Let's imagine that I bring you to a room and there's a long, wooden plank inside. The plank is about 50 feet long and one foot wide (about 15 meters in length by 0.3 meters in width). I take the plank and lay it flat on the floor, with you standing at one end of the plank. Then I ask you to walk on the plank from one end to the other. Your reaction will most likely be "Sure, not a problem.", and you immediately walk the length of the board on the floor.
When you're finished, I ask you to come to the roof of the building we're in and to take the wooden plank with us. Together, we climb a few flights of stairs and go outside. Once we're in the roof, you notice the building you're in is right next to an equally-tall building. The buildings are 100 feet tall (30 meters), and they're about 50 feet separated from each other.
I take the plank, hoist it in the air, and drop it in a way that the other end of the board lands on the other building, creating a makeshift bridge between both structures. Now I ask you again to walk on the plank from where you are to the other side. This time, you'll probably have the same reaction as most people would: "Are you out of your mind? I can never do that!
The board is exactly the same board that you effortlessly walked across without a single thought just a few minutes ago. You didn't have any issues walking across the board. Why, all of a sudden, can't you do the exact same thing again?
Fear: Same situation, different reality
The above scenario was introduced by psychologist and author Neil Fiore in his book The Now Habit. Dr. Fiore describes the experiment as part of helping his patients identify when fear is preventing them from rational thoughts and behavior. The trial served as a visual aid to help others see how changing an easy scenario can make it much more complicated than intended.
You might be thinking that the situations cannot be compared because there's a difference between having the plank on the floor and high up in the air. However, the task that needs to be accomplished - walking across a wooden board from one end to the next - is precisely the same as before. The circumstances around it might have changed, but the task at hand hasn't.
For many, that's the same problem that happens when they don't accomplish their goals. Many people envision that the path to their dreams is across that plank when it's 100, 500, or 1000 feet in the air, instead of on the ground. When you begin thinking that you have to cross from one place to another with no nets, no harness, or no other form of protection, you get entirely paralyzed. Your brain immediately begins to think that there's no way that you can ever accomplish that goal.
The "plank in the air" mindset won't take you anywhere
When the brain begins to think that it's impossible to do something, guess what? It finds ways to make it impossible. Suddenly you have a load of responsibilities that weren't there before. You start to remember other tasks that you needed to do. You think that your family and friends are being neglected, so you have to spend more time on them and no time on the things you need to do.
During this time, procrastination kicks in in a big way. You'll find a million other things to do. The fear of failure will become stronger and stronger because you'll begin to believe that failure will mean the end of it all. Just like if you really were on a small wooden board hundreds of feet in the air where failure can mean literal death, thinking that you have to cross a metaphorical plank can kill your dreams before you even begin.
This mindset can affect many common goals that people have. Lots of people think that to lose weight, they will have to go on heavy-duty diets and go workout at the gym every single day for a few hours and work out for a few hours. Or if someone wants to try a new hobby, they have to jump right in and immediately begin to produce excellent results on a daily basis.
These are prime examples of "plank in the air" thinking. Right from the beginning, there's immediate fear that if you slip up, you're done and won't be able to recover. The fear of failing will prevent you from taking any action, and this is where dreams fizzle out and die - sometimes before you even begin.
Keep the plank on the ground and move freely
If you don't want to cross the plank when it's high up in the air, then the logical solution is to try to bring that plank down to what you consider a safer distance. The same is true with goals that seem difficult or near-impossible to accomplish. Instead of thinking about how tough it seems to reach the end of your goals, begin coming up with ideas on how to make things simpler to accomplish. Take that plank from the air and bring it to the ground.
Here are some of the most commonplace "plank in the air" mindsets when it comes to working towards an object, and how to combat that thinking:
- Plank in the air: "I have to do too many things to reach my goals.
- Plank on the ground: Take one small step towards your goals, then repeat by taking another small step.
- Plank in the air: "I'm not prepared to work towards my goals."
- Plank on the ground: Learn just what you need to get started, then take action, then return to learning some more when you need it.
- Plank in the air: "I don't know what I need to do next."
- Plank on the ground: Ask yourself "What can I do?" to get unstuck.
- Plank in the air: "There's just so much to do, so much to learn, so much time needed, so much of everything!"
- Plank on the ground: Think what's the absolute minimum you need to reach your goals and strip everything you can to the bare essentials.
These are just a few examples that have been previously covered on Practical Good, but you can find a way to ground yourself with just about any other type of limiting belief that you might have. So the next time you see yourself wondering why you can't start or move forward with your goals, think if you're unconsciously elevating the path to unreasonable heights, and bring it back down to your level.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Let's stop raising that plank up in the air and keep it nice and comfortable on the floor so that you can begin taking action towards the life you deserve. Here are some quick tips you can do now:
- Ask yourself if you have the "plank in the air" mindset for any of your current goals. Is there something that you're trying to do that isn't going quite as expected? You'll have to be completely honest with yourself here and think about the reason why. You just might be artificially making the path to your goal more difficult than necessary. By identifying the issue, you will be on your way to correct it.
- If you do, find a way to bring that imaginary plank back to the ground. Once you have determined that you have made your goals seem impossible when they're not, you can start taking steps to make it more manageable. Figure out what you can do next, strip everything down to its core, and take smaller steps towards your goal. You'll accomplish what you want in no time.