Most big projects die on the planning table because we’re overwhelmed by how difficult they’ll be. But there’s a really simple way to shift your approach so you can jump right in and begin even the most complex and difficult projects. Today I’m going to add one three letter word to the end of your “I can’t” sentences, and it will forever change your approach to projects.
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Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, this is where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.
Yesterday on my daily COVID walk, I was thinking about how the little things we do, our littlest habits can make a huge difference. And that reminded me, of this great 3-letter word I use all the time, and it changes the way I think. So today I want to share it with you. A little word habit that will get you up moving on your projects.
I’m sharing one of my favorite little words with you today. And I know you need this. Because I just read that most of the time people quit projects before they even start. That’s awful, isn’t it. Most people quit projects just a little while after they have the idea. It’s happened to be before, so I know how this goes.
You have this idea for a project. And you want to do it. You know the finished project would put you in a really good spot. But…… the more you think about this thing, the more you have to admit you have no idea how to do this. So, you take a step back, no ones looking, so you casually walk away. Maybe for good. Or, maybe just telling yourself you’ll wait a while. Do it later. Do it someday. But we all know where that kind of a project lands. It lands in the project graveyard. And you never, ever bring it back to life. But, do most of our projects really have to end this way?
No. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be you. I’m going to share how I get past this exact moment so I can jump right in and do all kinds of projects that I have no idea how to do. I start them, and I finish them. You can do this too. The only thing you need is one, small three-letter word that we’ll get to in a minute. First. Let me give you a little background.
I grew up making things. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, that’s one reason we did stuff ourselves, but I also think they just really liked digging in and trying to do things themselves. Maybe it’s genetic, I don’t know. But mom had a huge garden, dad hunted, they made everything from clothes to concrete fence posts by hand. I remember this one summer they put together all these plans to build a motorized glider—like a mini airplane—and they were going to build it using old lawnmower engine. Sound a little crazy?
I never thought so. Whatever weird kind of situation you grow up in, that just feels normal to you. So I thought every family dug their full sized swimming pool with shovels. I thought all kids watched their dad wheel their little red wagon into the back corner of the garage and spend an entire Tuesday welding improvements and upgrades onto it. You’re starting to get the picture, aren’t you. You’re starting to see why I had the idea I could build a house by watching YouTube videos in the first place. Well, stick around. There’s more.
Because I continued believing this kind of crazy mindset was normal until I was almost finished building my house. The kids and I had worked our tails off and we were running out of time. (I had only a nine-month construction loan building the house so we were pretty much behind schedule from day one.) And after we’d built all the foundation, walls, roof—so most of the big stuff. We were down to details. And we weren’t just running out of time, we were also out of money. So I couldn’t afford some of the really basic but essential things like countertops. That’s when I had to get really creative. One day, I decided our only option was to make our own countertops, and we would make them out of concrete.
That same afternoon, this good friend, a guy named Eric, who had heard what we were doing but hadn’t seen our crazy construction site. Well, he heard we were in a tough spot with the build and he stopped by and offered just to help wherever we needed him. Incredibly generous. He warned us he knew nothing about building houses. The kids and I didn’t care, I mean neither did we, we were just happy to have a couple extra hands to help work. But apparently, Eric’s parents were nothing like mine.
The countertops were my next big project. So I took Eric into the bathroom, explained what a finished concrete countertop was supposed to look like, I pointed at this series of the little post-it-notes stuck right on the wall above the vanity. Where I had drawn out three or four possible ideas for making the frame to hold the concrete. Then I showed him the pile of lumber he could use to make a frame, a pair of safety glasses, and I went back to laying tile in the other bathroom. I already had mortar mixed up so I had to keep working.
I thought what would happen is that Eric would try a bunch of ideas until he figured out a way to make the frame. But that’s not what happened.
Not five minutes later he was standing over me saying, “I don’t know how to build that.”
I blinked. A bunch. I was waiting for him to say the last word of that sentence. But he didn’t say it. He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t seem to know the little three letter word that is supposed to end any sentence that starts with ether “I can’t” or “I don’t know how.”
So, I told him the cold, hard truth. “I don’t know how to build that either….” But I said my sentence the right way, ending it with that all important three-letter word: YET. “I don’t know how to build that either, yet.” And then I went on. “But give me a few minutes in there with that pile of wood and I’ll figure it out.”
Eric blinked. A bunch. And then asked if there was something different he could help with. I took him into the attic and told him we needed a knee wall to hang the tankless hot water heater on. He shook his head. Nope. Not that either. But I didn’t stop there.
