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Goal Getting

Becoming Action-Oriented: Tips for Overcoming Inaction

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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Regret – it’s a small word that can carry a lifetime’s worth of weight. Have you ever stood at the crossroads of a crucial decision, wondering if you should take a leap of faith or play it safe?

You’re not alone. In fact, the most common regret people have is not about the actions they took, but the ones they didn’t. It’s about dreams unchased, passions unpursued, risks untaken, and potentials unrealized.

Consider someone who turns down a promising job opportunity due to fear of underperformance or fitting in. Or think about a person with a brilliant business idea who hesitates to move forward, haunted by the specter of failure or rejection.

These are not just hypothetical scenarios but real-life situations that many encounter. The regret of inaction often echoes louder in our lives than the missteps we make.

Cambridge University Press underscores this with striking clarity.[1] Their study reveals a compelling insight: action-oriented individuals who choose to act in decision-making situations experience significantly lower levels of regret compared to those who hold back.

This isn’t just a piece of academic trivia; it’s a powerful testament to the importance of embracing action in our lives.


So, why focus on being more action-oriented?

Because at the heart of a fulfilling life lies the courage to act. It’s about being true to who you are, making earnest efforts towards your goals, and realizing your full potential.

As you read on, remember this isn’t just about avoiding regret. It’s about crafting a life story you’ll be proud to tell, one bold step at a time.

What Does Being Action-Oriented Look Like?

Imagine two types of people navigating life’s challenges:

Those who are action-oriented and those who are state-oriented.

This distinction, highlighted by Julius Kuhl in the early 1990s,[2] is pivotal in understanding how we approach goals, especially under pressure.

The Action-Oriented Individual

Action-oriented people are like navigators in the storm of life. They are resilient to stress, capable of putting past failures behind them, and able to focus on tasks without getting sidetracked.

Starting new projects is their forte. Picture someone who, when faced with an obstacle, immediately starts brainstorming solutions, takes charge, and dives into action.

The State-Oriented Individual

In contrast, state-oriented individuals tend to ruminate over past misfortunes, struggle to take decisive action, and often find themselves procrastinating.

They are the ones who get bogged down in the “what ifs” and “if onlys,” finding it hard to move forward or make a clear decision.


Returning to the Cambridge University study, we find concrete evidence of how these two groups react to decision-making scenarios.

Action-oriented individuals generally feel a greater sense of regret when they don’t act, while state-oriented individuals experience regret regardless of their choice.

Defining Action Orientation

The Cambridge Dictionary succinctly defines being action-oriented as being

“willing or likely to take practical action to deal with a problem or situation.”

It’s about being proactive, taking the initiative, and not waiting passively for things to change.

Characteristics of action-oriented people include:

  • Proactive and Resourceful: They don’t just wait for opportunities; they create them.
  • Decisive: They make decisions confidently and stand by them.
  • Accountable: They take responsibility for their actions and outcomes.
  • Persistent: They persevere through challenges and setbacks.
  • Opportunistic: They recognize and seize opportunities.

An action-oriented person might steadily climb their career ladder by continuously improving their skills, seeking new opportunities, and taking on leadership roles, leading to promotions and increased influence.

Those who take action in starting a business often see growth and success through clear vision and consistent effort.

And let’s look into a real-life example: Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs serves as a quintessential example of action orientation.

From co-founding Apple and revolutionizing personal computing to dealing with setbacks like being fired from his own company, Jobs exemplified resilience and determination.


He didn’t just stop at Apple; he went on to make Pixar a success and eventually returned to Apple, leading it to become a global innovator.

Being action-oriented is about a mindset that embraces practical steps to solve problems and achieve goals. It’s about being proactive, decisive, and resilient.

As seen in the stories of countless successful individuals, this approach can lead to remarkable achievements and a fulfilling life.

Benefits of Becoming Action-Oriented

Transforming into an action-oriented individual isn’t just about making things happen. It’s about unlocking a world of possibilities, where dreams take flight, and aspirations turn into tangible realities.

The journey from intention to action is lined with numerous benefits, both tangible and intangible.

Realizing Dreams and Achieving Goals

The path to achievement is paved with actions, not just intentions. Whether it’s starting a successful business, advancing in your career, or achieving personal goals, action is the catalyst.

As Brain Coach Jim Kwik aptly puts it,

“Knowledge is not power. It’s only potential power. It only becomes power when we apply it and use it.”

