The Lost Discipline of Taking Action

Are you someone who theorises, strategises, plans, discusses, researches…? In other words, you do everything but take action? You know action is the essential ingredient of success but it’s painful. Action requires physical and often mental and emotional effort and the outcome is not guaranteed. It’s easier to stay in your comfort zone and plan some more…

Learn to become a person of action. This post will help you:

  1. Re-think your relationship with taking action;
  2. Make action your default response;
  3. Minimise resistance to action-taking;
  4. Increase action without increasing the required effort;
  5. Overcome your fear of doing the work.

Let’s start.

The power of action

  1. All desired outcomes require action. Yes, ideas and plans are important, but they are worthless without the willingess to do the work. If you’re unhappy with where you are in life, you need to (a) take more action, (b) take different actions, and/or (c) both. Thinking and strategising alone won’t do it.
  2. Action kills uncertainty and fear. When confronted with a challenge, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Sitting there, imagining worst case scenarios, replaying being rejected, performing badly – all these negative outcomes are born out of inaction. When you do nothing you are being drowned by your monkey-mind – that part of your brain programmed to perceive threat. When you take action, you will find greater peace of mind.
  3. Action leads to new opportunities and relationships. When you take action, you interact with the world around you. That interaction exposes you to new information, new situations, new people, new communications. Out of this arises new opportunities. If you are unhappy with where you are in life, this injection of new experiences in your life will give you new options and outcomes. Just as the world can impact you, you can impact the world.
  4. Action unlocks potential. Think back to a time when you did something you did not think you could. Suddenly your world seems that bit larger. Other things seem possible. For a time, you step outside your self-imposed limitations. The thing that you did not think you could do becomes the new standard. You likely did not believe you could do it to begin with but taking action resulted in a positive outcome. What other things could you do if you were just willing to give them a try? In the words of Edison, “If we did everything we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”
  5. Action will bring you greater happiness. Inaction is a terrible habit. It kills off all possibility of change. If you’re depressed, poor, lonely, overweight, lost – whatever ills you – taking action is the first road to recovery. Take action: make an appointment with your doctor; find a job or start a side business; join a club and meet people; learn about nutrition and cook healthier meals; keep a journal and start experimenting with your life… All are actions that you can take. All lead to a better outcome for you. It won’t happen overnight but it won’t happen at all if you don’t take get up and start doing.

The danger of inaction

  1. Doing nothing will rot your life. What happens to things when they are unusued? Cars rust; houses rot; bodies atrophy. Inaction becomes the fuel of your disatisfaction. You hate your life but you binge-watch Netflix; you spend half a day on your console; you sleep your most productive hours away. Inaction will keep you drugged, apathetic and a prisoner of circumstance.
  2. Inaction is a dangerous habit. The more you do nothing, the easier it becomes. It begins to seep into all areas of your life and manifest in your daily results. Good times become bad times when you become complacent. Happy relationships break down when you take them for granted. Your business stagnates when you do not continue to work on it.
  3. The longer you are inactive, the more powerless you feel. The longer you do nothing, the less able you feel to do anything. The world has moved on: the strengths you had are now obsolete; the opportunities you could have siezed are no longer there; the people you knew have moved on. This is the feeling that the world has passed you by and you can’t catch up. It’s a direct result of too much time spent doing nothing. You need to nurture your life like a garden: remove weeds, plant new seeds, tend to it and reap a harvest. A steady stream of action will wash away everything stagnant in your life.

An action strategy

Ready, fire, aim!

Here is a simple strategy to ensure you take more action:

  1. Observe the 3-second rule. Develop a bias towards action. Stop overthinking. Here’s how it works. You think of something you should do that you know will bring you closer to your goal. You have 3-seconds to act. You want to meet that stranger, you have 3 seconds to say hello; want to ask something from an influential person, you have 3 seconds to start writing that email; want to start a business, you have 3 seconds to take that first step towards it. The hardest part of taking action is inertia; the 3 second rule overcomes that.
  2. You don’t need more information. Many smart people are guilty of this. They want to read one more book, take a course, study a few videos… It’s fear and procrastination speaking. You know more than you think. Do you know it all? No. Do you need to know it all? Hell, no. You know enough to start taking positive action now. The rest you can learn along the way: build your wings on the way down. Where you are now, there is plenty you can do. The best education you can get in any subject is to just dive in and start.
  3. Work for 5 minutes. Forget about the huge journey that lies before you and just focus on the next five minutes. You can work for five minutes. That’s your favourite song played one and a half times. Identify the most important task related to your goal and work on it hard for five minutes. After five minutes, you can stop or carry on. That’s it. You’ll be surprised at what happens.
  4. Double your failure rate. If you’re experiencing more failures it’s because you are trying more things. That’s good. If you’re making mistakes, it’s because you’re taking more action. That’s good too. Double your number of mistakes; double the amount of action you take. It’s action that brings results. The trick is, don’t make the same mistake twice. If you can accept and learn from your failures, you will experience success much faster. Go out there and keep swinging for the fences. The more you strike out and adjust, the closer you are to that home run.
  5. Start producing more than you consume. You don’t need to read another book, take another course or gather more information. You need to take action. The people who are ahead in life all have one thing in common: they are producers, i.e. they create value of some kind and the market rewards them for it. You need to move from a consumer mindset to a producer mindset – start creating value for others. The more value you create, the more you will be rewarded. You know what needs to be done. Don’t procrastinate with more “research”. You don’t need to see entire journey – just the next step – then and go out there and do the damn thing.

