven will filter all decisions through the lens of “does this get me closer to where I want to be”. Whereas process driven individuals will filter through “how disruptive or inconveniencing will this be for me along my way.” Becoming more outcome driven will minimize the tendencies to go into autopilot mode or seek out minimum effective effort syndrome.
Information and resource barriers are the two easiest ones to overcome in today’s world. Quite literally, if you have a WIFI connection it’s virtually endless as to how much you can research and find. Additionally, we can now connect directly with just about anyone across the globe. In my case, it’s being able to see and interact with strength coaches at the professional levels in real time to help influence my work. And in most cases, I have the eligibility to reach out directly to them to provide insight and direction. These facts alone make it very damming for anyone to fall back on the “I just don’t know how to” crowd. Information is very rarely a true barrier- it just requires your determination to find it.
With physical and intellectual barriers, the first question is to be sure the task or endeavor is meaningful to your development. Assuming that is not a factor, physical and intellectual barriers require that you identify where you are on the spectrum of development and how far you are from where you need or want to be. The most common detractor here is people being overwhelmed by the volume or duration of material that needs to be covered. This should never be a reason to shy away from something. Rather than perceiving this as a singular gross amount, see it in steps. Your goal is to break the contents up appropriately and simply focus on whatever the next step is. If you can get to the next step, you can get to the one after it. Momentum is a powerful tool when utilized correctly.
I’d venture to say that 80% of people’s limitations and shortcomings are attributed to this- they just aren’t willing to do what’s required for what they want. A mistake we’ve made with those who are unwilling is just writing them off as lazy or incompetent, but we really should examine the why beneath the unwilling. I believe we’ve made a similar fundamental mistake with expectations, by molding them around preventing letdown rather than coveting ambitious outcomes. The disconnect between self-ability and outcome expectation is the tendency to have an underestimated perception of self and an inflated view of how their life should be based. With this, people match their effort level to what their perceived ability is, which will always fall short of what they want out of life. People fall victim to this because of an overreliance on comfort, convincing themselves they’re satisfied with what they have because it’s more appealing than the possibilities of what’s unknown.
With apathy and defiance, we’re dealing with emotionally led behaviors, whereas lacking incentive or value speaks more to motivation and/or return on investment. Each of these has unique stipulations and should be managed accordingly. Drive, vigor, and ambition very much have a biochemical function, and when there’s disruption to the endocrine system a cascade of consequences can occur. But beyond that, these can also be rooted in sentimental or personal disruptions, such as a disparaged relationship, recent letdown or failure, poor environmental structure. When this is the case, the emotional management must become the priority and treated with delicacy and positive reinforcement. However, with outcome or incentive limitations, it then becomes a strategy of logic and reason. The questions to ask here are more along the lines of “does this feed into a bigger goal or position for me?” Or “is there an alternate route that gets me to the same destination?”. It’s ok to be temperamental, just as there’s nothing wrong with calling an audible. You just have to understand the disruptions and setbacks that may arise from being emotionally receptive to your situation.
The worst decision anyone can make is no decision at all. While indifference is applicable in certain ways, when it comes to materializing your career and personal development, you need to have a clear idea of what’s ahead. The more time spent weighing options and deviating from what you covet the less time you’ll have to feed what matters. A crucial underlying detriment to indecision is that it creates a stagnant environment. When you don’t have a change in scenery, you don’t have an impetus for change. This also applies to other life constants (i.e., who you interact with, what you read/watch, etc.). But moreover, no change in environment will mean no change in expectation or outcome as a result. This is ultimately the recipe for “getting comfortable being comfortable.”
You’re 9/10 times better off making the wrong decision than none at all. The primary reason being failure is our strongest catalyst for learning, and don’t take it from me, listen to a true expert on that- Andrew Huberman. Nevertheless, we often inflate the consequence of “being wrong” or failure, while ignoring the tool it can be utilized for. Understand that mistakes are simply a part of the process for everyone, and your goal is to just make less of the same mistakes as you grow. Indecision will paralyze you, and it can be the precursor to blurring the lines between unable and unwilling. When in doubt, just shut up and go.