This philosophy underscores the essence of being action-oriented – turning potential into power, ideas into innovations, and dreams into realities.


Short-Term and Long-Term Rewards

The beauty of being action-oriented lies in its immediate and lasting impacts.

In the short term, you’ll witness the direct results of your actions – a project initiated, a new skill learned, or a relationship strengthened.

In the long term, these actions accumulate, paving the way for sustained success and fulfillment.

Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem

Each action you take builds a brick in the foundation of your confidence. Seeing the results of your actions, no matter how small, reinforces a sense of capability and control.

This not only boosts your self-esteem but also fuels your resilience and optimism, vital traits for navigating life’s ups and downs.

Avoiding the Cost of Regret

Regret often stems from inaction. By choosing to act, you sidestep the ‘what ifs’ that haunt those who hold back.

Living a life free from the chains of regret allows you to enjoy a richer, more fulfilling existence, where each decision is a step forward, not a path not taken.

Enhancing Self-Discovery and Awareness

Action is a mirror reflecting your true self. It reveals your strengths, passions, and capabilities, offering insights into who you are and what you can achieve.

This journey of self-discovery is invaluable, leading to heightened self-awareness and a clearer understanding of your place in the world.


Becoming an Inspirational Leader

Action-oriented individuals naturally inspire those around them.

As a leader, your propensity to act sets a powerful example, motivating your team to follow suit.

Your actions speak louder than words, galvanizing others to achieve collective objectives and fostering a culture of proactivity and achievement.

Embracing an action-oriented lifestyle is about much more than getting things done. It’s about building confidence, avoiding regret, discovering yourself, and inspiring others.

It’s a journey towards a life of purpose, achievement, and fulfillment.

Why Is it Hard For People to Take Action?

Taking the leap from contemplation to action can often feel like scaling a mountain. Various internal and external factors can turn this journey into an arduous task.

By recognizing and understanding these barriers, anyone can equip themselves to overcome them and stride confidently towards their goals.

Imposter Syndrome

One of the most insidious barriers is imposter syndrome. Characterized by feelings of inadequacy and a fear of being exposed as a fraud, imposter syndrome can significantly impair one’s ability to act.

Despite evidence of their capabilities, those afflicted doubt their skills and accomplishments, leading to a paralysis in decision-making and action-taking.


This lack of authenticity, as noted by the American Psychological Association,[3] can prevent individuals from engaging in actions that resonate with their true selves, further impeding progress.



is the arch-nemesis of action. It’s the act of delaying and deferring, which becomes a substantial roadblock to achieving goals.

Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, lack of confidence, overwhelm, and lack of motivation are some of the driving forces behind procrastination. This can transform an actionable plan into a series of postponed intentions.

Analysis Paralysis

When overthinking leads to inaction, it’s known as analysis paralysis. This state of constant deliberation can make it difficult for individuals to commit to a decision or action, resulting in missed opportunities and delayed progress.

The fixation on weighing every possible option leads to a mental gridlock, where no path seems viable enough to tread.

Lack of Commitment

Commitment is the fuel for action. Without it, the journey towards goals can be easily derailed.

A lack of commitment manifests as a reluctance to take action, driven by a lack of accountability and belief in one’s ability to succeed.


Without a solid commitment, the motivation to persist through challenges wanes, leading to inaction.

Result-Oriented Thinking

While focusing on outcomes is important, an excessive fixation on results can be counterproductive.

When people become overly preoccupied with achieving specific outcomes, they may lose sight of the necessary steps to get there.

This can lead to frustration, disappointment, and a reluctance to take the first step. Furthermore, unrealistic expectations can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure.

Motion vs Action

The distinction between motion and action is crucial in the journey towards becoming more action-oriented.

Motion refers to the planning and preparation phase, while action is the execution of those plans.

  • Motion: It’s about setting the stage – creating to-do lists, researching diet plans, watching workout videos, or acquiring productivity books.
  • Action: This is where the real work happens – completing tasks on the to-do list, cooking and eating healthy meals, engaging in physical exercise, and applying learned productivity strategies.

Understanding and balancing motion and action is essential.

Too much motion with little action leads to stagnation, while action without sufficient motion can result in aimless busyness.

The key is to harmonize the two – aligning intention with execution – to effectively move towards your goals.

