Counterintuitive Confirmation: How To Eliminate Your Doubts

This Wednesday, I realized all my current blog post ideas would take more than a day to complete. Between The 4 Minute Folio launch, AniQuote suddenly materializing from the massive mist of ideas in my head and a new side gig I’ve taken up two weeks ago, it’s a week as busy as ever.

Hence, I decided to give myself the following constraints for this post:

  • Less than 1,000 words.
  • No more than 4 Pomodoros total.

Artificially limiting yourself is liberating. Busy weeks come with a lot of learnings, so these rules forced me to go narrow and think really hard:

What’s the biggest lesson from the past 7 days?

As I was munching on a slice of delicious pizza on Wednesday, a pattern emerged: A lot of these past few side projects taught me something I wasn’t expecting, which nonetheless confirmed the path I was on.

I’m calling it…

Counterintuitive confirmation.

Let me explain.

What’s Counterintuitive Confirmation?

When you embark on a new project, you expect to learn certain things. “Doing this will teach me about X” is one of the substantial reasons we use to talk ourselves into tackling something new.

Expected Learnings

For example, before I started recording for The 4 Minute Folio, I figured it would teach me something about:

  • Pronunciation
  • Intonation
  • Reading fluidly
  • Reflecting on past writings
  • Editing and optimizing audio files
  • Packaging tracks for public release

…and so on. All of these came true. I did learn about these things. But I also picked up some lessons I didn’t expect.

Unexpected Learnings

  • Reading out loud for a long time requires lots of water, lots of breaks and lots of fresh air.
  • When I go straight from reading into reflecting mode, I ramble, but when I note down three bullet points of what I want to say, I do fine.
  • I like doing these every once in a while, but when it comes to scale, I would much rather write.

There were a few more, but the last one was the most telling.

Whatever unexpected thing you learn, it will confirm you either way

While this idea of getting expected and unexpected feedback might be obvious, putting your unexpected lessons into context is when it gets interesting. It was totally counterintuitive for me to realize that yes, I love writing way more than speaking, but it confirmed me in my chosen path to full-time writing.

In hindsight, it was a confirmation to one of my prior choices. A confirmation I wasn’t expecting to get. A counterintuitive confirmation.

If you now think “well, that only worked out because you like writing more,” think again. Had I suddenly realized I love audio and am a born podcaster, that would also have been a counterintuitive confirmation: making the switch to audio was the right call. It would have set me on a new path, but confirmed my idea nonetheless.

Due to their element of surprise, unexpected learnings are much more convincing. The stuff you expected is nice and alright, but the formerly unknown is revolutionary. At least that’s how we perceive it.

What if you used that power?

How can you use this idea to eliminate doubt?

You will always learn something you expected to learn. But you will also always learn something you didn’t expect. The former is what you usually use to overcome doubts and get started. The latter is why you’ll be glad you did.

Since the lessons learned without expectation are more powerful, can you use those to talk yourself into starting faster?

I think so. Because here’s the kicker: you will get at least one counterintuitive confirmation with every project you pursue. No matter what idea you take on, one of two things will happen:

  1. It will confirm what you were doing before, and you will happily return to it.
  2. It will confirm your new idea as a great pursuit and you will dedicate more time to it.

When you first divulge an idea to friends and family, this is comforting to remember. As the “don’t do it” and “are you sure” voices get louder, so will your inner dialogue of self-doubt. And that costs precious time.

In theory, we know that 9 out of 10 times, we’re better off ignoring their warning. Without understating the importance of recognizing that 10th time, I do think counterintuitive confirmation is a suited tool to deal with the other 9.

Counterintuitive Confirmation Quote

When I told two friends about the idea for AniQuote, they also asked: “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s so outside of what you’re usually doing.” They were right, but I had a hunch the project was worth a shot. So I asked myself:

What’s a lesson I might learn from this, but wouldn’t expect to?

It’s a tough question. After all, you wouldn’t think of these things without this concerted effort. What I’ve come up with:

  • Leading and managing a group of people to create something together.
  • What makes a great font.
  • Which space in the app scene is under-supplied with good apps.

Using these, I now have some extra anti-doubt material I can throw against concerns and proceed with the project faster. Within the first 24 hours of making the decision, I already took massive action.

One expected thing I’ve already learned is how to make pseudo-realistic wireframes and user workflows for an app. The unexpected part of that was that it was a lot of fun. Way more than I could have imagined!

What else will follow? I have no idea.

When you’re doubting yourself, or others raise their concerns, especially for a project with not much to lose, this idea is comforting. Affirmative. It helps you stand your ground.

Ask “What’s a lesson I might learn from this, but wouldn’t expect to?” and come up with new reasons to go ahead.

The next time you face doubt, know you can expect counterintuitive confirmation from what you’re about to embark on. Use it to safely ignore your doubts and do what’s necessary to prove yourself right: move on.