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Less Thinking, More Doing: Develop the Action Habit Today

Less Thinking, More Doing: Develop the Action Habit Today

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” – Paulo Coelho

Everybody wants advice but nobody wants to do the work. If you cut the time you spend deliberating in half and spent that time actively pursuing what you want, how much farther ahead do you think you’d be? Answer honestly but don’t agonize over it (because “stressing over all that stuff in that past sure made me feel better!” said nobody anywhere ever). Your challenge, should you accept it: Less thinking, more doing. Are you in? If so, check out these 15 ways to develop the action habit.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Drop your preconceived notions. Forget about what “society” or your friends or your family expect of you. What do you want out of life? What do you want to be remembered for? Be true to yourself and don’t worry about anybody else. Your life is yours and yours alone. It might be helpful to imagine what you think success would look like in a year or two. Begin with that and work backwards to create action steps that will take you from Point A to Point B.

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2. Slow and steady wins the race.

As much as you might want something to be quick-and-easy, life just doesn’t work that way. If you run into this adventure with guns blazing, odds are you’ll find yourself in an insurmountable state of overwhelm. If you want this, start training your patience muscles because you’ll need them (trust me).

3. Break your Big Goal into baby goals.

You know what’s super discouraging? Goals so incredibly ambitious that success is like a mirage in the desert because no matter how much you move forward, you can’t help feeling like you haven’t made any visible progress. Don’t aim for 50 lbs; just lose the first 5. If you want to write a play that rivals Shakespearean tragedies, how about beginning with full focus on the first act?

4. Celebrate every minor victory.

Baby goals are great for your esteem because they offer a constant stream of positive feedback that will make you feel happy, encouraged, and productive. I don’t know about you, but I think it would be more fun to perform 20 touchdown dances than just 1.

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5. Keep your eye on the prize.

Inspiration is a fleeting thing. The temptation to quit will become overwhelming, but to stay on track, remind yourself of why you want to achieve your goal in the first place. The daily grind has a way of making us lose sight of our priorities.

6. Learn from the best and brightest…

Believe it or not, you’re not alone. I’m willing to wager that people in this world are doing or have done the very thing you want to do. Read their books and blogs to learn what worked for them (and save yourself some trouble). Why reinvent the wheel when a brief remodeling will do?

7. …but stay true to you.

Do look for outside inspiration that will point you in the right direction but do not become a mere clone of another person. The reek of phoniness is so foul that it cannot be hidden (and nobody likes a rip-off).

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8. Be ready to make sacrifices.

What’s more important: success or recreation? This isn’t to say you can’t have both, but action takers strive for a healthy balance between the two. Close your door so you can get work done. Roomies too much to handle? Go to a coffee shop or park bench with your notebook or laptop. Turn down the occasional invitation to a bar or restaurant if you’re in the process of flexing your hustle muscle.

9. Watch out for time bandits.

Time flies when you’re on the internet. Have you ever logged on to Facebook, Pinterest, or Reddit and told yourself you would only spend a “little while” there, but the next time you looked at the clock it was 2 or 3 hours later? Also, put down your phone. Those little 5-minute Facebook excursions can add up in a hurry. For the sake of example: If you check your Facebook 5 times a day for 5 minutes per log-in on 5 days per week, you are burning 2 hours per week.

10. Efficiency is your friend.

Strapped for time? Cook in bulk. Choose the least busy day of the week, gather your groceries, and knock-out 5-7 days of meals in a single shot. My favorite bulk-cook dishes: spaghetti with lean beef, grilled chicken salad and stir fry with white rice, tuna, corn, peas, and carrots (try this with a squeeze of lemon: you won’t be sorry).

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11. Find an accountability team.

The best friends are the ones who don’t belittle you but at the same time don’t allow you to settle for anything less than your best. Make friends with people in your field via networking events like your area Chamber of Commerce or online support groups on LinkedIn.

12. Know when to walk away.

Who says you need to work until you find yourself in a comatose state? Working beyond the brink of exhaustion is counterproductive. Not only will your work past this point be subpar, but you’ll also run the risk of creating an association with your work and misery. The best work comes from a place of love and happiness. If you’re not feeling it, take the dog for a walk, catch up with some friends, take a vacation, or do something (anything!) else.

13. There is always time for fun.

Yes, you do have to make sacrifices if you desire success. No, this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on occasion. Life isn’t meant to be devoid of fun and play. Your hard work won’t vanish during your escape; on the contrary, you’ll come back with re-charged drive and ambition.

14. Evolve as much as necessary.

Stubbornly clinging to past beliefs that were dead-wrong will sink your odds of success faster than you can say “dummkopf.” Be ready for failure, but don’t stress about it (because it’s just a learning opportunity). Brace yourself for the realization that no, you don’t have it all figured out (a fact that life will rub in your face over and over again). Sound nasty? It really isn’t. The only way to evolve is through trial and error. Keep on improving and your odds of acheiving will get better and better with every failure.

15. Go do something.

What follows is the action habit to end all action habits: All of the self-help articles in the world can’t save you if you never take action. Every time you read a book or article like this, immediately apply something from it (no matter how big or small). How are you going to apply this today?

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Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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