Sometimes you have to decide you have what it takes

Last year I read Amy Cuddy’s fantastic book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. I’m still impressed at how many ideas have stuck with me, more than a year after I finished reading. I still think about that book on a regular basis—for me, that’s the sign of a good one.

Here’s one idea I keep coming back to, even now: in the book, Cuddy tells a great story about learning to surf, which apparently you need to do if you marry an Australian, as Cuddy did. She tried and tried and couldn’t get the hang of it, until her frustrated instructor finally told her it was really pretty simple: “You just have to decide to stay on the board.”

To her astonishment, it worked. 

I’ve been thinking about mindset and resolve and staying on the board this week, for reasons I’ll explain in a future post. (Soon!)

In Presence, Cuddy compared surfing to decision making: our natural human tendency is often to gather data until we feel confident we’re ready to make a decision, so we put off deciding until we feel certain about what choice to make. But that’s not how it works, she says. In fact, it’s the other way around: decisions create confidence.

My Myers-Briggs type is INFP, and like so many people who have that “P” at the end of their type (and there are a lot of us: 46% of all people), I love to gather lots of information before I make a decision. Lots and lots. In fact, one of the glaring weaknesses of P-types is that they’re vulnerable to staying open to new information for so long that they miss the opportunity to even make the decision.

If we wait until we’re certain, we’ll never decide.

This is me, too often: I feel uncertain, not sure if I can stay on the board. So I don’t decide. Or I don’t attempt to do the thing, whatever the thing is. I’m not sure I have what it takes, so I don’t even try, crippled by self-doubt. (Hello, imposter syndrome.)

Of course, I don’t usually realize I’m doing this—which is what makes this pattern so insidious.

When you surf (so I’m told), you don’t pop up on your board and then see if you’ve got it. You have to decide you have what it takes before you ever begin, or you’re hopeless. (And if you fall, you fall. That’s part of the sport.)

There’s a huge difference between quiet confidence and an inflated ego, of course. I can’t run a four-minute mile, or lead a Fortune 500 company, or paint like Cassatt just because I decide to. But that thing right in front of me, that I’m already prepping for? That’s in my realm of possibility, if I decide to go for it.

Have you ever decided to stay on the board? Do you need to make that decision? I’d love to hear about your experience with mindset, confidence, and actual surfing in comments.

P.S. Read the MMD personality archives here. And, of course, I wrote a book about personality, which you can find here.



Leave A Comment
  1. Kelsey says:

    I’m a violinist, and I remember a masterclass I took with David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was giving a lesson on Mendelsohn’s violin concert, and the young violinist who was playing it was quite out of tune. David said, “Ok, start again, but this time I want you to play in tune. Don’t overthink it….just decide to play in tune this time.” And it was RIDICULOUSLY better the second time around.

    Your thoughts made me think of that story… Maybe there’s something to be said for the whole “just do it” slogan. I’m curious to hear more about your resolve to stay on the board!

  2. Lauren says:

    Years ago, I took surfing lessons in Australia (a bucket list item!). I found an instructor with a money-back guarantee if you didn’t stand up by the end of the 3 hour session. Well by hour 3, I was thinking I was going to get my money back–everyone else in the class had already stood and were looking like expert surfers. I was out in the water, clinging to my board, when the instructor said he was *not* going to give me back my money after all…then he pushed me onto the next wave. I was so surprised/pissed, that I stood and rode the wave all the way in before I even realized!
    I have never surfed again…but today I am closing on my first house! Something I have been doing research on for years…and I’m finally going to actually do it today! Thanks so much for this post…it was exactly the reminder and the confidence booster I needed today!

  3. Denise says:

    I too can research a decision to death due to my own perfectionism and wanting to do things “right” all the time. But life is messy and just deciding to do something – regardless of having all the info – can be liberating! Thank you for this thoughtful post!

