Dec 21, 2021 • 6M

When taking action isn't whats required (and might actually be harming you)

Reflect on your new year's resolutions before jumping into a new lifestyle routine

Paul Keefe
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“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

– Taoist Proverb

I’m always talking about taking action. About getting started, and not waiting for motivation to fall in your lap. Start now. Start small. Don’t wait.

Are there times where you shouldn’t just act for the sake of acting?

Where further reflection and examination might provide more value?

Well of course there is. It’s pretty much a condition for all choices you make.

However, in most of my writings this was only assumed on my part.

With your New Year’s Resolution’s about to begin, I wanted to share some insight around this topic before you decide to make a massive change in 2022, and possibly doing things that might not serve you in the long run.

Don’t act without first reflecting

The action bias is our tendency to want to do something, to do anything in most scenarios, rather than waiting and reflecting.

There are two situations where this seems to be really apparent on our health and fitness journey.

First, at the start of a new year when we feel that we must make sweeping changes to our entire lifestyle. Everyone else is, so we better get our shit sorted out as well, right?

The second is when we hit plateaus, or start to get a sense that our progress is stalling. Rather than staying patient and sticking with the plan, we try to shake things up just because. Doing something often feels better doing nothing.

We repeat Albert Einstein’s quote as confirmation to the changes we wish to make:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Well, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay patient and keep pressing on.

In The Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli says,

“In our old hunter-gatherer environment (which suited us quite well), action trumped reflection. Lightning-fast reactions were essential to survival; deliberation could be fatal.”

We’re basically wired to want to react rather than respond appropriately to the environment around us.

He makes an interesting observation:

“Although we now value contemplation more highly, outright inaction remains a cardinal sin. You get no honor, no medal, no statue with your name on it if you make exactly the right decision by waiting - for the good of the company, the state, even humanity…Society at large still prefers rash action to a sensible wait-and-see strategy.”

Imagine that New Year’s arrives and rather than jumping to make a ton of changes, you first paused. You analyzed the things that went well in prior months and year. You look to your strengths, and you figure out what you can leverage to help yourself moving forward. You respond by making one small change that you can commit to, rather than flipping everything on its head.

And when you feel progress stalls after a couple weeks, you keep pressing on rather than quitting, or trying to do something completely different just because that might feel better - although temporarily.

Rolf concludes:

“In new or shaky circumstances, we feel compelled to do something, anything. Afterward we feel better, even if we have made things worse by acting too quickly or too often.”

Give yourself some space to think clearly before you take action. Here are some tips to help with that.

Do a self-awareness check

Why is achieving this goal of yours so important to you?

What are you prepared to say “yes” to in order to achieve your goal?

What are you prepared to say “no” to in order to achieve your goal?

Look to past successes. When did you previously change something for the better in your life, and what were the “ingredients” and conditions that made it happen? Can you replicate any of these now to better assist you?

Assess your options

Based on what you want to change, is the path you’re contemplating the one you must take? Is there another way - one less risky which might require more patience, but will spare you the burn out?

And how do you know? Is there someone who might know better and can serve as a helpful guide on your journey?

Act mindfully

Mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

Thanks Google.

I don’t use this word because of it’s buzz-worthy nature lately. I do so because it’s an important quality that needs to be emphasized. Quick action is usually done so with minimal thought.

Knowing this, it helps to bring your attention towards the present moment, and reflect on your actions with a gentle perspective.

  • “Is this change small enough for me to commit to it as if a no-brainer?”

  • “Is it “large” enough to elicit a positive impact towards my results?”

    You can’t curl a can of soup towards bigger biceps after all.

As you approach 2022, take action but only after you’ve reflected appropriately. If you can get to a point where you feel as if you’re responding, not reacting, then you’re going to be acting from greater strength.

What to do next

  1. Do a self-awareness check. Figure out what it is you really want, why it’s important to you, what you’re prepared to give up, and what qualities or skills you might posses that can be leveraged to help you.

  2. Assess your options. Your future is wide set of possibilites based on many choices within your reach right now. Don’t limit yourself to doing what everyone else is doing on January 1st - flipping everything on it’s head. Commit to doing something that you can realistically stick with.

  3. Act mindfully. Be aware of your choices. Make sure that you’re giving yourself ample time to feel and sense your actions and progress, rather than flailing about trying to juggle a brand new workout program, a completely different diet, and getting that 30 minute daily meditation practice started. Start smaller than you think.

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