I showed him the garbage disposal. The stack of toilets in the garage. A pedestal sink. “I don’t know how to do that.” He said every time. And every time he left off the last, all-essential word. “Yet.” I don’t know how to do that, YET. And Boom. That’s when it hit me.
This is why people have been looking at me like I’m crazy. All these people, at the hardware store, at the permit office, random neighbors and friends, they all think in an entirely different way than I do. They all think you have to know how to do something before you start it. And instead, I think, you have to start something before you know how to do it. Think about that. Two types of people.
Know how to do something before you start it.
Start something before you know how to do it.
One of these types of people keeps putting projects off until “someday”. And the other type actually does the project. Starts it. Figures it out. And finishes it. And the only difference between these two types of people is one three letter word. Yet. Here’s another way to look at it.
If you only do the types of projects that you know how to do, then the best you can hope for is to stay where you are. You’re just treading water. Staying still. And that idea of staying still and not making your life any better, that’s not what you’re here for. Is it? You think you can do more than what you’re doing now. And you can have a better life than you have now. That’s why you’re here. And you’re right. You can. And it’s easier than you think.
. . .
Before we dig into those details, we’re going to take a short break…
Do you have an idea that you just haven’t been able to get off the ground? Or maybe you worked on it for a while and then got stuck? And even though you still love the idea—can’t get it out of your head, you just have no idea how to get unstuck.
If you could *just* take all the time you spent putting off a project, and put that time into doing the work to reach your target it would change everything. Take the distractions, the extra coffee breaks, TikTok videos, and Netflix binges and instead spend all those hours, weeks, sometimes years making real progress toward your goal.
If procrastination has been holding you back, my course Build Something can help.
I’ve put EVERY SINGLE THING you need to build your ridiculously big project into Build Something. All the strategies, tactics, and methods I used (and still use) to successfully turn my big ideas into real-life projects and finish them. #BuildSomething will teach you how to: plan your projects, get started, take action, actually do the work, work through the hard parts, and stay motivated until you reach your goal.
This is your chance to get unstuck and start the project of your dreams so you can #BuildSomething you’re proud of.
. . .
The only thing you have to do is use this mindset of ‘yet’. I know what you’re thinking. “Mindset? Whoa, wait. I have to learn a mindset? Mindsets are hard.” Stay with me here.
This isn’t technically a new mindset. You already thought exactly like this when you were a kid. And somewhere along the line, you stopped. Which means instead of developing some brand-new way of thinking and doing things, the only thing you have to do is vacuum the dust off a mindset you already own. Super easy. Here’s how this works
You were born not knowing how to do a single thing. You began learning by trying things until you figured them out. You watched other people standing on two feet and they were getting around a lot faster than you were on all fours. So, you knew it was possible. But watching other people walk wasn’t enough for you to really learn how to do it. Learning the names of the muscles, and bones or technicalities of balance and coordination wouldn’t have done the trick either. The only way you were going to learn how to do it, was to start doing it. Sound familiar?
I told you, you already know how to use this mindset. You did it when you were a kid. It’s simple: I don’t know how to do this yet, but I’ll keep trying things until I figure it out. You got up onto those wee-small feet, balanced, and took those steps, when the only thing you had to start with was the idea that it was possible. That’s it. You knew it was possible. And you kept trying different things until you did it. Sometimes you fell flat on your face. You had to practice some of the skills more than once before you got it all to work together. You had to build some muscle. Get the motions down. After a while, it was easy. Eventually so easy that you didn’t even have to think about any of the details to just do it. And you didn’t stop there.
You saw someone jump, use a fork, pour a glass of milk, draw a picture. When someone sat a box of crayons in front of you the first time, you didn’t wait to learn the names of all the colors or understand why crayon friction against paper made a mark. You grabbed one, and you did everything with it. Including taking a bite of it and coloring on the walls. You tried out everything you could think of, and each time you used some of the skills you’d already learned and mastered and combined them with a few new things. The drawing muscles helped you hold a spoon. The walking muscles helped you jump. And run. But then, one day, something terrible happened.
You tried a new thing, fell flat on your butt like you always do when you try new things. But this time, instead of mom and dad cheering you on, the kids on the playground laughed at you. They said you were the worst ball player or rope jumper or singer they had ever seen. This may surprise you.
What they said, it didn’t matter to you. Not at first. You were curious enough and your mom and dad had filled you with enough confidence to keep trying things. Maybe you wouldn’t try singing on the playground again, but you would leap right into other things you had no idea how to do yet. Until, the terrible thing happened again. And again. And before you knew it, you were a different type of person. And you’ve probably already guessed what type of person I mean.
