Quote of the Month: February 2021

“It isn’t about whether you can or can’t: it’s whether you do or don’t.”

Before I take a look at this month’s quote, I have a confession to make: this line is actually from a videogame. I want to point that out from the offset because, as a rule, I don’t like to take philosophical advice from videogames, especially anime-styled JRPGs which can be a bit wishy-washy and idealistic at the best of times. I’m also not a big fan of people who get all of their life advice and inspiration from fictional game characters, as I see such behaviour leading to a somewhat deluded way of living whereby a piece of fantasy becomes reality in some people’s minds, distracting them from real life.

All of that said, I liked this quote from Namco’s Tales of Xillia 2 enough to take it seriously as useful life advice…even if it was spoken by a chesty anime waifu.

And that’s because it really is a positive, take-action attitude that anybody can apply to their life.

And there’s no need to engage many brain cells and formulate your own interpretation of the quote either (this ain’t no Sun Tsu quotation). Essentially, this is about not getting hung up on whether you think you can or can’t achieve something, because that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you bloody well try in the first place. Maybe it’s a physical challenge, or an academic obstacle. It could be approaching that person you’re attracted to. Perhaps it’s that promotion at work or an interview for a new, better job. In all of these scenarios, it’s easier to simply give up and walk away without even trying – easier to make excuses and tell yourself that you surely can’t do it.

But how do we know without trying? Sometimes it’s down to a lack of belief in ourselves; other times it really is because it’s much easier and less strenuous to not try in the first place – to retreat to the safety of our comfort zone. In either case, we will never improve ourselves or get any closer to the life that we want, and our failure to act will, ironically, only fuel the poisonous convictions we reinforce in our minds about not being able to achieve things. Thus, a vicious cycle is born and the only way to break it is to take action and do something.

The thing is, we aren’t psychic: we can’t know the outcome of our actions and expeditions before we attempt something (otherwise we’d all be buying lottery tickets!). Sure, we can make probability-based predictions (using existing data or evidence) in certain situations, but most things are dependant on a) our willingness to put ourselves out there and try something in the first place, and b) how much we are prepared to work for something. It’s far better to take action and actually do something, than to live with regret and not know what could have happened if you’d tried.

I have big respect for people with failed businesses, for example. Because, while others are mocking and criticising the downfall of those who had a go, at least that person tried something new and invested themselves (as well as money and resources) into that business. And, as is often the case, those people standing on the fringes and passing judgment on the failed ventures of others have likely never tried to better themselves. Meanwhile, the owner of the failed business will have gained valuable experience, and the knowledge that they at least tried. After all, that person will have grown through trying, and have learnt new things, while their critics are stagnating and going nowhere.

The key word is “action”. A lot of people make the mistake of waiting for inspiration to strike in order to feel motivated enough to take action. This is an incorrect approach that will only lead to procrastination and a lack of action. In essence, you are waiting for something to change, or your life to improve, by doing the same thing(s) over and over. It is the very definition of madness. The correct approach is Action >> Inspiration >> Motivation.

And it doesn’t have to be something a momentous. If you are a writer and are suffering with writer’s block, for example, just tell yourself that you will write just the one paragraph. Chances are, that one paragraph will become two, then three and so on. It’s the taking action in the first place – and breaking of the cycle – that allows inspiration to strike, and the motivation to keep going to subsequently form. It calls to mind another quote that I often refer to:

“Do something – do anything.”

Momentum (or the snowball effect) is a powerful thing, but you can’t get any momentum going if you don’t get moving in the first place (think of a huge rock atop a slope that will certainly get moving once pushed over the edge: it won’t go anywhere without that initial action of being shoved). That’s where taking action comes in.

Will you fail? Possibly. Inevitably, even. We all fail at things throughout life but we learn from our failings and grow as a result. It’s quite possible that you can’t do something, or that things don’t work out, but those are bridges to cross and outcomes to deal with when – if – you reach them. What matters is that you take the advice of that big-boobed, unsuitably-garbed anime girl, and at least try in the first place.