That’s it. Five simple steps to start becoming a person of action.

Kill your excuses

It’s a simple idea: take action. But if it were easy, we’d all do it. What makes it difficult is the inner dialogue that inevitably appears. That voice that tells you to do nothing and stay in your comfort zone. Here are the most common voices and what to do about them.

  1. “I just need to do X first”. No, you don’t. This is just fear and procrastination masquerading as planning and strategy. You have everything you need to take the first step. Just the first. The path will reveal itself to you as you take each step.
  2. “It won’t work”. You might be right. You might be wrong. The only way to find out is to take action. And if it doesn’t work? So fucking what? Move on, keep trying new things. So long as the price of failure is not so catastrophic that you can’t come back from it, i.e you lose your home, what’s to fear? If something doesn’t work, you learn from the mistake, “Why didn’t this work? What did I do wrong?” and you start something else, taking the wisdom you’ve gained.
  3. “It’s not the right time”. There is never a right time. There is always something else that needs to be done before you start. As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now”. Start where you are, with what you have.
  4. “I don’t know where to begin”. Begin wherever you are. For example, many professional writers do not start from page one or chapter one. They write set pieces, snippets of dialogue, key events – then weave them together later. You start with any important task you can identify. It doesn’t have to be the beginning – it just has to be something that will make a difference. If you’re not sure were to start, ask yourself this question:

“What can I do in the next five minutes that will bring me closer to my goal? Start there.”

  1. “It won’t make any difference”. Really? Working your ass off for 12 hours a day, six, seven days a week; working your plan; making contacts; producing something of value; marketing yourself; trying new things; partnering with others; putting your self out there; learning new skills; starting a side income; building a portfolio; meeting new people; showing up and putting in the time; helping others; creating stuff that others want; being optimistic and positive… won’t make a difference? OK, if you say so.
  2. “I’m meant for more than this”. No doubt you are but this is your reality for now. Absolutely, don’t settle – that’s not the lesson here. The lesson is to realise that every success and every comeback starts from humble beginnings. Success is a series of steps, not a single leap. Start where you are and start putting the work in. Aim for mini-goals and milestones. Keep moving forward. You don’t have to like where you are but you do have to own it. Don’t lose sight of the destination – re-affirm it every day – but keep your focus on the step right in front of you.
  3. “Others are doing it already – I’m too late”. Quick, send a memo out to all writers, directors and business owners: stop what you’re doing, someone has already written a book / made a film / started a business. Absurd, right? There are lots of songs, lots of songwriters. Keep that principle in mind. It may appear that other people are doing what you want to do – heck, maybe they are – but you make your offer unique. Put it another way: why do you watch certain channels and not others? Why do you listen to this band and not that one? Why do you buy things from a particular business and not its competitor? The answer is the way something is done matters to you. The difference between options is what draws you in. In other words, someone else may be doing what you want to do but others will prefer how you do it.
  4. “It’s not working”. How do you know? Because you’re not seeing results? How long have you given it? You’re planting seeds. You need to feed and water your idea to bring it into the world. You need to give it a chance. How long? It’s not so much the time and more the quality of your actions and effort. If you’ve exhausted every avenue, then maybe it’s time to review. Results take time. You don’t dig up seeds to see how they’re growing. Be persistent, patient and positive. And after you’ve done all you can and it’s not working, glean what lessons you can and try something else.
  5. “My life is a mess”. Then what do you have to lose? Things can only improve. If it’s a mess, what will improve it – doing nothing or taking action? Those are your only two choices. And how did your life become a mess? It didn’t happen overnight. It probably unfolded over a series of months, even years. Perhaps misfortunes struck and proceeded to feed off each other. And here you now are. The only move that matters is your next one. If you do nothing, nothing will change. So what does that leave you? The only choice that makes sense: do something.

And, no doubt, there are countless other reasons you tell yourself not to take action – too many to list here. But they all boil down to one thing: fear. Whatever your reason for not starting something now it’s all the same, you’re scared. The antidote is always the same: take action.

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