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Why 'Just Do It' is bullshit

Because everything isn't possible.

I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it. —  Michael Phelps

The beautiful lie that we all want to believe.

Let’s take this aspirational quote apart a bit just for fun (since I’m sitting at the airport with a 2 hour delay). I think it’s important to understand why we believe these kinds of ideas and can’t help but keep spreading them around.

I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible…

The statement “everything is possible” is pretty ambitious. It’s therefore pretty easy to prove false. How about swimming the 100m butterfly in 1 nanosecond? Even light can’t do that. But let’s assume that he’s actually only talking about the set of all things that are conceivably possible given the laws of physics and the human body (Olympic-brand or not).

as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.

I love how casually people throw these tasks around. If you want to be the world’s best swimmer, just decide to do it, and then practice a lot. Oh, and:

  • start swimming when you’re 7 years old
  • channel frustrations from your parents’ divorce into swimming
  • have an arm span that’s 3 inches longer than your height
  • have large feet and double-jointed ankles so your feet can act like flippers
  • produce less lactic acid than a normal person

Natural advantages exist

All of these “nothing is impossible” affirmations also downplay the fact that natural advantages exist, and that advantages can compound, especially when timing and economic conditions and luck are amongst your natural advantages.

And no, we are not all doled out the same number of natural advantages as everyone else. Obviously. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

By accepting the role of natural advantages in the world, you can try to magnify your own natural advantages to see if they lead somewhere interesting and extraordinary. No guarantees, but it’s a good place to start.

Just do it

Want to get fit? Just decide to exercise and eat well, and then do the work and spend the time to get fit. Duh. Yes, that’s how you do it. But getting fit is difficult precisely because the thought patterns and mind control and habit control required to put your mind to it and persevere for a long period are difficult. That’s what makes getting fit difficult in the first place. So stating the problem as the solution is not helpful at all. Give these old thought and behavior habits some credit… they are not easy to change.

Everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.

Might as well also add:

Everything is buyable as long as you have enough cash.


Everywhere in the universe is reachable as long as you have a good enough space ship, lots of fuel, and a lot of time.

The reason this statement rubs me the wrong way (and yeah, maybe I’m beating a dead horse at this point) is because it gives you the world and then puts the responsibility on you to pay for it. It is spoken from a position of very high advantage without giving credit to that advantage for your success. It’s very much the American way, I understand. It’s not the universe’s fault if you can’t afford/lack the resources/aren’t lucky enough to be successful.

All I’m trying to say is: don’t believe their bullshit. Even if it’s beautiful.

Added to the Behavior Change pile.
July 31, 2012

Buster Benson (@buster) is a writer and builder of things. If you're new here, check the about page or see my entire life on a page.


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