How to Become More Action-Oriented

1. Understand that Action Is Like a Muscle

Just as muscles grow stronger with exercise, your ability to take action strengthens with use. Recognizing action as a skill means you can train and improve it deliberately.

Here’s how you can flex this muscle:

Start Small and Scale Up

Begin with manageable tasks and gradually increase their complexity.

This approach helps build confidence and competence, creating a solid foundation for tackling more challenging tasks in the future.

Balance Productivity with Rest

Action isn’t synonymous with constant productivity. It’s essential to recognize when to take a break and recharge.

Rest is a crucial part of the process, preventing burnout and maintaining long-term momentum.

Cultivate Consistency and Persistence

The key to strengthening your action muscle lies in consistent and persistent efforts.

It’s about establishing a rhythm of action that becomes part of your daily routine, helping you navigate obstacles and setbacks.


Embrace the Journey

Developing the habit of action is a gradual process. It requires patience, commitment, and an understanding that change doesn’t happen overnight.

Celebrate small victories along the way and remain focused on your long-term objectives.

Incremental Progress

Understand that every small action contributes to a larger goal.

By consistently adding to your ‘action bank,’ you’re building a reserve of confidence and capability that fuels future actions.

2. Set a Direction For Yourself

At Lifehack, we understand the paralysis that can come from overwhelming goals. That’s why we advocate for starting with a general direction, rather than a perfect, grand goal.

It’s about setting your own North Star – a guiding light to orient your journey, even when the destination isn’t crystal clear.

Embrace the North Star Concept

Your North Star is your overarching direction. It’s not about a specific destination but about having a sense of direction that guides your actions and decisions.

This clarity of purpose is crucial for starting and maintaining momentum.

Consistency in Your North Star

While flexibility is key in the Time Flow System, your North Star should remain consistent.

It’s the steady beacon that guides your journey, changing only if there’s a fundamental shift in your life goals or circumstances.


Breaking Down Your North Star into Initiatives

Think of initiatives as building blocks or stepping stones towards your North Star. They are specific, achievable milestones that provide structure to your actions.

Each initiative should align with and contribute to your overarching direction.

Evaluate and Evolve Your Initiatives

Initiatives aren’t set in stone. They should be dynamic, adapting to new insights and circumstances.

Regular evaluation ensures that your efforts are aligned with your North Star and contributing meaningfully to your progress.

Filter and Focus

Every action you take should be scrutinized for its alignment with your North Star.

Avoid the trap of busywork or tasks that offer a false sense of achievement. Ask yourself, “Does this move me closer to my North Star?” If not, it might be time to reassess and redirect.

time flow

    3. Use Implementation Intention

    The concept of Implementation Intentions revolutionizes the way we approach our goals. It’s about creating a detailed plan that stipulates the ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ of a specific action. This strategy significantly enhances the likelihood of moving from intention to action.

    Crafting Specific Plans

    An Implementation Intention ties a particular situation to a specific action. For instance, saying, “I’ll go for a 30-minute run when I get home from work on Monday,” sets a clear and actionable plan.

    Automating Actions: By defining the exact circumstances under which an action will take place, you’re more likely to follow through.


    This approach helps automate the behavior, making it a natural response to the specified situation.

    Ease of Execution

    Implementation intentions reduce the mental effort needed to start an action.

    They bring the desired behavior into focus, simplifying the process of initiating it and giving you a greater sense of control.

    Concrete and Specific Planning

    The more detailed your plan, the better. Vague intentions are less likely to be acted upon compared to concrete, well-defined plans.

    Use “Focus Blocks”

    Incorporating LifeHack’s Time Flow System, use Focus Blocks to ensure execution of important tasks.

    Each Focus Block should be clearly defined with what actions to take and how much time to allocate.

    This approach emphasizes quality over quantity, focusing on impactful actions that align with your North Star and Initiatives.

    Becoming Action-Oriented: Tips for Overcoming Inaction

      4. Adopt a Growth Mindset

      Embracing a growth mindset is like unlocking a new level of potential in your journey towards action-oriented living.

      It’s the belief that your abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work, a concept diametrically opposed to the limiting beliefs of a fixed mindset.

      Valuing Progress Over Perfection

      With a growth mindset, the focus shifts from seeking perfection to embracing the process of learning and improvement.

      Mistakes and setbacks are no longer seen as failures but as stepping stones to greater understanding and skill.

