Without Action it’s Just Potential
Throughout my life I have come across some incredibly smart people. In fact, many would call them brilliant. Yet, in many instances, they had done little and accomplished almost nothing. This is very true and equally, very sad.
The problem was that while having incredible smarts, they never took action with what they had and knew. They would start to do something and then inexplicably stop.
You can’t just take one action, make one attempt, and call it a day. New actions that initially require a lot of effort can and eventually do turn into habitual patterns of behavior. The hardest part about taking action towards change is both getting started and then continuing on even when some difficulties may arise.
As with those individuals, many of us fail to take action because the unconscious parts of our minds that drive our behavior have decided not to take action. We may convince ourselves that we really want to pursue a goal when in reality our unconscious mind is not committed to it.
So what is it that causes capable people to not take action? There could be a variety of reasons, including:
A Lack of Confidence
The motivation to complete a task depends both on the value of the reward we anticipate when we complete it, as well as our expectation that we’ll actually get that reward.
This creates a process where the expectation of our ability to sustain our motivation influences our expectation of success. When we think that success is more and more likely we get more and more motivated. But, when we have doubt about our success, we get lowered expectations and become increasingly discouraged and unmotivated.
Since our expectations of one instance can often influence future pursuits, this might become a general response of doing nothing in our lives. When projects tend to fail, our expectations are lowered and our motivation disappears. If your projects succeed, our expectations go up and our motivation stays strong.
Our Dreams are Different from Reality
Many big goals have a far term / near term incompatibility which can make them hard to take action on. We think about our fitness goal in terms of losing weight, being healthy and looking buff. Yet, when we go to the gym the reality about breathing hard, having sweat dripping down our face and being uncomfortable sets in. We dislike the short term and do nothing, thereby sacrificing any long term gain.
Starting and continuing through with difficult projects similarly depends on this incompatibility. Someone who dreams up a goal is different from the person who actually executes on it, Coordinating these is hard, especially for those who don’t like sustained and long-term efforts.
Not Sticking Your Neck Out
In the past people lived in times when standing out and taking certain actions that went beyond the cultural norms could get them killed or exiled. While that rarely happens today, we may still be ostracized or shunned because of actions we may take. To avoid this, we conform to what others think so that we fit in or at least not stick out.
This may explain why inaction seems to happen with some areas of life, but not others. By going with the accepted cultural norms we maintain a safe zone where we will not be picked on or ignored by others.
Human beings exhibit unrealistic time preferences for satisfaction, looking at the here and now, versus long-term future rewards. Instantaneous gratification is definitely a curse and not a blessing. And, procrastination is a delaying tactic to avoid wasting energy here and now, thinking that we might work harder in the future.
Inaction is most prevalent when we’re facing activities without strong pressures from ourselves or from others. If we can’t have it right now, why bother doing anything. Maybe someone else will do it and we can reap the benefits of their labor. And if not, then we justify doing nothing because it really wasn’t meant to be.
If you are a person who takes action, keep doing what you are doing. But if you are the type of person who puts things off or never takes action, here are some suggestions on what to do to overcome this:
1. Stop over-analyzing the situation.
Like the old Nike ads stress, “Just do it”. And do it, before thinking your way to indecisiveness and inaction.
2. Take some small actions every day.
By breaking big goals into bite sized pieces you can accomplish at least one of those bite-sized pieces every day.
3. Do less procrastinating and more doing.
Spend more time doing and creating. Use your own judgment and intuition instead of relying on others to get things done.
4. Create a bucket list and start checking items off.
You now have a sense of direction, instead of wandering aimlessly. When you lack purpose, you’ll spend more time doing nothing and less time working towards something.
5. Realize that getting started is hard
Sometimes overcoming inertia and getting in motion is the most difficult part of taking action. Get going and let the momentum created carry you.
So, there you have it. You should now know why you tend to either let thing go or not do them at all. It should be no surprise why others are accomplishing much more than us. If we are satisfied with that fine. No complaining.
But if we are not, it is time to take action. Small steps at first, but always moving ahead. As the saying goes, “The longest journey starts with small steps”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter H. Christian was a founding partner and president of espi, a business consulting firm in Northeastern PA. Previously he was an Executive at Crayola Corporation. He has worked with 300+ clients in business development, profit improvement, operations, IS selection and implementation, and Project Management. He has 40+ years of experience in strategic and facility planning, CI, lean, and supply chain. He has helped companies to realize millions of dollars in cost reductions and profit improvements adding and retaining thousands of jobs. He has authored the Amazon bestselling business books, “What About the Vermin Problem?” and “Influences and Influencers” and is published in a variety of professional magazines.