From Hesitation to Investigation

August 29th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

Ideas are always floating around, and it’s no big deal if you get a one-time idea and let it pass because you have some doubts about it. But if you keep pondering the same or similar ideas repeatedly, then take note of them.

Acknowledge Recurring Ideas

I find it helpful to verbally acknowledge when an idea keeps popping up, even if I don’t feel ready to act on it — and even if I’m not sure I ever will act on it. I still feel it’s a significant step forward to give those ideas a nod, as if I’m saying to the universe, “Okay, I hear you. I don’t know what, if anything, I’ll do about this yet, but I hear and acknowledge this idea.”

This may seem like an overly simplistic step, maybe even a pointless thing to do. But for me it’s an important and empowering step to elevate some ideas to the level of conscious awareness.

When you consciously acknowledge an idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to act on it, but it’s a good first step towards making sense of the idea and preparing yourself to make a real decision. It’s also easy since it only takes a few seconds to verbally acknowledge an idea. If you prefer, you can acknowledge an idea by writing it down or by sharing it with someone too.

Which potential actions do you keep thinking about from time to time? Can you name one or two of those ideas now? Can you consciously acknowledge what’s arising for you, even if it’s very underdeveloped?

Maybe you feel certain it’s a really bad idea, but go ahead and consciously acknowledge it anyway. If it keeps coming up, perhaps there’s a good reason. Acknowledging an idea doesn’t commit you to act on it.

Many times when I acknowledge an idea, it fizzles and never comes up again. It was just information, and I didn’t need to act on it. This routinely happens every week.

People who frequently hang out with me in person can attest that I come up with crazy ideas all the time. I never act on most of them, but I like sharing them anyway — first, because it’s fun to scare people, and second, because I’m able to let go of an idea more easily once I’ve verbally acknowledged it. Then I can move on to something even scarier. ;)

Sometimes after I acknowledge an idea, it continues to make its presence known. Every few days, weeks, or months, the idea comes up again. Sometimes it arises in different packages, but I can see that it’s essentially the same core idea each time.

For instance, you may have an idea to start a certain type of business. You acknowledge it, and for a while it fizzles. But a few weeks later, you get another idea to start a different type of business. This may seem like a new idea, but recognize that the core element is essentially the same — to start your own business.

Make a Starter Decision

When an idea keeps coming up for you, even after you’ve consciously acknowledged its presence, it can have a variety of emotional effects on you. Sometimes you may find it motivating, other times confusing, and other times annoying or distracting or even stressful to think about. If you don’t move the idea forward, these patterns can keep cycling. The same idea will keep visiting you until you take the next step to process it.

To move the idea forward another step, make a starter decision. This doesn’t need to be a final committed decision to act on the idea. It’s just a commitment to do something with the decision to take it beyond the idea stage, to move it forward in some small way.

A good way to make a starter decision is to set aside some time in your schedule to explore the idea more thoroughly. For many new ideas, you may not have enough information to make a real decision either way, but you can commit yourself to further exploration.

Do you need to research the idea? Ponder the consequences? Journal about it? Talk it over with someone? Hang out with people who are already doing something similar? Test it in some fashion to see if you like it?

Make a starter decision to take those first investigative steps.

If you don’t make a starter decision, the idea may fade, but it could just as easily keep recurring, in which case it becomes an ongoing distraction. If you avoid moving these ideas forward, then many of your mental patterns will become cyclical — you’ll keep dwelling on the same thoughts you had a month ago. This is a mental dead end, so don’t get stuck here. Move those thoughts forward with decent starter decisions.

Once you investigate your idea a little more thoroughly, you may decide to keep moving it forward, or you may realize it’s not such a great idea after all and drop it. Either outcome is beneficial since you’ve freed your mind to release the idea, either through action or conscious dismissal.

If you do a summary investigation and reject the idea, but it still keeps popping into your mind, then some part of you still thinks it’s reasonable. That part of you doesn’t agree with your initial conclusions; it thinks you’re overlooking something important. In such cases I recommend that you commit to another round of investigation. Ultimately you may need to go through many more rounds before a real decision sticks, just as a startup company might go through multiple rounds of fundraising. Maybe there are hidden merits to the idea that your emotional brain is picking up, but your logical brain isn’t quite seeing. In many cases your emotional brain will be correct — it may be more primitive, but it’s also been refined over a much longer evolutionary period than your logical brain.

Some ideas may give you a twinge of fear when you think about them, like potentially quitting your job to start a new business, transitioning out of a long-term relationship, or adopting a major lifestyle change. Simply investigating these possibilities will often reduce or eliminate the fear. For more on this, see Education Kills Fear.

A single starter decision can get you moving down a delightful new path. It’s not just the initial decision you’re facing. Consider that this one baby step may unlock an exciting chain of future events.

For years I had the recurring thought that I should get into public speaking, but I kept pushing it aside. I was a game developer, not a speaker. When I finally volunteered to speak at some tech conferences, I found that I enjoyed it very much. It was thrilling and rewarding to share ideas with groups of people that could benefit from them. That baby step sparked a long chain of events that led to our 3-day Conscious Growth Workshops. Now there are 4 different workshops available, so this path is still unfolding. But if I hadn’t made that starter decision to try out public speaking, I might still be regarding that original idea as a cyclical distraction… along with other ideas like “this marriage isn’t really working,” “you should travel a lot more,” and “maybe you ought to look into this WordPress thing.” ;)


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