Want to Be Successful? Quit Overthinking.

The longer you live and the wiser you become, the more you'll realize how little you know … and how little it matters.

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By Steve Tobak


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9

When you've been around as long as I have, you can look back over your life and note the events that changed your perspective and influenced how things turned out for you. They're called turning points. They're few and far between, and with good reason. Too many and your life would be one big chaotic mess.

Of maybe five or six major turning points that truly influenced the outcome for me, one stands apart. And I'm going to share it with you because it just might make a real difference for you, as it did for me.

I'm not exactly a bible scholar, but I do have a thing for the simple poetic wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes. I actually have my own versions of some of its key messages that I recite from time to time, including this one: The longer you live and the wiser you become, the more you'll realize how little you know … and how little it matters.

Yes, I do realize I'm no poet. It can't be helped.

Related: Entrepreneurs Don't Overthink Things. They Make a Decision and Go With It.

Anyway, I was introduced to Ecclesiastes at a time when I needed to learn an important lesson – that all the knowledge and achievements in the world don't add up to beans if you can't enjoy or at least experience the precious moments that you're here. Soon enough, it will all be over, and you don't get to take anything with you.

My problem was that I'd spent a good part of my life distracted by questions like, Why am I here? and What's my purpose in life? The day I decided to stop searching for answers and simply experience life was a big turning point. Ironically, that was when the answers came. When I quit overthinking and focused simply doing and being.

Like me, I see many of you spending God knows how much time searching for answers to distracting questions like, How to be successful? How to be happy? How to be rich? How to be famous? How to be more productive? How to be less anxious? How to be [fill in the blank]?

Here's the thing. Someday, you may very well look back at your life and realize you've found the answers you sought, but like me, you'll also realize that you didn't find them by asking a lot of questions. I know that sounds like a paradox, so let me explain.

The truth is, life is very basic. You're born with survival instincts. You learn trial and error at an early age (walking and such). In school they teach you how to reason (hopefully). From there you go out and experience and make choices. You gain confidence from good ones, and learn lessons from bad ones. Rinse and repeat.

Related: 4 Books Your Timid Entrepreneurial Heart Wants You to Read

That little snapshot of life reveals the four key elements that matter most in determining how things turn out for you: Instincts, smarts, experience, and choices. Of course there are other factors: characteristics, talents, skills, behavior, and luck, to name a few.

But here's what everyone seems to have trouble understanding, these days. "Happy," "successful," "rich," and "famous" are all outcomes that are determined by all the other factors I just talked about. If you want to achieve positive outcomes, you'd be wise to trust your instincts, think logically, gain experience, and make good choices.

And trust me when I tell you, there are no shortcuts to the outcome. The sooner you realize that and quit searching for them – the sooner you quit overthinking and focus simply on doing and being – the sooner you'll achieve the outcome you're looking for.

I bet I know what some of you are thinking. You hear what I'm saying, but you think It's different now. What with social media, the blogosphere, self-help books, seminars, and all that, I bet you think the answers are out there. Well, I'm here to tell you that they're not.

Related: The 7 Styles of Decision Making

On second thought, don't just take my word for it. Here's a little wisdom, courtesy of Ecclesiastes 1:9, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

It means that things are not different now. They're the same as they've always been. It would be tragic if some of you spent your entire lives without realizing how true that is. All I can say is, I'm glad I learned that lesson sooner, rather than later.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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