  4. Teresa Hyfield says:

    Once again, you post exactly what I needed to read right now! This may seem to be a bit of a silly or in-important decision I’m struggling with, but I have been considering an extended break from FB. I’m an INFJ and being on there right now feels like an assault to my senses. I know I shouldn’t let what others post and share get to me so much, but it does. I feel that part of my self care is to walk away from it for a bit, but my fear of missing out is what is keeping me there. Nowadays, it feels like the only way I will find out what important events are happening in my family and friends’ lives are to read their posts, but unfortunately I also have to sift through a whole lot of other things they feel or think about today’s current political climate, that quite frankly wish I didn’t know. I realize it shouldn’t get to me, but it does. Anywho.,.,all that to say…I know what I need to do and I just need to get “on board” and do this for myself and my sanity. THANK YOU ❤️

    • Traci says:

      Teresa, you wrote exactly what I was feeling last fall (other than that I’m an ISFJ)! I did try to take a break from FB but kept checking it every few weeks or so. I finally deactivated my account earlier this year, which was the best decision for me as it turns out. When I told my neighbor who is also a good friend, about the whole situation, she wisely pointed out that what I had read on my FB friends’ posts that upset me was affecting how I felt about them. Now I don’t read any of that, which has greatly helped me. I do miss the “good stuff” – pictures, general going’s on, health concerns, etc and wish FB had some kind of filter so I’d just see those posts!
      Anne, this was all so interesting!!

    • Jennifer N. says:

      I deactivated my fb account in November and it was the best thing I did for myself last year. I thought I would be missing out, but that’s not been my reality. I still know about everything that’s actually important.

    • Kristin says:

      I am going on 4 years now without Facebook and I have never looked back. When my daughter was born I found myself holding her one day, bouncing on my excercise ball. (That used to be one of her favorite things to do) I had my couple month old daughter in one hand and my smart phone in the other. What do you think I was looking at? My smart phone. It was in that moment I realized this was going to be my life if I didn’t do something about it. My husband and I jumped in head first. We got rid of our smart phones and all our social media accounts. I went back to an old fashioned flip phone, which I had forgotten how much I enjoyed. The crazy thing is I don’t miss anything. I still keep in touch with the people who really matter in my life. At first people looked at us like we were crazy but 4 years later I get envious stares at my flip phone. People tell me how they’ve been thinking about switching too. What I am trying I say is that you are not alone in your desire to disconnect in order to reconnect. What ever that looks like for you I promise that any steps you take to do that you will not regret and you will probably find that you connect with people more. Jump in!

    • Julia Milton says:

      Do it! I did somewhere around last August. I just couldn’t take the endless political hand-wringing and general nastiness. I didn’t delete my account completely–it’s hard to do that. Instead, I had my husband install a parental lock app on my phone and laptop and block only FB. Then I had him change my FB password so that if I wanted to access it on a different computer, I_d have to go to the trouble of asking him to log me in. Best decision I made all year.

    • Andrea says:

      Hey Teresa! Your comment caught my eye because I’m a fellow INFJ too 🙂 I actually gave up Facebook about three years ago for very similar reasons. I never thought about how my tendencies as an INFJ effected my experience with Facebook but now that you mention it, it totally makes sense! It was hard to be off Facebook at first (I miss out on knowing extended family news in a timely way) but the benefits have outweighed the costs. Now the only social media I do is Instagram because it’s a great outlet for my creativity and I’ve actually connected with people there. Good luck! 🙂

  5. ellen says:

    Hi Anne (with an e),
    I’m trying to “wrap my head” around the subject of personality types and of course, as my personality dictates, I want to be an immediate expert at understanding it all.
    I know I need to “start small” but don’t know where to begin. I’m overwhelmed!!
    I did get a few of your recommended books out of the library but just couldn’t plow through them.
    Once again; overwhelming.
    What to do?
    Any ideas/advice may help.

