Ethos of Action
An easy thing to say, not as easy to do. There exists a feeling that if we talk about ideas and goals before we start them, that we have accomplished something. If we say, “I have this really great book idea” and talk about the plot and characters, that we have, essentially, written the book. “I’m going to start a blog and write about helping people,” “I just bought this great new fitness program and in eight weeks I’m going to be able to do…”. These are examples of plans in thought, not action.
While saying these things out loud to another individual may be merely relaying the information, it’s likely that this is a way for us to feel accomplishment without really accomplishing anything.
“You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.” ― Henry Ford
Here’s a good question to ask yourself about your goal or idea: if I don’t tell anyone about my plan does it affect my ability to execute it? If not, then talking about it prior to doing it for praise and validation on a job not started, and that is a dangerous space to occupy (especially for a procrastinator like me).
For years, I would tell everyone my plans
“I’m gonna write a book” (I haven’t written a book.)
“Yea, I’m going to sign up for ju-jitsu because it’s a great workout and practical” (Only classes I ever took were from a friend.)
“I’m going to learn French. It’s easy, and I can’t wait to speak a different language” (Did it for a week, Je Suis Joe is all I know.)
There are scores of other examples throughout my life that are signposts of incomplete action. This thinking gives us a false start. It’s not visualizing the goal; it’s visualizing the reward. The premature celebration saps the motivation to act.
Realizing that this is common and difficult to change, what can you do to help fan the flames of action?
I have put together a list of 10 practical things that help me create an Ethos of Action:
• Don’t broadcast your intent. Nike has the perfect slogan for this, Just Do It. Seriously, if it’s meaningful and you have the drive to do it, then get something done. Then, show the thing you did to the person you are excited to talk to about it. But talk about it after you actually have something to show them, not merely at thing fantasize about with them.
• Know your “why”. I won’t go into too much detail on this as I wrote a whole post on this one subject. But know the reason you want to do what you are doing. Use this as your North Star for when you get off course due to distractions and poor decisions.
• Start. This one is self-explanatory, but I need reminding every once in a while. My blog and acting were started by a first step. I started writing; I took an acting class, I auditioned, and I put together a website. Once you start moving towards your goal outwardly, you start to habituate action internally. Think of action like driving a car. Once you are driving, it’s becomes mostly a decision to brake or press on the gas, however, before those choices are even an option, you need to turn the engine over and start the car.
• Let the new idea/goal breathe for a day. Sometimes I get so excited about something shiny and wonderful that I immediately attempt, sign up, agree, or attend whatever that thing is. Take a day, do some exercise, eat some tasty meals, shower, and sleep on it. I don’t care what anyone tells you; an extra day won’t make or break your desire; it will only sharpen it or prove it’s unrealistic.
• Write down ten ideas a day. Ok, this is one I heard from James Altucher, and I absolutely love it. The technique is to write down ten ideas every day on a disposable piece of paper (he uses a waiter’s pad, cheap and disposable). James says it strengthens your “idea muscle” to the point that creativity, ideas, and solutions come quicker, easier, and are a better quality. The ideas can be about anything, and they don’t have to be good. It’s brainstorming for creativity and solutions. Personally, I enjoy saving my ideas, not because they are good, but because it’s fun to reread them.
• Keep track of your time for a month. Start a spreadsheet that outlines your day. Including work, breaks, hobbies, family time, and your new plan. It’s frustrating, and sometimes a little overkill but it will show you how much time you truly have in order to do things. Like a finance budget but for your time (which is way more valuable than money).
• Read a piece of fiction everyday. At some point –I usually do so before bed- read something that activates the non-analytical/problem-solving part of your brain. It’s great for decompressing and rebooting your mind without shutting it down. It will help with problem-solving by not having you burnout on solving problems. Plus, there’s no downside to reading more.
• Don’t beat yourself up. I should get this tattooed on my forehead. So that every time I look in the mirror I remind myself that I feel like a failure for stumbling, it’s normal. You may forget to do what you wanted or needed to do for the day, it happens. But realizing it and adjusting is the important part. There are a few posts that I was too tired or lazy to finish when I wanted to but I didn’t stop trying and take down my site. If we stopped getting up and moving forward every time we stumbled the world would be full of adults crawling to work.
• Write down three things that must be accomplished the next day. Write your list of three things with this statement in mind: If I can only do these three things all day then my day is successful. I usually write these down before bed, it gives me the full experience of the day to plan for the next. Making this list will help get your mind and body in harmony with doing things and feeling accomplishment, which you can then apply to other endeavors.
• Persevere. Again, I wrote a full post on this one point, so I won’t go into much detail here. But keep moving towards your goal. Not just moving for the sake of moving, but any movement that gets you closer to your North Star isn’t wasted motion. Starting and stopping breeds complacency and wasted movement breed apathy.
Now, this list may seem daunting, but so does every uphill climb until you are looking back from where you are to where you started.
Action is the only thing that makes a difference. Ideas and dreams are for an audience of one, but action brings them to the world.
Start doing something today. It can be the yard work you didn’t feel like doing, starting the blog you always wanted to write or taking the trip you have been dreaming about taking.
Whatever the thing is in your life that you want to do, just start doing. (Yeah, Nike’s is catchier).