You learned to be the type of person who doesn’t start anything unless you already know how to do it. Unless you’re already sure you’re going to be good at it. And that really narrows the scope of what you’re going to do in life. So, here’s what happened with Eric, the guy who really wanted to help me build a frame for a concrete countertop: he couldn’t get over that barrier in his head that said he might do something wrong so he shouldn’t do anything at all. He was so nervous about what it felt like to do things wrong, that he did nothing. Let me tell you a little secret.
He would have absolutely done something wrong. I have no doubt about it. If he had randomly tried some stuff, he would have cut the wood too long or too short. He would have put something in the wrong place and we would have to take it out and do it over. He would have sucked at building a countertop frame because he had never done it before. He would have fallen flat on his face. How am I so sure of that?
Because an hour after he left, that’s what I did. Because I didn’t know how to do it either—yet. And just like the first time I walked across a room, I had to learn how everything coordinated together, build up the muscles, fall flat a few times before I got anywhere near something workable. Do you see what the biggest difference was between this guy and me?
It wasn’t skill. We were pretty equally skilled—or unskilled—at framing this thing. It wasn’t our desire to build it, we were equal there too. We had the same resources, tools & materials. You know, it really was that one little three-letter word. We both didn’t know how to build it. But my mindset was that I didn’t know how to build it yet. Pass me a 2×4. I will keep trying until I get it right. Even if that means I do it wrong. Probably a couple of times. Even if I fall on my face. Even if someone laughs at me. Because at the end of the day, I’ll have built a countertop, an entire house. And then, I’ll be the one laughing. Now, here comes the good part.
Once you look back at your life and see all the ways you’ve already used this mindset, then you can easily get back in the habit of using it again. This isn’t some kind of vague metaphor you have to put together from your childhood and learn how to apply it to something totally different today. It’s a simple principle applied in exactly the same way. Just like when you were little, the only thing you have to know going into any project is that it’s possible. Just that it’s possible. Then you go in and keep trying things until you figure it out. And this builds on itself.
Each of the skills you learn doing the current project will help you do some part of the next project. And if there’s any advantage I had over Eric, that’s what it was. I had a lifetime of trying to do all kinds of crazy projects, of learning what works and what absolutely does not work. And even if the only frame I’d built was a picture frame and a window and door frame at least some of those same principles would apply to my countertop frame. There’s this confidence level that builds with each success. Every time you figure something out you see yourself more and more as the type of person who can figure things out. The benefits keep building. (No pun intended. Well, maybe.)
Now, I didn’t know how to use a nail gun, set a concrete foundation block, frame a window, install a sink. Build a rafter. I didn’t know how to do a single one of those things — YET. But I knew a lot of the small skills that I could creatively put together to figure out how to do those things. Every single day, every single project my kids and I did on our construction site to build a house, we went in with this idea. I don’t know how to do that thing YET—but give me a minute and I’ll figure it out.
You probably guessed that also means the first couple of times you leap right into a project and try some things you won’t have a great skill base, and you’re going to fall down quite a few times. But you will build up your skills, your creative muscles. You get really good at combining weird skills that didn’t seem like they had anything at all to do with each other and using them to do some really creative things. What this means, is that it gets easier and easier for us to figure out more and more complex things.
Does that mean my kids and I didn’t fail? We didn’t ever do it wrong? Of course not. We did it wrong a dozen times. We framed out a window. Cut it apart. Did it again. And again. Until it was right. We never thought of it as failing, we just thought: I don’t know how to do that—yet. The next window was easier. By the time we did all of the windows we really had it figured out. And those skills—All the little things we figured out framing windows— were all going to help us for the next part of the project. If you’ve tried and failed, fantastic. You’re doing great.
Shrug it off like you did when you were a kid who bounced right off the ground for the next try at walking. Keep getting back up and keep trying until all the times you said, “yet” add up to: I already know how to do that. What’s next?
We all talk about how quickly kids learn and how many new skills they pack into a few short years. But the same fast rate of doing and learning and accomplishing things can happen to you today after you dust off that childhood mindset. Get back in the habit of just starting those big projects that you have no idea how to do and figure each one out, one step at a time.
Oh, and one last thing you should do at the end of every single project, you should share it with me! Find me on Twitter this week, I’m CM Brookins. And you can look for the little blue check mark so you’ll know it’s me. I’d love to see what you’re up to. Tag me with your project progress and how you’re using the YET principle. Because I know it has you leaping into new things.
I’ll be right here again next week and the same time and place where we’re going to talk about your favorite pizza toppings (I have a lot of them, but olives are currently at the top of the list, I’m obsessed.) Oh, and the pizza topping story is going to show us how to use our brain’s habit of holding on to things to really lock into goals. Pizza and goal setting. I’ll see you there!
Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.