    • Susan says:

      Since people here are talking Myers-Briggs language, why don’t you start with “Please Understand Me”? I can’t remember the author, but I’m sure you can find it on Amazon, or on Anne’s post with her list of personality books. There is probably an online test you can take. I used to think I was an E, because when I’m with people, I’m quite talkative. But later, I realized that the E and I (extrovert/introvert) is about what recharges you, and being away from people is what recharges me, so I’m an ISFJ. My youngest daughter used to be the only P in our family, but as she’s grown up and now she’s been teaching 4th grade for over 10 years, she’s definitely a J in her “public” life, though she still sometimes has trouble making decisions, definitely a P thing.

  6. Kristine Yahn says:

    I’m an old fan, emphasis on old. In the 80s, I told someone that I was trying to quit smoking. They said, “Why don’t you quit trying and do it?”. And I did.

    I’m an INTP. I like to think of it as keeping an open mind.

  7. Carrie says:

    Another great post that I can so relate to. I am an ISFP- emphasis “P”.
    Small decisions are difficult enough for me, but big ones- can make me literally sick. Right now I am preparing our home for sale and trying to decide on the perfect realtor. I also have to look for our new home in a new city. I can’t even get myself on to look at any. Too overwhelming. My mindset is fine with staging our home as I am creative and like to eliminate clutter, but the other decisions have me in a panic. I’m going to keep the surfboard analogy in my brain and see if I can do it.

  8. Karen says:

    Deciding you “have what it takes” to do something is one of the four factor that underpins self-efficacy beliefs. Psychologist Albert Bandura pioneered this thinking (called “social cognitive theory”) and defined self-efficacy as “belief in your own ability to perform a task.” He contends that “people’s level of motivation, affective states, and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true.”

    “For this reason, how people behave can often be better predicted by the beliefs they hold about their capabilities than by what they are actually capable of accomplishing, for these self-efficacy perceptions help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have. Of course, no amount of confidence or self-appreciation can produce success when requisite skills and knowledge are absent.”
    (Above para from Educational Psychology, 2004)

    Just drawing a parallel between your (& Cuddy’s) experiences — and what the psych literature says. You nailed the whole nuance. (For the full nerd experience, google: “Self-efficacy beliefs in human functioning” by Albert Bandura, 1986 or check out the wiki:

  9. Allison says:

    I’ve only recently discovered that I’m also an INFP and it’s been blowing my mind how well it describes me. I also get caught in loops of indecision, information gathering, and imposter syndrome. I’ve been trying to bust out of it this year by taking the plunge on things I’ve been dreaming about forever–namely starting a blog and writing books (how very INFP!).

    Even just taking the steps, doing the work, and picturing where I could be (and where I want to be) has brought about the greatest feeling of contentment. Indecision is exhausting, and pushing past it is something I will always have to work on, but it’s rewarding and is something I need to keep doing for myself. This sounds like an excellent book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Janet Miles says:

    INFJ here and just came to the realization last week (through the slap in the face of a tarot card) that I was doing exactly that (I wrote about it on my blog). Listing steps, organizing, doing research, taking online classes…on and on. I need to get on the board and ride! Thanks for confirming that!

  11. Kristian says:

    It is so interesting to hear you talk about Myers-Briggs. It was a main unit in my educational psychology class (the teacher was accredited to give official Myers-Briggs tests and do professional development for big corporations about it, so no surprise it was a big focus in her class too).

    One of the things that really strikes me here is how differently you talk about the P/perceiver part of things. Each of the four (I/E; S/N; F/T; P/J) were broken down for us as each answering an essential question about how you best like to work/learn (we focussed on that part since we were training to be teachers). I/E being about how you need to recharge; S/N being about whether you need to go from details to the big picture or vice versa; Thinking and Feeling about whether logic or emotion is the fall-back response to things; and P/J was about spontaneity vs the need to have a plan. So, it is interesting to hear this component of Perceiver also has to do with wanting more and more data. As an INFJ I don’t need all possibilities and can get overwhelmed for sure. This definitely helps me better understand the Ps in my life!