      Seeing Challenges as Opportunities

      Challenges become opportunities for growth. This perspective fosters resilience and motivation, crucial traits for anyone looking to become more action-oriented.

      Enhancing Motivation and Resilience:

      A growth mindset instills a sense of possibility. When you believe that you can improve and evolve through effort, your willingness to take risks and try new things naturally increases.[4]

      Openness to Feedback

      People with a growth mindset value feedback, understanding its role in personal and professional development.

      They see feedback not as criticism but as a valuable input for growth.

      Perseverance in Adversity

      The belief in the ability to grow fuels perseverance. Obstacles become less daunting when you view them as opportunities to enhance your skills and knowledge.

      Focusing on Learning and Progress

      To cultivate a growth mindset, prioritize the learning journey over the destination. Celebrate small victories and learn from every experience, good or bad.

      If you want to develop a growth mindset, read 17 Ways To Develop a Growth Mindset.

      5. Visualize Who You Want To Be

      Visualization is a potent tool in the arsenal of an action-oriented individual.

      By creating mental images of your desired outcomes or the future self you aspire to be, you engage in a powerful exercise that can enhance motivation, focus, and belief in your capabilities.

      Mental Blueprint of Success

      As Muhammad Ali famously said,

      “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

      Visualization acts as a mental blueprint, detailing the future you aim to create. This mental rehearsal primes your mind and body to act in ways that align with your vision.

      Overcoming Self-Doubt

      Regular visualization helps in dismantling self-doubt and limiting beliefs.

      By repeatedly seeing yourself succeed in your mind’s eye, you begin to internalize the possibility of making it a reality.

      Enhancing Focus and Clarity

      Visualization brings clarity to your goals and the steps needed to achieve them. It sharpens your focus, making your objectives more tangible and attainable.

      Boosting Self-Esteem

      Envisioning your success can significantly boost your self-esteem.

      It reinforces the belief that you are capable of achieving your goals, which in turn fuels your drive to take action.

      Creating Specific and Detailed Imagery

      To maximize the benefits of visualization, immerse yourself in the details.

      Imagine not just the outcome but the journey – the sights, sounds, emotions, and experiences that come with achieving your goals.

      Making It a Daily Practice

      Incorporate visualization into your daily routine. Dedicate a few minutes each day to vividly imagine your success and transformation.

      This consistent practice keeps your goals front and center, guiding your actions and decisions.

      Read 13 Visualization Techniques to Help You Reach Your Goals to refine and enhance your visualization skills.

      Bottom Line

      The path to actualizing your dreams and ambitions hinges on a single, pivotal factor: action.

      It’s the bridge that connects the realm of ideas and plans to the tangible world of results and achievements.

      Without action, the most elaborate plans remain dormant, unfulfilled potentialities.

      Becoming more action-oriented is not just about getting things done; it’s about fundamentally transforming how you interact with your goals, challenges, and opportunities.

      It’s about moving from a passive state of dreaming and planning to an active state of doing and achieving.

      The essence of becoming more action-oriented lies in transforming your intentions into actions, your dreams into realities.

      It’s about adopting strategies that drive you forward, whether it’s through setting clear directions, embracing a growth mindset, or visualizing success.

      In doing so, you unlock a world where progress, achievement, and fulfillment are not just possibilities but inevitabilities.


      Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

      Becoming Action-Oriented: Tips for Overcoming Inaction

      Action Strengthens with Use: Like a muscle, the more you practice taking action, the stronger your ability to act becomes.

      Setting a Direction: Start with a general direction or a ‘North Star’ instead of an overwhelming grand goal to initiate action.

      Implementation Intention: Create specific plans detailing when, where, and how you’ll perform a behavior to increase the likelihood of action.

      Adopting a Growth Mindset: Embrace the belief that abilities can improve with effort, which encourages learning from setbacks and trying new things.

      Visualization Techniques: Regularly visualize achieving your goals and becoming your desired self to enhance motivation and belief in your capabilities.

      Overcoming Procrastination: Being action-oriented helps combat procrastination, leading to more consistent progress towards goals.

      Developing Resilience: An action-oriented mindset fosters resilience, aiding in overcoming challenges and bouncing back from failures.

      Gaining Control and Fulfillment: Taking action leads to a greater sense of control over your life and contributes to a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment.


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