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The act of engaging in useless yet intellectually stimulating conversation, usually as an excuse to avoid taking constructive action in your life.

Urban Dictionary

This is a shoutout to the gym-goers who’ve never actually stepped foot inside a gym (but watched every beginner, intermediate, and advanced workout tutorial, plus written up the perfect set of reps for every day of the week).

I’m looking at the avid self-help seekers who’ve been chasing that ‘aha!’ moment for the past five years, but never quite seem to, well… seriously change anything about their lives.

Yep, I believe you, this really is the diet plan to end all diet plans. So why are you reaching for that leftover slice of Dominos? Okay, it makes sense to start on Monday. But apparently, there’s this new thing called intermittent fasting…

Mental masturbation is procrastination at its most brilliant. It masquerades as the all-in-one pill that will change your life, once and for all. Ironically, it’s more deadly than out-and-out procrastination, because it makes you feel so good. You’re addicted to that high.

It can kid you into believing you’re making all sorts of positive progress when, in the cold light of day, absolutely zero is happening to move the needle in your one precious life.

As a recovering mental masturbator, there’s a simple, lesser-known secret that I’m going to share with you in this post.

Hint: Your life won’t change until you stop thinking and start doing.

What is mental masturbation and why we don't take inspired action

What Is Mental Masturbation & Why Do You Indulge?

My boyfriend and I were on a cabin holiday in the middle of the forest, lazing in the hot tub and gazing up at the stars on a stunningly clear night. I remember the delicious excitement coursing through me as we talked passionately about the blogs we were going to start.

I had been talking for two years at this point about wanting to start my own website focusing on self-development.

So three months down the line after this inspiring minibreak, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the probability of me having taken even one productive step when it came to the practicalities of actually setting up a blog.

I should pause here with a caveat: there’s nothing wrong with entering into the emotional state of your dream life. This is a powerful and necessary way to manifest all the things you envision for yourself.

But there is a problem with thinking that you can literally think your way to your biggest ambitions and goals through brain power alone. Mental masturbation is damaging because it clouds your vision as to what you need to do when it comes to taking real-world action.

Of course, there are multiple reasons why it’s safer for us to stay firmly planted in our heads:

Avoidance of the real world

The irony is that no matter what degree of mastery they develop in their area of expertise, this cannot solve their more basic insecurities about functioning in the world.

From The Wisdom of the Enneagram (read a free summary here)

I am a solid Enneagram Type 5 (if you haven’t done the Enneagram personality test before, then it’s 15 minutes well-spent to help understand yourself at a deeper level – you can take the test for yourself here).

If you’re a fellow Type 5 then you’ll likely know what it means to live a large proportion of your life completely within the confines of your own mind. Avid learning and curiosity are crucial for how we navigate the world.

However, it can be problematic when knowledge-seeking spirals into obsessive, unproductive rumination and stops you from addressing the practical things you need to do to fully live your life. In other words, mental masturbation can be a method of self-preservation that stems from fear and avoidance.

And of course, you don’t have to be a Type 5 to avoid things. There is comfort in thinking through every possible outcome without ever taking the risk of putting yourself out there.

Mental masturbation causes avoidance due to fear of failure and fear of success

Fear of failure (+ fear of success)

The credit belongs with the man who is actually in the arena… who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Why is it easier to talk into the early hours of the morning about the business you envisage, rather than taking the necessary first steps like researching, reviewing your competitors, or making a start on your business plan?

Because, whilst you may not realise it, you’re scared to death of failure!

And is it any wonder when we live in a culture where outward achievement is celebrated above all else? But look beneath the surface of every ‘overnight success’ story, and you’ll discover a non-linear journey marred with pitfalls, red herrings and wrong turns. The fundamental building blocks of success are trial and error. And yep, you guessed it, absolute downright failure.

Failure is how we learn, grow, and innovate. So you’re going to have to reframe your perspective when things don’t quite go to plan.

On the flip side is the slightly surprising alternative: fear of success. ‘Why would anyone be afraid of success?’ I hear you scoff incredulously. But it’s true! Success, perhaps even more so than failure, means change. Success will catapult you to dizzying heights that you feel completely unequipped to handle.

When you’re sandwiched in the middle of these fears, it’s the easiest thing in the world to continue constructing imaginary castles in the sky.

A pleasurable dopamine hit

Last but not least, let’s not overlook the crux of the matter. Mental masturbation is, well… pretty damn enjoyable. Whatever piece of new insight or revelation you’ve come to peaks in a brief, satisfying, oh-so-orgasmic high.

But once the epiphany begins to fade into your bank of squirrelled-away knowledge, you come back down to earth with a thud. Then there’s a gaping chasm that you need to fill again with new information. And that’s the thing with mental masturbation – it’s never quite enough. In short, you’re a junkie addicted to your own mental gymnastics.

Mental masturbation is essentially a glorified procrastination tactic. The reality of the situation is that your words and actions aren’t in harmony. You’re talking the right talk, but are you walking the walk?

Answer: absolutely not.

How to overcome the analysis-paralysis of mental masturbation

5 Ways to Overcome the Paralysis of Mental Masturbation

If you feel like you’ll never be able to get off the mental masturbation hamster wheel, then don’t panic! Not all hope is lost. You may experience some initial resistance when you try to break free of the analysis-paralysis cycle, but I promise that you will survive that scary leap of faith.

Read on for my top 5 tips on how to get out of your head and start living.

1. Create more, consume less

I’ve written another article that explores this concept more in-depth, so do check it out if you haven’t already. But the basic concept is a simple one.