    • Guest says:

      I have worked with MBTI for years both professional and personally. The descriptions you gave for breaking down the four are the best I’ve ever heard/read. I’m an ENTJ and I absolutely go from big picture (strategic) to details, my fall back is to push emotion to the side and use logic (which drives my husband bananas) and I prefer a plan to spontaneity any day of the week. Last year I worked for a woman who was a P and she just about drove me to drink because of her indecisiveness. I don’t think the desire for data is necessarily a P thing but I think the fact Ps are comfortable without a plan means they’re also more comfortable spending a lot of time gathering more data whereas a J feels very uncomfortable without a plan and therefore is less willing to continue churning on data if it means there won’t be a plan. The company I work for also uses Gallup Strengths Finders and the boss I was mentioning is very high in Maximizer which are people who want the absolute best possible solution. My guess is (but I’d be interested to know, Anne!) that Anne is high in Maximizer and possibly Input. I’m high in Activation, Discipline, Responsibility, Command among others so I don’t let a desire for the “perfect” solution keep me from having “a” solution. Anyway, just a few thoughts – loving this conversation!!

    • Jennifer Schmidt says:

      Your breakdown really helped me understand the differences so much better than I did before! I am an INFP and I probably drive people nuts with my indecisiveness too. So interesting! Can’t wait for Anne’s book!

  12. Mary says:

    Writing a comment is a big decision for me. For me, I see a correlation between my happiness, I guess mindset, and decision-making, big and small. I find I am happier if I go with my gut, after doing some research, and I am happier after the decision is made. Sometimes I think I am different from so many, because I don’t second guess myself. I am not saying I don’t have any regrets. School choice was a big decision for our family, and I just don’t question the choices we made daily, weekly, yearly, or with every problem encountered. We made our decision and moved forward.

  13. INTJ here, but I totally over-research also. Not so much because of indecision though. I don’t usually have trouble with that. Once I’ve made up my mind to do something, I see it through (unless it’s not logical to do so). I’m also autistic and I have a feeling INTJ describes a lot of us. What that means is, although I make decisions (even impulsive ones sometimes) and can seem very confident, I also overthink and analyze afterward, which can end up causing anxiety. The unknown causes anxiety too, so I’m always researching something. I’d research anyway. It’s just something I do!

  14. sonrie says:

    I tend to over-research and yet, I work so much better with a deadline. At the deadline, I will make a decision. Maybe it won’t be the right one, but I will trust my intuition and previous decisions and my research, and these decisions are not life and death. If it’s a bad decision, I’ll learn from it for future decisions.

    I started a small counseling private practice last year – almost quite unexpectedly. Yet, I would have waited for years to do it if I continued researching. I just had a deadline from someone to decide, and decided to go with it. It’s a slow and steady process, but so far, I feel confirmed in my decision by how it seems to continue to be working out. So, in that way, I’m staying on the surfboard. 🙂

  15. Akaleistar says:

    I love this! I have a lot of uncertainty in my life right now, so naturally, I’ve been putting off making decisions. Sometimes you just have to go for it 🙂

  16. I feel like this is so true and a great reminder. When I started my book blog, I did zero research (I’d never read a single book blog before I started my own) aside from Googling “how to start a book blog” and finding a helpful step-by-step checklist. I think if I’d spent a ton of time reading a bunch of other blogs before starting my own, I may never have started it. There are so many great ones already out there…what could I possibly add that was different and/or better?!
    That being said, there’s probably a happy medium between zero research and taking the plunge and there are definitely things I should have been doing with my blog way before I did them simply b/c I didn’t realize.
    I’m facing another decision now and this is a great reminder…I’ve been “doing research”/waffling over whether to move forward for awhile now!

  17. Lisa Z says:

    Thank you for this. I needed that “just decide you can do it” advice. For me, it’s about editing/revising a couple of books I’ve written during NaNoWriMo. I’ve always written things, but rarely have I gone back and rewritten or edited them. I’ve always said I don’t know if I can do that! But I want to, and I think it’s just a matter of deciding that I can do it. And both books are worth a second draft (also getting over imposter syndrome there). I’m going to check out the Presence book too.

