How to do what you want (but can’t)


Years ago, I was at a men’s store buying suits and got to talking with the sales person. He was very good at his job and I told him so. He thanked me and said that what he really wanted to do was be a writer. The problem is, he’s tried to write but can’t.

He’s got an idea for a novel, he’s got his characters, he’s worked out the story in his head, but when he sits down to write, nothing comes.

I made several suggestions, but he’s tried them all. No dice.

He’s tried dictating. He’s tried freewriting (writing whatever comes out without stopping to think or edit). He’s tried every technique for overcoming procrastination and writer’s block but nothing has worked. I got the feeling he was convinced that nothing will.

So he sells men’s clothing.

Today, I would probably say, “Well then, I guess you’re not a writer.”

Don’t hate on me. He needs some tough love. Fight back (and write) or admit that you are not a writer and go do something else. Living in the middle ground, “I want to, but can’t,” is hell. It will kill your soul and leave you, on your death bed, filled with regret.

Frankly, I think the guy needed therapy.

And yet, wanting but not doing is common. We all have things we want to do but don’t. We never start, because we don’t have the time. Or we start, but three weeks later, we’re off the wagon.

If you’ve ever started a diet, you know what I mean.

Want to know how to do what you want to do but can’t? Whatever it is–getting in shape, learning a new language, writing a book, or marketing your law practice, if you want to do it, but don’t, here’s my suggestion:

Do it today for two minutes.

Want to get in shape? Go walking for two minutes today.

Want to write? Get typing or scribbling and don’t stop for two minutes.

Want to bring in new clients? Take two minutes and send a “Hey, how are you these days?” email to someone you haven’t talked to in a long time.

It’s just two minutes. You can do two minutes.

Now you’re not going to write a book or get into shape in two minutes. But if you can do two minutes today, you can do two minutes tomorrow. Maybe in a couple of weeks you’ll be up to five minutes. Eventually, the thing you had trouble starting or sticking to will become a habit. What was once hard will be easy.

By starting small, you program your brain that writing or exercising or marketing isn’t hard. It’s something you can do. So you keep doing it.

Most people join the gym on January 1st and push themselves so hard and get so sore that by January 15th, they’re done. Don’t do that. Start small. Develop the habit.

I heard about a guy who has been going to the gym for ten years and is in fabulous shape. Like most people, he had trouble getting started. So, for the first three months, he went to the gym every day, sat on a bench and drank coffee. He said he wanted to develop the habit of going to the gym.

Start slowly. Do something every day. Eventually, you will become an unconscious competent (doing it without thinking about it) and your life will never be the same.