Whatever activity you find yourself engrossed in, get into the habit of pausing to practice mindful awareness. Take a deep breath and ask yourself one simple question: Right now, am I being a passive observer or an active creator?

If you’re reading a book, watching a video, or doing a lot of talking, then I’m sorry to say but there’s no two ways about it. It’s mental masturbation.

Let’s be clear here – it’s not to say that you can never consume any interesting content ever again. However, try to limit your consumption where possible to a healthy amount so that it doesn’t derail your whole day (read: no three-hour YouTube rabbit holes of no return!). And, more importantly, get into the habit of ringfencing some time every day for building a creativity habit.

2. Accept ‘good enough’ over perfectionism

I recognise now that a lot of my own mental masturbation comes from an unhealthy streak of perfectionism. This means that I have a tendency to get very excited about concepts that I work hard to perfect in my mind, but I lose enthusiasm very quickly when it comes to translating these complicated mental constructs into inspired action.

I used to wear perfectionism as a badge of honour – something I’d half-boast about in job interviews when I was asked What is your weakness? – but now I really do see it as the most debilitating weakness. When you become hyper-focused on every tiny little detail, you miss the point entirely.

Learning to accept that my 80% is probably a lot better than most people’s 100% was a real game-changer when it came to overcoming the paralysis of perfectionism. You’ve got to realise that past a certain point, you’re not adding anything worthwhile and you’re wasting precious time.

Get the job done as best you can. Then move straight on to the next task and don’t look back.

Write a to-do list with one non-negotiable to overcome mental masturbation

3. Make a daily to-do list with one non-negotiable

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

Mark Twain

Make it your mission to do that one thing you really don’t want to do, preferably first thing in the morning. Whatever it is that will move the needle the most in your life right now.

In short, you’ve got to get comfortable with discomfort.

It doesn’t even have to be particularly noteworthy in the grand scheme of things. For example, my first step when it came to starting Intentional View was simply to purchase web hosting. Not only did it feel scary (things suddenly became a bit too real for my liking), but then, to my horror, I actually had to follow through with yet more actions the next day!

I was treading new ground and, all of a sudden, I couldn’t retreat to the familiar safety of my mental world to account for every possible eventuality anymore.

If I could see where I am today from my vantage point back then, I’d probably have felt completely overwhelmed and stuck. But by focusing on nothing more than the needs of the present moment, it’s amazing how you can simplify life by just continuing to put one clunky foot in front of the other again and again and again.

Eat the ugly frog every single day. I’m not joking when I say you can achieve more in a month than you’ve achieved in the past five years combined.

4. Be self-disciplined in your daily systems

I’m a big believer in the power of small habits, which can rack up some serious compound interest when pursued with consistency over time.

Alongside your one ‘non-negotiable’ task, try to live by a series of micro-habits that keep you accountable to your values, purpose, and goals. For example, making your bed first thing in the morning every single day may not sound like much of a victory to shout about, but it is a powerful act when it comes to starting your morning with intention and clarity. It has ripple effects which means you’re able to make better decisions throughout the day.

When you are self-disciplined with your daily routine, it is a great lesson in staying grounded in the real world, and how much you can get done when you really put your mind to it.

Mastering the basics by controlling the 24 hours you have in your day means that you learn to discipline your wandering and often unruly mind. You can’t help but become more productive and action-oriented.

5. Cut the crap, just DO

When all is said and done, whatever it is you talk incessantly about wanting to do… just bloody do it. Even if you start small or you’re only average. Actually, even and most especially if you’re terrible at it, just keep going! You’ve got to start somewhere, and practice really does make perfect when you put in the real-world effort.

For example, if you want to start a morning yoga routine, stop watching videos on the perfect yoga technique. Put your damn yoga clothes on and get into downward dog!

If you dream of being a bestselling author, then I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to start putting pen to paper for a dedicated amount of time each day.

The truth of the matter is that once you’ve read a couple of books or watched a string of YouTube videos on the same topic, you’re probably good to go. Okay, maybe not if we’re talking open heart surgery or flying a plane. But joking aside, try to be pragmatic about what’s at stake if you were to fail. Most of the time, the stuff we’re talking about bears very little consequence.

We also fear other people’s reactions and judgment. But, news flash: most people are also busy obsessing over their own lives and taking very little action. They couldn’t care less about what you’re doing. Phew!

The best way to learn in the vast majority of cases is to throw yourself into something wholeheartedly, unashamedly, and with gay abandon. Hours inputted mean far more in the end than innate talent. So what are you waiting for? No one is paying any attention anyway. Fail forwards.

Take small steps and fail forwards by doing rather than thinking

Your Addiction to Mental Masturbation Is the Barrier to Your Dream Life

The irony is that if you’re avidly engrossed in this blog post (or perhaps you’ve binged a string of articles in a row), you may very well be in the throes of mental masturbation right this very second. Mhm, if this article is giving you that delicious ‘aha!’ moment, then I’m going to have to rudely interrupt you.

It’s wonderful if you find this content useful, and the journey towards self-improvement does require knowledge and self-education. But don’t fool yourself that the simple, passive act of getting to the end of this article will cause your life to spontaneously combust with the changes you want to see.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s really no substitute for doing. For getting out of your head, out of articles, out of books, out of videos, out of empty endless chats, and making the smallest, most pathetic start on… literally, anything.

Doing requires vulnerability, courage, the strength to fail. Start, and who knows where you’ll be in a year’s time. So close your laptop, turn off your tablet, or lock your phone screen right this second. There’s a whole world out there, and it’s high time you got started.

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The dangers of mental masturbation and how to push through it to make real changes in your life

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