    And as always, thanks for more insights into my INFP personality.

  18. Johnna says:

    This is so true. When I was training for my first marathon, my coaches kept telling me to visualize myself crossing the finish line strongly. I did, and it happened. My second marathon, without any coaches to remind me of that, was a struggle because I kept thinking I wasn’t as good of a runner anymore.

  19. Ann says:

    Another great post an just what I needed to read with my coffee this morning. As my husband and I come to grips that we are in our 50s (we are still 30 in our heads) we reflect on how us our need to feel like we have considered ALL the options has often led to no decision at all. Modern life is so fixated on minimising risk and yet following this path can often lead to no life at all. We may be late to the party but we are now much more committed to making choices and living in the moment rather than not at all. P.S not all Aussies surf but all of us dream we did!

  20. Beth says:

    I recently made a rather large career jump – from (disgruntled) freelance musician to Executive Director of a small orchestra. It’s a long story but the job basically fell in my lap. After thinking about it a few days I was going to turn it down, mostly because I felt extremely under qualified and while I was trying to change careers, this wasn’t the path I was looking to take. But then I realized I was unlikely to have a better offer and I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I decided I was going to take the leap and figure it out as I go along. It hasn’t always been a smooth transition but it’s been an amazing experience so far. I can’t believe I almost walked away from it!

    • Beth says:

      I should also mention that one of the things that was holding me back was my poor computer skills (that was how I perceived them). Until November I had no idea how to insert formulas into Excel spreadsheets. Now I’m building multi-page documents that not only do math but build on each other. For years I thought this was complicated magic. But once I was forced to do it I realized it’s not so hard to figure out.

  21. Libby says:

    What a great post! It reminds me of a discussion with my undergrad adviser, when I was worrying as a freshman that if I was having this much trouble with a 10 page research paper I’d never be able to complete the senior research project. My adviser said, you don’t need to do that today. You need to do the work we’ve set for you at each step, and trust us that this college will have adequately prepared you in 3 years to do the senior research project and paper. I now work in science, so I feel like my unofficial dissertation is on overcoming impostor syndrome! This has been my method of dealing with it since: even if I don’t trust myself, I trust the people around me. Clearly, they are soooo much smarter and harder working and more experienced than me, and all those amazing people think I can do it, so really I’m just trusting in their evaluation of me, not in my own. Hope someone else might find that mindset shift encouraging!

  22. Joni says:

    Thank you for this great post. Just the encouragement I needed today to keep writing that book, even though it seems sooooo hard! But then again, who ever said it was going to be easy??

  23. Naomi says:

    This was a well-needed read for me. I have had a blog idea that I think would truly be sensational, but I have no idea how to start. I see other individuals that just dive-in to these projects and meanwhile my ideas stay dancing in my head rather than going into a blog. I haven’t known where to start. I DO feel like I have to research EVERY BIT OF DATA the world has to offer in order to make it a go. I am very interested in reading Cuddy’s book! Thanks for a wonderful post. Feel free to give me some references on blog building – I’d love your input!

  24. Cheryl Weaver says:

    I am of the growth mindset, if it is something you want badly enough. There are so many things that just are not worth the effort. Therefore I don’t work to make that change. We may not become expertise but we can move in that direction.

  25. I wonder if this could be applied to fertility. After being on this sojourn for years, I’ve gotten jaded. My hubby and family have gotten jaded. I’m always hopeful and optimisitic for everyone else but me. I have what it takes to get pregnant and give birth!

  26. Michelle says:

    I can definitely relate, though instead of constantly researching, I keep finding that I constantly seek for my husband to make the decision for me. It’s like I look for him to validate what I’m already thinking before I can ever commit to a decision, even the tiny little things like choosing to go to a coffee shop on a Saturday versus doing my writing for home. This is something I’m working on, being confident in my own decision process. Does anyone else turn to one person to help them make their decisions?

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